Integrating Contingent Workers

By Thomas Lawrence Print this article Print

A fast-growing category of workers requires special care and handling.

We all have busy days where we don’t have the time and resources to supervise our employees—but we’re counting on them to get the job done anyway. It’s an acceptable scenario in many cases, but it rarely works when it’s the same day a contingent employee begins his or her assignment. They’ve received no orientation or guidance, laying the foundation for a less-than-ideal working relationship.

This situation highlights a significant challenge of the modern workplace: How do managers effectively integrate contingent employees, or “free agents,” into their full-time staff? The question crops up regularly, and not only in the IT industry—where the hiring of free agents is now often the rule instead of the exception—but in practically every working environment.

I’ve seen companies master this integration. Others, however, continue to struggle. Failing to provide basic first-day orientation, for instance, is common even among the largest employers that have the best intentions of successfully managing a versatile workforce. But it’s critical to get it right, because contingent workers are fast becoming a mainstay of the everyday functions of companies both large and small.

Give credit where credit is due.

The profile of modern contingent employees is drastically different from stereotypes of the past, which cast them as inferior compared with regular employees. Overcoming these traditional perceptions is a key first step toward effectively managing and engaging contingent talent.

According to the newest Kelly Services report, “The New Workforce: Insights into the Free Agent Workstyle,” contingent workers are well-educated, highly skilled and aware of how much they bring to the table. They deliberately choose free-agent status not because they can’t find traditional employment, but because they value the freedom and professional possibilities that come with that choice.

Managers, then, can take cues on how to successfully integrate contingent workers from how they see themselves: namely, that they consider their contributions in the workplace as valuable as that of regular workers and that they expect to be treated on an equally professional level.

At the same time, free agents are usually no less nervous about their initial and continued performance during an assignment. They want to perform at the highest level, and therefore want just as much feedback to keep performing at that level as you would presumably provide for a regular employee. It’s true that some people do very well in an independent environment, but my experience has shown that these workers are usually in the minority. Know that the free agents you employ not only want coaching, but expect it.  

Ultimately, every employee needs some form of professional support in the workplace. It’s no different for the contingent worker. This simple rule of thumb will go a long way toward ensuring their success at your organization.

This article was originally published on 2012-01-19
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