Contracting causes relationship strife

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that every year roughly 13 in 1,000 married people get divorced. But the ONS can't say whether working as an IT contractor risks marital breakdown or if contracting increases relationship stress.

Contributors to the CUK bulletin board make the point that some partners don't understand contracting, because to partners, all IT jobs are the same, and most contracts require a steady routine of 40 hours a week – give or take – over months or even years.

"I think the problems arise when you take advantage of the things that make contracting worthwhile," says long-time contractor, Robert Wallace.

Wallace turned contractor after a divorce and has subsequently remarried. He rates turning down renewals and long inter-contract periods as high points in his stress calendar.

"Jane, my wife, doesn't like it when I get bored of a role and want to move on. But to me, that's a huge benefit of working as a contractor. Otherwise I would have to do something else entirely."

Kurt Ramman, contract business analyst, agrees with the sentiment and relishes "unplanned holidays" at the end of each contract.

"It gives me the chance to enjoy life rather than singing someone else's tune. Unfortunately my girlfriend sees it in a more stressful 'oh my God you've got no work what'll we do,' kind-of-a way, which takes the edge off it."

But other aspects of contracting can add to family disharmony.

SAS designer and system builder, Bryan Pickard, returned to contracting after an eight-year break but now has two small children to consider.

"I want to be home as much as possible but at the same time maximise earnings," he says.

"I negotiated a 35-hour week for the summer period. That way, I work a long day on Monday, shorter days on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; then take the day off on Friday. I still charge for a five-day week then enjoy a long weekend with the wife and kids."

It helps to have a sympathetic client, and luckily, there is a growing trend for flexible working. Companies are queuing up to offer home-working, flexible hours and part-time positions. Primarily aimed at permies, this trend is however having positive benefits for contractors.

Investors in People UK have developed a model for flexible working as a practical guide to fulfilling employee's needs, and largely speaking; it enables the same sort of practices contractors have long been able to negotiate, subject to client willingness.

In a statement, Ruth Spellman, chief executive, Investors in People UK, said: "When it comes to work-life balance, everyone has different needs - for some it's childcare, while others may have hobbies or special needs. Employers with a flexible plan in place, benefit from happier and more motivated staff."

Contributors to the CUK bulletin board agree that negotiating flexibility in working practices was a key weapon in combating relationship, and family, stress, particularly when it comes to working hours, long commutes and contracting away from home.

Both Ramman and Wallace say that much of the contract operational stresses are more than compensated by the pay, but the money can also be a source of anxiety.

"Convincing him to take holidays can be drag," says Jane Wallace, wife of Robert Wallace. "He always reminds me of how much money he's losing each week when he's not working."

And involving spouses in money-business is not advisable for good relations as Ramman found out when he failed to maintain VAT payments.

"Two rather large mercenaries from Croydon turned up wanting £600 worth of arrears, plus a healthy tip for their trouble," he says.

Ramman's girlfriend managed to "sweet talk" the "gorillas" into waiting while he dashed across London with a cheque.

But he warns, "these games are best played when you do not live with someone who will give you a bollocking, which upsets our good standing in a nice middle class neighbourhood."

William Knight