This BLOG probably isn’t relevant to many folks here since many of the folks here are actually employed by someone! When you’re an independent consultant, the time between projects can be a very nerve wracking time. Not just for the consultant but for the family as well.
Many employees think being an independent would be great. And over all, yes, I think it has been great. For me. But it is not for everyone. It’s probably not as great for my wife over these years as it has been for me!
I have been very fortunate in that my projects have come along pretty consistently and I haven’t been on the bench too much. But I had one extended time back around 2003 for about six months. I had about 3 months down time in 2009. I recently was out 3 months and just got back. But this time wasn’t as worrisome as I had something lined up but it just wasn’t quite ready to start up. Because it was a local project I felt it would be stupid to consider anything else and go back on the road. But I wasn’t ever sure exactly when the paperwork on the project would get done. It could’ve started the next day, or I could still be waiting. So I didn’t’ even want to take on a short 6-8 week project since I didn’t want to miss out on a chance to start the new project.
I keep finding out that being on the bench is not good for me!!! The first few weeks is always fine. There is never a lack of deferred chores to do around the house.
Once some of the initial home chores are done, and you get caught up on things, you find a lot of time on your hands. Now I am active and have several hobbies that I was able to work on. But without having that virtual time clock and time driven projects I found myself getting lazier and lazier as the weeks went on. It’s so easy to procrastinate and let things slip to the next day. Staying in bed becomes easier. Skipping the gym becomes easier. Eating badly becomes easier.
These down times also never seem to come at a time when you want to travel or when the family can travel. Plus since you have to live off of savings, you don’t necessarily feel comfortable spending money to travel even though maybe you could time wise and financially.
I did spend a lot of time with the wife. But even those dynamics changed as the time home progressed. At least this time there was no stress over where the next project would be. It was just when it would start. But having another person home all day definitely changed the family dynamics. And now being back on a project the home dynamics have changed once again.
I don’t think people recognize how much stress bench time can place on the family, not just the consultant. My kids are pretty much grown so that wasn’t a major problem for me this time. But I would imagine that the family dynamics are even more impacted when school age children are involved.
If you AND your wife/husband or significant other, aren’t comfortable with changing family dynamics, this would probably not be the best job for you. Spouses have to be just as flexible during these times. The stress on a spouse, whether a stay at home parent or a working spouse, can be very great. Stay at home spouses are reliant on someone else to provide for the financial side and they have little control over the situation. This can cause feelings of helplessness and highlight their dependency. Working spouses may see the consultant on the bench as home on ‘vacation’ and resent it as the time goes on. Or they get use to the consultant being home and resent it when they get back to work, maybe travelling, and job duties have to change at home once again.
There is something comforting to know exactly where you will be a year from now, or two or three years from now. I think many employees actually appreciate this a bit more in today’s world. I don’t think anyone thinks of their job as being 100% secure. If you do, you’re fooling yourself.
The other big impact is financially. In talking with other consultants I’m finding that many of them are not as well prepared as they should be for these down times. Few seem to maintain the suggested six months cash required for regular family expenses. This seems especially true for the younger consultants who really should have no excuse for not squirreling away these funds.
I think if you are an employee, the suggested number should be more like 9-12 months in today’s economy. The travelling consultants, being in the business already, are kind of use to changing projects and going to where the project is. They have the skill sets and resume designed to compete for these projects. An employee may be limited in where they can go, the type of job they can take, etc… It might take a while to find a local job that is in their particular wheelhouse. Today’s economy is proving that 24 months on unemployment is not unusual as many folks have used up their unemployment benefits. I don’t think it is as bad for IT folks in general, and it seems to be picking up, but the job market still isn’t good.
So to summarize, employee or consultant, squirrel away the money to keep you solvent for at least 9-12 months. Recognize your behavior changes when you’re on the bench and what are healthy changes and what are unhealthy one’s for you. Try it keep yourself on a regular schedule.
And don’t forget that your bench time can drastically change the family dynamics and be just as stressful on your spouse and children. Make sure they know you appreciate them and their understanding of the situation. Seems like common sense, but we too often overlook these people.