Even though some workers are temporary, organizations should strive to leave a permanent positive impression.
By Marta Chmielowicz
In a business world where 41.5 percent of the average enterprise’s overall workforce is composed of non-employee labor, according to Ardent Partners’ The State of Contingent Workforce Management 2018-2019 report, organizations are putting the role of contingent workers front and center. In fact, the growth of the gig economy is serving as the catalyst for a new world of work—one that is increasingly innovative, dynamic, and responsive to transformative market pressures and global challenges.
But as business leaders compete to attract independent professionals for their agile, project-based needs, developing a unified organizational culture is becoming more critical than ever. “Culture is often perceived as an intangible entity and with the abundance of contingent workers and contracting opportunities, this talent can often feel like a transient workforce just looking to the next professional credential for their CV,” says Terri Lewis, senior vice president and global head of HR for Pontoon. “Culture is still a main driver for the contingent workforce, though, and these workers will accept or decline a job offer based on the culture they perceive the company to have—much like a permanent employee does.”
Attracting and retaining this population of employees requires that organizations develop a strategy that blends gig workers into the very cultural fabric of the organization. According to Gene Cutolo, CEO of Staffmark Group, facilitating the right culture will inspire teams, improve creativity, and promote collaboration—ultimately strengthening the employee experience and making the relationship between company and employee more personal.
In order to create a culture that welcomes contingent workers, HR leaders should consider three major elements of their talent acquisition and talent management strategies: branding, inclusion, and development.
1. Branding. In the war for talent, Ardent Partners reports that 58 percent of businesses are reimagining their brands to appear more attractive to prospective employees—both contingent and traditional. Ultimately, brand should be communicated in such a way that candidates are aware of and engaged with the culture before they even step in the door.
“To attract contingent workers, your company culture should not be a best-kept secret,” says Dave Savarise, executive vice president of Broadleaf Results. “Identify the most important parts of your culture and promote those aspects through your website, social media, and marketing efforts. This will draw in contingent workers who identify with what your organization does, and more importantly, how you do it.”
According to Cutolo, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be leveraged to offer potential candidates a peek into company culture by highlighting current employees and showing off the people behind the brand. Likewise, a website can serve as a platform for helpful and relevant content that strategically conveys a desired tone.
But a strong online presence is not sufficient to truly reinforce culture. Savarise recommends that organizations utilize consistent branding across their company locations to create a distinct atmosphere that unifies geographically dispersed teams. “Establishing a unified look and feel to all offices will establish a sense of solidarity across locations, which is important for promoting a cohesive culture,” he explains.
Leveraging partnerships with like-minded organizations can also propel brand and culture forward. For example, Brown Brothers Harriman, a Staffmark client, works in tandem with a university in Poland to stack its leadership pipeline with talent that is aligned to the organization’s values.
“To communicate our culture during the recruitment process, we form strategic partnerships with organizations that help us promote our story and brand to key audiences,” says Laura Scherban, senior vice president and global head of talent acquisition at the bank. “We currently work with a local university in Poland to help them shape curriculum that educates students in financial services. Not only does this create a pipeline of young talent, but it is also a powerful and unique way to present our culture of collaboration and inquiry on a global scale.”
2. Inclusion. In addition to leveraging branding to highlight company culture, HR professionals can attract and retain contingent workers by crafting an employee value proposition that demonstrates how they fit into the greater business strategy.
“Successful retention of contingent workers is a product of cultivating and sustaining genuine relationships. Make contingent workers feel like they are integral to your company’s goals. When you can, include them in regular company activities and communications. Establishing these real, meaningful relationships is crucial to keeping contract employees around for as long as you need them,” Savarise says.
According to Cutolo, this relationship-building process should begin at the very first interaction that an applicant has with a company. Throughout the onboarding process, contingent workers should receive frequent, honest, open communication that reassures them that they are being considered. This type of warm welcome immediately improves employee satisfaction, morale, and productivity, and integrates new employees with the company culture.
Some of Staffmark’s best practices around onboarding non-employee workers include:
- facilitating team introductions;
- assigning mentors to help employees get to know the company and their coworkers; and
- establishing a dialogue with new employees with daily check-ins for the first week and weekly check-ins for the first 90 days.
“At the start of an assignment, managers should celebrate new hires and gig workers,” Cutolo says. “Part of making everyone feel a part of the team is tapping into our human desire to belong. Regardless of the position length, employees should feel connected. A good first day should include formal introductions to the team along with an explanation of the roles of key team members, how the team works together, and the company’s processes and procedures.”
Cutolo also emphasizes the importance of clearly communicating expectations in the beginning of a temporary assignment. By immediately helping new contingent employees understand their job duties and assigning tasks that help them contribute to the organization’s goals, managers encourage new workers to feel like valued members of the team.
“We’re always certain to set clear expectations at the start of a temporary worker’s employment and we do our best to welcome them fully,” says Scherban. “At times, we utilize our contingent workforce as a pipeline for permanent employees. If there is a possibility that a contract worker could join us permanently, we’re sure to communicate that at the outset. This helps us form genuine, honest connections with workers who are integral to our broader team.”
3. Development. Although contingent workers are typically hired to fill talent gaps on a temporary or project basis, these employees still value skills development and growth opportunities. “A company that values output over input, values skills over tenure in the organization, and gives opportunities for all talent to reskill and upskill in order to drive the organization forward will see itself driving a culture that attracts and retains all talent types for the betterment of the organization,” explains Lewis of Pontoon.
By informing contingent workers about future opportunities and communicating their impact on organizational progress, Broadleaf Results’ Savarise says that companies can keep this population of workers engaged and prevent them from becoming siloed from the rest of the company.
Brown Brothers Harriman is one organization that embraces the importance of professional development as part of its contingent workforce management strategy. According to Scherban, the company has a strong culture that emphasizes independent thought, collaboration, and ingenuity. “We provide contingent staff opportunities for professional development and we facilitate engagement with both our full-time staff and our management team. From the start, we are clear with our contingent employees about their responsibilities and expectations for the future.”
Staffmark also gives its employees opportunities to take on new projects and contribute to broader organizational goals. Cutolo says that one recent initiative meant to engage staff members and promote employee development and idea-sharing was a virtual “Shark Tank” competition where both contingent and full-time employees could present their ideas for new initiatives that deliver business value.
“At the end of the day, an organization is nothing more than the collective horsepower and ability of its people to create value. So, we constantly encourage our team to share their ideas with us,” he explains. “We narrowed the submissions down to a group of finalists who presented their ideas to our leadership team, and we selected a winning idea that is in the process of being implemented now. The team loved the idea and getting the opportunity to share their vision, and we love that we were able to celebrate our team’s success.”