The short-term temp work trap

By Jay

I don’t want to write. I feel a deep sorrow and fearful emptiness about the future. I want to displace this feeling and my reality by watching videos online and entering into alternate realities, voices and thoughts. I will watch desultory short ‘junk’ video clips on Youtube, from sport, news, entertainment and so on, well into the night and I will forget but will not enjoy it, as the future will be hovering and these short clips will offer me no real intellectual or emotional pleasure.

I recently accepted a three month temporary job role, to start next week. I feel a sense of deep dread and reluctance for the role. It is a manual labour type role, assisting with setting up training sessions at a university. This is as much as I know and I have a fear that my anxiety and difficulties communicating will make me ineffective and, as a result, disrespected and, also, socially isolated. I am emotionally very vulnerable currently.

Unskilled temporary roles can be a type of junk means of sustenance, I believe, like junk food or entertainment shows. As a means to entering into more stable or secure work, they can serve as a means to an end. For those with alternate forms of income, they can offer ancillary income to sustain their lifestyle. For those who are desperate, they can be a safety net.

However, for a young person, temporary jobs can become, I think, a damaging addiction or trap. They can be easier to attain than longer-term roles, as the criteria for selection is generally relatively low and the application process simplified. Hirers are not concerned about gaps in employment or overly focused on grades or references. Once you get a “gig” through an agency, you gain a credibility making it, possibly, easier to get the next one.

There is an allure of the temporary job for those who are lost about their future and finding their place, including those suffering mental health difficulties. There is the promise of limited commitment and, sometimes, the hourly pay can be attractive, though, such roles do not generally offer the benefits of sick pay or pensions. You can, apparently, defer making any big decisions by taking on temp work. If it doesn’t work out, quitting is, theoretically, simpler.

However, unskilled or low-skilled temp work which is short-term or medium-term may offer little opportunity for intellectual, career or financial self-development. Unless the experience is used to enter into stable work, a pattern of itinerant work can develop in which the frequent changes prevents the individual from building skills, experience or social connections in any particular area. Even getting references can be difficult as, often, permanent or long-term jobs require references from individuals the candidate has known for years, not months. The unskilled temp is, also, near the bottom of work hierarchies and can suffer from limited rights, work conditions and treatment.

The idea of working on a permanent basis in administration or manual labour frightens me. It seems like signing up to a future of being a tool or a cog, without intellectual advancement. The process of getting such a role requires, in some cases, lengthy application forms. I have lacked the desire and belief to go through that process and then to a potential interview.

A short-term temp role in such a role seems more palatable. They are easier to attain and require less commitment. One can escape after a month or two, to find a job that provides you with meaning and development. However, my social anxiety, communication, emotional and other health difficulties have meant that I have not been able to use temp roles as a means to find more stable and desirable work for myself. After each temp role I have done, I have entered a period of unemployment, which has, in its own way, been difficult to manage emotionally, as well as financially. Money I have made and saved up has been eaten away by months without income.

When I am in a temp role, my emotions and energies are exhausted simply from being in the role, even if it is relatively simple and repetitive, like data entry. I have been unable to think and plan much for the future and take steps to improving my lifestyle. I have finished the role and then, a few months later, found another temp role, via the same job agency, to work for another few months.

The promise of limited commitment and also of flexibility is somewhat limited in itself. The role that I will start next week is for three months. Now that I have accepted and colleagues invest time in training me, it will be difficult for me emotionally to leave before near the end. My social anxiety will make it doubly hard to let anyone down. It will also be difficult to have time to apply for more secure work and attend interviews, if selected. In effect, I am tied down for two or three months and decisions for a stable livelihood are not just deferred but more-or-less suspended.

It feels like a trap to me now, which captures my time and energy without offering any clarity or way forward to sustain me in the future. Last year, when I completed three separate temp roles with different institutions, I was not able to think longer-term, though the concerns did trouble me greatly. I wanted money and, even more so, I wanted the work simply to relieve the guilt and stigma of dependency on others. Now, however, I have more consciousness of my need to secure my future and that includes moving away from the family home and being independent. It will, I think, be difficult to do that in short-term temp roles.

I face a dilemma now. I want out of this cycle of ‘junk’ short-termism and, yet, my health makes it difficult to secure longer-term work. Moreover, I am frightened and doubtful of my capacities for any kind of work. I just quit a recent short-term role after being overwhelmed by distressing emotions, particularly, anxiety, anger and sorrow.

I have wondered whether I should reject this new three month role that I have accepted to start next week and escape the temp work trap I have found myself in, before I try to go through another cycle. Then, I can focus on finding a permanent or longer-term role and use it to move away from home and gain skills, experience and social connections. However, now that I have accepted the role, it feels as if it would be a failure and, also, unfair on my soon-to-be colleagues to pull out. It would also leave me still without work and no certainty of finding it.

Author: Workers' Archive

Covering sensitivity at work and beyond on my website:

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