There should really be a special name for temps who get called into one-day assignments. Like, "Minutemen" temps or "Snapshot" temps or "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" temps or "Holy Lord God Does This Ever Suck" temps.
The two main problems with one-day temping seem a little contradictory at first:
1) The jobs only last one day.
2) The jobs often last much longer than one day.
This conflict can be explained by the third problem:
3) They don't pay dick.
Starting with the first one, which wouldn't be that big of a problem were you to get five one-day jobs a week. Unfortunately, the actual number usually hovers somewhere between zero and two, and a couple one-day jobs over the course of the week isn't really gonna keep you rolling in the Ramen. One-day jobs are generally doled out to new temps who need a little test run so the temp agency can ensure they aren't drooling imbeciles. Or, more reasonably, to ensure that at least they're the kind of drooling imbeciles who don't mess their pants at work. Often.
Then again, temps who have been with an agency for a long while might start getting one-day assignments as well, which can mean the agency isn't really thrilled with their work and only throw them the other temps' leftovers. If you've fallen out of favor with your temp agency, this is usually how they let you know. Phase Two of the "we don't like you anymore" message involves never returning your phone calls and the occasional drive-by shooting.
And what's worse, as I said, these short jobs often get extended. Almost always, in fact. So, while one-day jobs suck, when extended past the one day, they suck even more. You might not mind being called to file a Proctologist's invoices for a single day at a low rate, but you probably won't be happy when Dr. Colonfinger keeps you on another day. And then another. And another. There you'll be stuck, making lousy money doing boring work for a guy who pokes around in people's butts, with your agency wanting to keep their client happy by not assigning you to another, longer, better-paying assignment, should one come along. The impetus to finish the one-day assignment in one day is always strong, due to the fear of missing out on something better, but the faster you work, the more impressed the client will be with you, and the more crappy work they will give you. Also, try not to shake hands with the doctor.
4) You never get any advance warning. (As opposed to, what? Getting warned afterwards?)
One-day assignments are usually the result of someone calling in sick for the day. They call their boss at 8:00am, their boss calls the temp agency at 8:15am, your agency calls you at 8:30am. And they want you there, wherever there happens to be, at 9:00. Earlier, if possible. This sucks, because:
4a) You were sleeping when the phone rang, and:
4b) No matter how fast you get there, you won't get a full eight hour work day.
Calls for longer-term assignments may also come just a half-hour before the job is going to start, but it's not as much of a priority to get there immediately. If you've got a solid month of work ahead of you, it's not a big deal to miss a few hours at the start of it. But with these one-dayers, you want to work every minute you can, so you'll dash off, unshowered and unshaven and smelling like an armpit, to some horrible job which pays horrible money, and not even a full day's worth of it, no less. That is, until it gets extended and you get stuck there.
There are some good things about one-day temping, though:
1) Sometimes, one-day assignments are the result of some office manager procrastinating on some huge project until the last day, when he suddenly realizes he won't finish it on deadline. So, he calls in one or more temps to work like dogs (or, perhaps some other, more hard-working animal, like the amazing and delightful Weaverbird) until it is complete.
Oh, wait, that's another bad thing.
Still, it can be somewhat nice to be around other temps who are just as unhappy as you are. For instance, I was once called in to do a day of data entry in Berkeley. Once again, I wasn't given the full details of the assignment... the exciting details! My temp agent didn't mention that I'd be working in the famous, much celebrated, world-renowned Coldest Goddamn Office On The Friggin' Planet! Yeah, when you have to spend an entire day punching keys, it's a good idea to make sure your fingers are frozen like fishsticks.
The data entry was a big project, tallying the attendance records of students at a local tech school. I wasn't alone there; they had brought in a total of five temps in an effort to get three months worth of attendance records up to date in the course of an afternoon. It was stressed to us just how important it was that this data be entered correctly. That students who were present on a given day were marked "Present" and those who were absent marked "Absent." This was important. There could be no mistakes.
Sat down in front of our computers and spreadsheets, shown the 'P' and 'A' keys, again told how important it was that our data entry be flawless, we were then asked, every five minutes, if we were done yet. How much longer would it take us? Would we finish by three? By four? Would it take us until six?
We didn't know. How could we know? We'd be finished when we were finished. But this brings us to about the 94th bad thing about one-day assignments:
94) The companies who hire one-day temps are cheap.
They're cheap because the pay is so low, but it goes beyond that, because they want to get you out just as soon as possible, so they don't even have to pay your insultingly low rate for a full day. Well, the full day is truncated already since you didn't get called until 8:30, but they don't even want to pay you for a full partial day. They want you in, they want you out.
I wanted out, too, so I punched my P's and A's as fast as I could manage without snapping my bone-chilled finger off at the knuckle.
A common theme running through these ultra-short assignments is the complete helplessness of the people who work at these places. Oops, wait.
437) People at these one-day jobs are completely helpless.
Sure, people everywhere are helpless, but it seems so much more pronounced at one-shot assignments. At one point during the day of this data-entry job, the office manager walked over to the printer, paused, and then crowed: "Does anyone know how to fix the printer? It says it's out of paper!"
All over the office the keyboard clicking stopped for a moment, which delighted me, as I pictured my fellow temps all cringing and snickering. Also pleasing was the fact that no one answered. I chortled silently to myself, my breath forming clouds of condensation in front of me, and then I snapped an icicle off the end of my nose and continued stubbing my numb digit against the two keys I was permitted to.
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