Monday morning musings about what employers think about technical writers

Subject: Monday morning musings about what employers think about technical writers
From: Sue MacIntosh <sue -at- PAGES -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 21 Feb 1994 13:46:28 -0800

Hi everyone,

I heard a commercial this morning on the radio and it inspired me
write something that I think might be of interest to TECHWR-L, and
inspire some discussion.

I was listening to a Xerox commercial that used their familiar
slogan, "Xerox. The Document Company" and I responded with my
usual, "Yea, right!"

Here's some background information.

I worked as a contract technical writer for two years for a small
division of Xerox that developed desktop publishing software. At the
time, the department consisted of 9 technical writers, 4 of whom were
contractors. The 5 who were employees had at some time been
contractors. At periods of heightened activity, 3 additional
contractors were hired for 3 months or so. At another location, one
of our other departments had only one Xerox employee. The rest of
the department consisted of contractors who had been there for 8, 10,
and 12 years.

At any rate, it always seemed ironic to me that the self-proclaimed
Document Company did not hire it's own technical writers! It wasn't
as though there was not enough work to be done or that it was
sporadic. As I mentioned, I was there for two years.

Has anyone else out there experienced this "reluctance to hire"
technical writers? I guess it bothered me for a number of reasons:

- No benefits. Yes, I made good money, but I had little paid
vacation and no health insurance. Although I could have purchased
health insurance through the agency I used, so I guess it could have
been worse.
- No profit sharing, stock purchase plan, or 401(k) plan. Am I
expecting too much to want this from my employer, or is it just the
lucky few who get this benefit?
- No training. It was the company policy not to send their
contractors for any training, so we learned what we needed from our
co-workers. By the time contractors were hired, if at all, the need
for training was gone.
- No sense that the company felt that the work that I did was of
value. On a small, personal scale, I know that my boss liked the
work that I did and would have hired me if she could. And in many
ways being a contractor was more secure than being an employee. I
made it through 2 layoffs that affected the "real" employees but not
me. Incidentally, there were no other contractors in the building.
All the engineers, testers, and marketing folks were full-time

It seems to me that if a company values the work that you do and the
skills that you have, it would be wise to hire you and give you every
reason to stay. Is this naive?

Any thoughts on this? Do any of you prefer the freedom that being a
contractor brings? Or do you like the benefits of full time
employment? What are your companies' attitudes about hiring
technical writers? Do you feel like second-class citizens?


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