Bringing on contingent workers can be a good way to tackle staffing challenges brought on by a number of factors, such as the need to temporarily ramp up staffing numbers during an especially busy time and to take care of tasks outside an employer’s core business. But an important part of making the decision to hire contingents relates to how to manage them once they’re on board.
In developing plans for management of contingents consider how to orient, integrate, motivate and supervise them.
Inform regular staff that contingent workers may be coming on the scene. The presence of contingents can adversely affect morale if core workers are worried about job security, career advancement, earnings, and so on.
Low morale affects contingents, too. If they are doing the same work for low pay and no benefits, they may become demoralized and have little incentive to be productive.
Make sure contingents know what is expected of them – the quantity of work required and deadlines for completion. Orientation can make them feel part of the team.
When bringing on contingents, don’t abruptly “plop them in” as strangers. Rather, introduce them to the affected department staff, make sure they have access to supplies and office equipment, tell them who can answer their questions, and give them a brief tour of the facility. For on-site workers, prepare workstations in advance so they can go to work promptly.
Giving contingents written guidance helps. HR consultant Mary M. Fitzer of MMF Consulting Services in West Springfield, Massachusetts, says some companies “chunk out” pieces of the employee handbook (omitting material on pay, benefits, and other career-related information) to create what amounts to a manual for contingent workers. The particulars to include: hours, attendance, dress codes, security issues, time reporting, and so on.
Motivation starts with the selection process. The National Association of Temporary Staff Services says 56 percent of all temporary assignments last longer than three months, so you want people with the background, skills, and self-managed mindset to get started right away.
Let the contingent worker know whether you see the task evolving into a full-time job. Company policy should address whether contingent workers will be a source of qualified applicants for regular positions after an introductory period. By making it possible for contingent employees to join the core workforce, you create incentives for the employee to do good work and perhaps minimize the tendency of a worker to jump ship before the project ends.
Providing some autonomy also is important in motivating contingents. Giving the worker the freedom and responsibility to do the job is a powerful force to motivate. Financial incentives also are important. Contingents should be compensated at competitive market rates.
To encourage good help to stay longer, some employers give merit increases and offer prorated benefits to contingents who meet certain minimum standards. Any special incentives for interim workers must be labeled as such and kept separate from programs affecting noncontingent staff.
For workers not on your direct payroll, it can be a bad idea to offer bonuses, merit recognition, and the like because you might inadvertently establish an employer or joint employer relationship and bring on the legal consequences you’re trying to avoid. Tip: If you’re using temporary or leased workers, the staffing vendor – the direct employer – can arrange for any appropriate merit incentives or other fringe benefits.
Another way to motivate contingents is to listen to their input. They aren’t carrying institutional baggage, so their comments should be free of office politics. Challenging work also serves to motivate.
Some managers have trouble supervising workers who aren’t really “employees,” with all of the implications a true employment relationship brings. Also, managers might fear making a misstep that inadvertently converts a contingent worker to an employee with the attending legal rights and protections.
To find the balance between good management practices and fine legal distinctions, observe these principles:
- Train supervisors. Develop training for managers and supervisors that helps them use contingent workers without close supervision. The training should help supervisors break the job down into subtasks to minimize training and supervision and to help the workers manage themselves.
- Write a job description. Spell out expectations (quality, quantity, deadlines) for the contingent worker, and check in to make sure he or she is off to a good start. The description should be a standalone document that minimizes the need for traditional direct supervision.
- Avoid micromanagement. Set goals that are reasonable and attainable without the need to look over the contingent worker’s shoulder.
- Require early and frequent deliveries. Requiring work-product installments (the delivery of interim product) is generally acceptable and won’t in itself transform someone into your employee. For the appropriate paper trail safeguard, incorporate this requirement into the agreement as a contract provision.
- Fill the knowledge gap. A contingent worker may leave before the job is finished, and the resulting loss of continuity and momentum can increase retraining costs. In an effort to preserve institutional memory, you might make a full-timer create a list of the steps involved in each outsourced project, including the rationale for outsourcing the function in the first place.
- Address the inevitability of shared tasks. Ideally, your contingent workers should do different jobs from those performed by your core group. But it may be inevitable that these groups work together at some point. To make the relationship work, consultant Fitzer recommends a kickoff meeting during which roles are clarified, expectations defined, and performance standards established.
- Consider self-management. Contingent workers can be assigned tasks that they are able to carry out to a great degree by themselves using their skills, abilities, and initiative. This makes good legal sense since exercising too much control over contingents (aside from direct-hire part-timers) can have toxic legal side effects.