The liberation of a termination clause

December 28, 2008

Back in 2005, I wrote this piece in response to a question someone asked about working in a volatile and uncertain economic and employment climate… much like now, really!

Bottom line: All jobs are insecure—even permanent ones—and a short termination clause can be liberating as you know you can walk away at any time.

Here’s the full text of what I wrote in 2005:

Since starting work as an independent contractor some 7+ yrs ago, one of the things that I’ve come to *love* is the liberating feeling I get from having a ‘termination’ clause.

Let me explain…

For more years than I like to admit, I was a full-time employee. I did all the stuff required—and MUCH more. In one 5-year job, I ended up working some 80–100 hrs a week for their last 18 moths, all on a fixed salary. I gave my heart and soul to that company, as did 95%+ of the employees, only to have our ‘family’ ripped out from under us in a takeover that ended in lots of tears, anger, bitterness, and law suits.

As a contractor, I have worked in many organisations from the very small (5 employees) to the very large (3000+ employees). What I have learned from being an interested outside observer is that:

  • office politics don’t change no matter what the size of the organisation
  • the great divide between workers and management (‘us and them’) exists in all of them to one degree or another
  • a perceived lack of recognition and respect is endemic to most, no matter what the job.

In one of my current [current in 2005] 6-month contracts I have a ‘2-day termination’ clause—this means that if they no longer require my services, they can terminate me with 2 days notice in writing (no matter what the term of the contract), or I can give them 2 days written notice if I no longer want to work there. After 3 years, I’m still there 3 days a week! Meantime, staff turnover of their full-time employees has been massive. It’s only a company of some 40 staff, and I think that there’s only about 5 left from when I started 3 yrs ago. Some have left by their own choice, but there have also been ‘restructuring’ exercises that have resulted in 25% of the company’s employees being ‘made redundant’ at once (don’t you just love those terms!)

When some full-time employees in this company ask how I can stay, I give them a couple of standard answers:

  • As a contractor, I don’t get involved in office politics, so a lot of it washes over me.
  • I have a liberating thing called a ‘2-day clause’ – liberating because if it all gets too hard, I just walk out with 2 days written notice. Let me tell you, that’s a very reassuring thing to have, despite the scariness of it to full-timers.

If you’d asked me 10 years ago about contracting and such clauses, I’d have freaked out! I was a full-time employee and loved the apparent security of that. But now I realise that NO job, ANYWHERE, is ever entirely secure—even government ones. In fact, I believe that full-time employees are less secure (mentally) than those of us who contract. As contractors, we KNOW we can be terminated at any time; we’ve learnt to deal with the likelihood of that in our heads, and have strategies we use to ramp up the next contract. As a full-time employee, most people who’ve not known anything else have a very hard time coping with termination, redundancy, or whatever you want to call it.

Knowing I can walk away at any time without recrimination, law suits, tears, and mental anguish is the most liberating feeling! Would I ever go back to being a full-time employee? At this stage—NEVER! But of course, things can change, so don’t hold me to that…

Update December 2008: Since writing that in 2005, I’ve continued working as a contract technical writer. I ended up spending 5.5 years (3 days a week) with the company I was contracting to then, and the contract only finished because I left town. I continued to work remotely for them for some 6 months, but they decided they needed to employ a full-timer to replace me. My contracts since then have all been done remotely from my home office—that’s the condition under which I’ll work for someone now. So far, so good…

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