As the contingent labor market becomes more permanent, advice on how to improve the employee experience for these workers.
By Christa Elliott
It’s no secret that the face of the modern workforce is changing. Just take a look around! The younger generations are moving up, and, more importantly, today’s workers are moving away from both the office and the conventions of a full-time, 9-5 position. In fact, a 2015 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 40.4 percent of the U.S. workforce is made up of contingent workers, and this number is only growing.
Bearing these facts in mind, organizations need to be able to accommodate an entirely different type of workforce—one that wants to included in company culture but that won’t be wooed by annual bonuses or the promise of a promotion. Gone are the days when hiring contract workers meant not having to offer any benefits or leaving those employee to their own devices, so where should employers begin in improving the workplace experience for contingent workers?
“Employers hire contingent workers to ensure appropriate staff are available for mission-critical services and systems,” says Leanne Oatman, president of RightSourcing, which helps healthcare organizations manage contract talent. “Ensuring their experience is a positive one ensures there are people available to keep systems that support operations with the expertise required.”
Organizations are continuing to face a highly competitive marketplace. “It is becoming more and more of a worker’s market across the U.S. and Canada. This means the job seeker has more job options than ever,” says Lon Harvey, director of talent acquisition and the contingency labor program for Waste Management.
“Many companies have been pursuing strong employer branding to make clearly visible to job seekers the value of joining them, and Waste Management has done that. But what about those workers coming to us through a staffing supplier? How do we create the value case for the job seeker that our job is the best one for them while working through staffing suppliers?”
Harvey recommends educating staffing supplier partners about organizational benefits because they are often the ones communicating employer brand messaging. “Sharing collateral with the staffing supplier partner outlining career opportunities at your firm has tremendous value in creating a picture for the worker that your firm should be at the top of their list,” he explains. “Site visits raise the recruiters excitement about the work, too! Many companies favor a contract-to-hire conversion, but you can’t leverage that when your most valuable potential workers never get in the door.”
A good first step to creating a positive experience for contingent workers is to make sure that experience begins pre-hire. After all, a well-executed plan for onboarding and retaining contingent workers won’t be very useful if a company is struggling to secure this growing talent demographic in the first place. According to Ardent Partner’s study The State of Contingent Workforce Management 2016-2017: Adapting to the New World of Work, 60 percent of non-employee workers said that the chance to “[be] part of a culture that embraces them” plays a huge role in deciding where to work.
“Customer experience is already a focus for organizations, and candidate experience is becoming just as important. Everyone knows it’s hard to find great talent, so you want to make sure that you are providing the best candidate experience possible for the talent that interacts with your brand,” says Frank Gullo, Superior Group’s director of digital and mobile strategy. “Ultimately, a better and more integrated work experience helps mitigate brand risk and ensure alignment of all labor categories to mission and quality.”
Equality for All
Another key to providing this positive experience for contingent workers is recognizing the crucial roles that they fill and understanding that they often have the same desire for meaningful work and flexibility as traditional employees. Typically, contracted employees don’t want special treatment or unique programming; they are regular workers that want to participate in their employer’s internal community.
“I think that employers need to integrate the different categories of workers more seamlessly. For decades, contingent workers have been almost ‘contained in the basement,’ if you think of it that way, and really have not been integrated organizationally in terms of extending a company’s core values,” says Karen Browne, president and chief operating officer for EG Workforce Solutions. “I think with the shortage of talent, it will become paramount for this population of workers to be integrated.”
What does this look like? Consider the ways you can integrate contingent workers into company culture. Participation in staff meetings, company events, team-building initiatives and recognition programs will help them understand organizational mission and values. Managers should also be encouraged to communicate instructions and project updates to contingent employees with the same regularity that any other employee would receive.
“I think it’s pretty similar to what a full-time employee wants,” says Jonathan Means, president of the TrueBlue Workforce Management Group, which includes Staff Management | SMX, Centerline, and PlaneTechs. “It’s basic things—is there flexibility in the schedules? Am I going to get my paycheck on time? Are people going to give me feedback about my work that’s constructive? When I walk into the building for the first time, is somebody going to greet me and help me understand where to go and what I’m supposed to be doing? I think these are issues that cross over between an employee that’s going in for a full-time job or someone who’s going in as a temporary employee.”
Take Advantage of Tech
Along with fair and equal consideration, contingent workers are also looking to employers to effectively managing and understanding their workflow. This has also become an area of concern for employers. According to Ardent Partners’ 2016 study mentioned above, 56 percent of respondents identified contingent workforce management (CWM) visibility and intelligence as top challenges in CWM programs.
Just as traditional employees are often managed via human capital management systems or human resources management systems, similar, but not identical technology can be applied to contingent employees to help keep track of benefits, payroll cycle, and other essential information. For a long time, vendor management systems (VMS) and online staffing platforms were the only options for meeting this need, but freelance management systems (FMS)—cloud-based platforms specifically designed for the management of independent contractors and freelancers—are another option.
Although using today’s technology tools can potentially increase labor compliance and efficiency and reduce both worker misclassification risk and costs, Means emphasizes that technology should never become an end-all-be-all replacement for the human touch.
“Our workforce management technology lets us see things like contingent associates hours, their certifications, and the line or area where they are working, and it enables our teams to manage functions like scheduling, shift changes, overtime, performance and safety. However, technology also creates the risk of losing the personal or human touch,” Means says. “Instead of expecting technology to do all the work, organizations should make sure that their onboarding process for contingent associates still includes face-to-face interactions—employees ready to welcome new workers personally, walk them into the facility, guide them through their first day, and follow up with them regularly.”
Cultural Understanding In order to better integrate the contingent workforce into a company’s culture, it is also important to make sure that these employees are well-acquainted with that corporate culture from the get-go. Core values, expectations, and company policies should be imparted during the interview and onboarding process for all employees, not just the ones filling permanent positions. Organizational unity is a must.
“I think all employers need to do is be clear about their employee value proposition—why would people want to come work for you? And part of that, in my estimation is creating a positive work experience,” Means explains. “More and more, organizations recognize the value of the contingent associates coming into their operation and of having a staffing partner that helps create a welcoming environment and ensures that contingent associates feel part of the team and informed of organizational goals.“
Browne agrees and believes that that organizational unity and a focus the contingent employee experience has the added benefit of multiplying the number of brand ambassadors that a company has—both contingent and permanent. It’s crucial for companies to cultivate positive experiences and brand loyalty within the workforce and to make contingent employees a part of that experience.
“The more we can do that, the more we’re reinforcing the brand, and the more we’re enforcing the brand, the more those contingent workers become ambassadors for us. That’s a very powerful expression in terms of how you’re attracting and retaining talent,” Browne says.
In this way, the process of bringing contracted or freelance workers further into the fold is not only beneficial for the workers—it also makes good business sense. Every employee can act as a brand ambassador and testify to the wonderful ways that a company is changing the industry or the world. To leave contingent employees out of the company’s internal culture is to miss out on an opportunity to cultivate a workforce that is will speak highly of that company and the way it treats its employees.
Many companies focus very strongly on the employee onboarding experience, but what tools are in place for non-employee workers? Lon Harvey, director of talent acquisition and the contingent labor program for Waste Management, offers some advice:
If you permit independent contractors (ICs), put policy in place to guide your HR partners and business managers on how to select and onboard an IC. Publish that in an internal standard operating procedure (SOP) to provide that guidance. Define and publish the steps and responsibilities for the selection, onboarding, and engagement management in each classification of contingent worker. Pay close attention for gaps that may leave a worker without a nextstep to follow. Visibility into the onboarding process for the supplier and worker are key to generating a positive experience.