Contingent workers continue to make up a greater percentage of the workforce, but how companies manage them can be tricky, as firms aim to balance their intentionally detached arrangement with the need to integrate them with the rest of the team and the company’s culture.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, contingent workers accounted for 2 to 4 percent of the working population in 2005. The government agency collects new data in May. With the rise of gig work platforms, this number is likely to be higher. Indeed, this expansion of the “gig economy” is not expected to slow down anytime soon. Many companies are only planning to increase their use of contingent workers.
This doesn’t come easily, though, as temporary workers require careful management.
First off, when filling the position of a temporary staffer, it’s best to plan ahead, said Michelle Feiner, founder and CEO at Emissaries Inc., a recruiting firm specializing in freelancers and parental leave fill-ins based in Los Angeles. “The searches with the most notice are often the most successful because you’ll have more talent options,” she said.
Interviews, however, shouldn’t be much different than those for normal employees. Feiner said candidates for a temporary role should interview with both management and potential colleagues. Like other interviews, to gauge how the worker will do on the job, it’s best to discuss previous projects and check references.
Avoiding risk of legal troubles requires that the role and expectations of a contingent role be clearly defined. “Have a contract in place, not just leave it up in the air on a handshake,” said Jeff Nugent, managing director of Contingent Workforce Solutions Inc., a contract worker classification and pay firm based in Toronto.
Once they’re hired, treat a temporary or contingent worker as if they’re part of the team — but be sure not to control their day-to-day work, as this could cross a line between gig worker and employee. On the legal end, have someone on staff who understands the policies around temporary staffers who can act as a resource for this segment of the workforce, as well as manage onboarding and education. “I find organizations that have centralized the management of it through a department like an HR or procurement often have the best results,” Nugent said.
Companies should also provide tools around technology and company culture for all workers, including those that are temporary, according to Aimee Lucas, vice president and customer experience transformist at Temkin Group, a customer experience and consulting firm based in Waban, Massachusetts. Lucas said managers make it easy for all workers to have the company’s desired behaviors spelled out, as well as having tools in place that make it easy to make the right decisions at the moment they need to. It’s also important to communicate with contingent workers, especially around the company’s mission.
Above all, it’s important to treat temporary workers fairly, said Josh Bersin, principal and founder of research and advisory firm Bersin by Deloitte. He said the biggest problem he sees with contingent work arrangements is that companies don’t treat their gig workers with enough respect in terms of training and pay. “Gig workers are looking to do a good job, get paid well, and become rewarded for success just like everyone else,” Bersin said. “Companies that simply treat them as vendors and do not manage their performance and environment lose out,” Bersin added.
Temkin Group’s Lucas agreed that recognition is especially important; it reinforces the desired behaviors the organizational leaders hope to display. “It also allows those workers to get a sense of the culture and be able to make a better decision of ‘Do I want to be here on a more permanent basis, if that opportunity should come up?’ ”
Finally, Lucas said Temkin Group has discovered three things in particular that influence how employees act on the job:
- Does the employee feel they understand the mission of the company and their role in supporting it?
- Does the employee feel they have the knowledge and tools they need to be successful to do what they’re being asked to do?
- Does the employee feel like the company listens to their feedback and takes action on it?
“When organizations look at their strategies with their temporary or gig workers, their tethered workforce or with their permanent employees, if they’re focusing on those three things, they are going to see more productive, more helpful, more beneficial behaviors from those workers,” Lucas said.
Lauren Dixon is an associate editor for Talent Economy.