Work: Independence With a Catch - Pros and Cons of Contracting

by Sabine Ehgoetz

I find it hard to decide whether I love or hate my work situation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of the company I have been working for as a contractor for two years now. I like the downtown office, get along well with my co-workers and if for some reason I do need a break from it all, I can even do my job from my laptop at home. When friends or colleagues whine and complain, usually during summer or Christmas time, that they couldn’t get the vacation days they wanted, I feel somewhat privileged, since I’m able to take time off more or less whenever it pleases me. The same counts for long and unpaid extra hours which simply don’t exist on my schedule. Any amount of time that I spend working I put on a report sheet and get paid for it at a fairly decent hourly rate.

A situation I could have only dreamed of when I used to work as a fully employed editor back in my home country? Not quite, as most people who have been working on contract basis here in Canada will probably know. Yes, I can fairly spontaneously decide to fly out for a little vacation somewhere in the Caribbean but the cost of my holidays almost doubles when you take into consideration that I won’t earn a penny during the time I’m gone. Being the typical German worry-wart, I’m haunted by lost wages on an occasional day off. This makes me doubt that I would even enjoy a trip to an exotic island. I would end up lying there in a beach chair calculating the money I’m not making right at that very moment.

One of the biggest assets of the nature of my work agreement (especially when it comes to quality of life and finding ways to relax) are my flexible work hours that allow me to take a two-hour lunch break to attend a regular yoga class at a studio close by or to start my work day so early that I can leave the office mid-afternoon to relax at home or do some shopping. On top of that, I’m allowed to work from home one day a week and I personally believe there is barely anything better than to log onto the office server while I’m still in my pajamas and work away with a purring cat in my lap. Despite my furry family members, sometimes I end up feeling a little lonely by the end of that day, which always makes me look forward to be back in my cubicle the following day.

Does this mean that besides not having any paid vacation or sick days I get the best of both worlds? In my situation, this may just be the case since my husband is employed and his company provides him with a great health plan that covers me as well. Ours is probably the preferred model amongst most Canadian couples: one spouse working full-time with the benefit of vacation days and insurance coverage for the entire family, the other one contracting often with a relatively higher hourly rate. We weren’t always that lucky though and I shiver when I think back to the time when we had just moved here and I hadn’t found a job yet while my husband was working as a sole proprietor. We were both covered by OHIP, but after growing up in Germany with what used to be one of the best health systems in the world, Ontario’s public health insurance program hardly felt safe to me.

One definite disadvantage to my current work agreement is the fact that my contract has an end date, and although it has been extended several times now, I have to deal with the feeling of uncertainty every six months when it is about to expire. It is during those times or when I actually plan to take a whole week off, that I tend to think that all of this should change – that I should find a different job at a company willing to employ me with benefits. Yet, my initial idea about jobs in Canada and that you only score really high when you manage to find a full-time position, has changed over all. As a matter of fact, usually every Wednesday when I don’t have to dress up or leave my living room in order to do my job, and during every lunch break when I take off for a relaxing 90 minute yoga class, I believe I must be the luckiest person on earth to have that much freedom and still make ends meet financially.

Now if I just prove myself disciplined enough to save some money in advance for the week I want to spend in the Caribbean and learn to relax enough so I will actually stop calculating lost work hours when I finally get there, my life would be just perfect!

CNM