As a responsible employer, you are careful to create a friendly and collaborative atmosphere and you work hard to maintain morale among your employees. But does your contingency workforce feel the same way about you as your permanent employees do? Many of the tactics used to maintain a satisfied workforce may not be suitable to attracting and retaining contractors, and may even work against you. We’ve put together a few tips to help you ensure your temporary workers feel as engaged as your permanent staff.
How’s your rep?
Contractors talk to each other. Those who have been in the business a long time have worked for numerous employers, and have probably worked with some of the same fellow contractors on different assignments. Inevitably they compare notes. So your reputation plays an important role in your capacity to attract and maintain a contingent workforce. Do contractors trust you to be a top-quality, fair employer who provides attractive contracting opportunities working on exciting projects? Rarely does a contractor limp from one job to the next, taking anything going. Independent professionals choose contracting because they have specialist skills in high demand. When your contract opportunity comes up, it is likely to be one of several they are considering. Therefore the employer’s reputation and the grapevine gossip will have a big influence on the professional’s decision to take a particular job or not.
Once the contractor has decided that your reputation is sufficiently attractive to want to come on board with you, how do you make the working environment one where everyone can achieve job satisfaction, contract and permanent co-workers alike?
Here are some tips on how to integrate your contingency workforce into the team.
Educate permanent staff about the positive role contractors play
Core staff may see temporary employees as a threat – a way of bringing in additional resource, perhaps at a more senior level, without going through the full process normally followed for permanent recruitment. While temp to perm does happen occasionally, often as a way back into employment after retrenchment or other career interruption, most contractors have no interest in a permanent position. They have chosen contracting for the advantages it offers them and wouldn’t swap it for the benefits of a secure job.
By contrast, contractors represent a resource that can help the organisation – and its permanent staff – meet tough deadlines and keep projects on schedule and on budget. Contractors are one step removed from the longer-term objectives of the company, generally only work on one project at a time, and do not get involved in organisational politics. So they help other project staff stay focused and drive the project towards timely realisation of its goal.
Once permanent staff understand this, they tend to welcome their temporary colleagues rather than view them with suspicion. But it does involve a degree of communication and education from the organisation; you can’t expect your employees to grasp this automatically.
All one team
As far as possible, include contractors in organisational communications and activities. Make them feel like part of the team. It only takes a few mouse clicks to add them to the team email list, and is just as simple to remove them at the end of the project, so be as inclusive as possible, especially when it comes to communications. This is one of the key factors influencing feelings of inclusion and exclusion. Invite contractors to team and project meetings. Occasionally it may not be appropriate to do that, in which case a polite explanation is usually accepted without demur.
While we are acutely aware of the need to ensure contractors do not ‘look like’ employees for legal and tax purposes, try to remove the obvious differentiators, such as different colour ID badges or access tags. Allow them to use facilities available to other staff, such as the kitchen or the gym (if you have one). Allocate a locker, if your company has them. And if everyone is going for a drink after work on Friday, invite them along! Even if they can’t come (some contractors commute weekly from far-flung places), they will appreciate the offer.
Of course, inclusion works two ways. It’s hard to include someone who excludes himself. Some contractors prefer to remain aloof and work independently. However, if you explain your organisation’s approach when you brief new contractors and let them know they will be treated as part of the team, and they should consider themselves as such, it is likely they will be grateful for the attitude and will respond accordingly.
Contractors are skilled specialists who are hired for their expertise. They are expected to hit the ground running and don’t need excessive supervision. You don’t anticipate having to coach them or spend a lot of time on performance management. For this reason it is easy to overlook the fact that you still need to communicate with them. If the project deliverables or timelines shift, make sure the contract staff are aware of the changes. If you are including them in project meetings this will happen automatically; but be sure to communicate any scope changes or decisions taken in other forums that contractors might not have access to. This will ensure everyone is on the same page and money is not wasted, as well as making your contractors feel valued.
From a health and safety perspective, accidents happen if contract staff have not been fully briefed on safety procedures. In an office this is less critical, but if you work in an industrial environment accidents can occur when contractors are excluded from usual methods of safe working or when there is a gap in communication between contractors and permanent co-workers.
It’s a people thing
There’s nothing technical or complex about these recommendations. At the end of the day people appreciate being treated with respect, with courtesy and with clear and open communication, regardless of their status in the workplace. If you treat your contract staff with the same consideration you show your core employees, you will get the most from your contingency workforce and reap the benefits of engaged and productive project teams and successfully executed projects.
Tell us your experience
We’d love to hear from you. Whether you are an employer or a contractor, tell us your experiences of working in contractor-friendly (or unfriendly) environments. Add your own tips to ours. What makes a contract enjoyable and successful? What makes it difficult? Leave your comments below.