Rethinking "the temp treatment"

08/31/2021

Jeff Bielik

Vice President, Professional & Industrial

Utter the word ‘temp’ among a group of full-time employees (FTEs) and you’re likely to get a variety of less-than-enthusiastic reactions. From the perceived pitfalls of the short-lived nature of their work to a reputation for being disengaged and unreliable, these individuals get a bad rap, when in fact they’re vital to the continuity and profitability of your light industrial (e.g. assembly, production, and packaging) or warehousing business. You’ve likely thought long and hard about how to attract them to your operation to fill open roles but may not put the same amount of care into keeping them on board.

But you should.

With the average cost to replace an hourly employee hovering around $5,000 (Source: Society of Human Resource Management study), reducing worker turnover is clearly in a company’s best interest, and a closer look at contract-based worker engagement can be a particularly great first place to look. 

Everyone deserves to be treated fairly and feel valued for their contributions. And regardless of contract/FTE status, an encouraged and supported team member is a more effective contributor to your operation’s objectives and bottom line. So, what’s your plan? Consider the following tactics to keeping your contract-based workers engaged and on board.

Set them up for success

A recent Kelly study of light industrial and warehousing contractors took a deeper dive into workers’ satisfaction with and motivation to complete a job. The biggest factor? Training. 

Sure, all contract-based workers meet a prerequisite skills requirement. That doesn’t mean they’ll walk onto your site and automatically know your company’s unique way of completing a task, or the secret workaround for a finnicky piece of equipment. And expecting them to figure it out on their own creates a longer learning curve, disrupts production, and de-motivates the individual. Lack of capability causes frustration, embarrassment, and sometimes harassment by FTEs. The contract-based teammate leaves, and the hiring manager is back to square one in filling the role, causing additional strain on the team.  

The attitude and care given for onboarding and training a contract-based employee should be no different than bringing on a new FTE. Oftentimes, a contractor is paired up with an FTE who may not be up for the task – they don’t want to be bothered, they aren’t prepared to be an effective trainer, or may have a bad attitude toward contract workforce. Be sure the person training incoming contractors on the task they’ll be completing are:

  • A positive representation of your company culture who can also lead by example.
  • Up to speed on safety procedures.
  • Encouraging and patient.
  • Incentivized for trainee retention. 

Building an internal training team of brand stewards to deliver consistent training and keep in touch with contract-based workers is an important step in creating an inclusive, supportive team environment. 

Make them feel like part of the team (because they are)

If the quarterback of your football team didn’t know which play the rest of the team was running, they wouldn’t know when or where to throw the ball. Same goes for your contract-based workforce. Clue them in on your goals, deadlines, and objectives. Include them in team meetings where appropriate and encourage open communication. If these folks are treated as part of the team, they will perform as part of the team and this will create an environment of ownership and team spirit. Otherwise, why should they care or be committed? 

Listen

Management needs to check in with contractors to express interest in their wellbeing and thank them for their efforts, the same way they would invest time in listening to an FTE. Having management’s attention and appreciation is a motivational – and easy – personal touchpoint. 

What are their needs? What are their challenges? Do they have interest in learning other functions of the team? Do they have long term goals that could fit your firm’s needs? Empowering your contractors to express their basic on-the-job needs and aspirations creates a culture of care that energizes and encourages them to stay on the job longer and work harder. And, in the chance you discover some who would like to cross-train, you’ve earned yourself an extra floater to fill in wherever needed.

Review your contingent workforce policies

Many companies who stood witness to the infamous years-long co-employment litigation epic of the 1990s rushed to create contingent worker policies that created segregation between FTEs and contract-based workers. Some of these policies – like different-colored uniforms/badges, different building entries, or different coffee or snack offerings – were aimed to ensure contract-based workers weren’t provided the same perks as FTEs. 

While well-meaning, policies like these were overcorrections that signal to FTEs that contractors are not equals. They create an environment of segregation where mistreatment of contract-based employees is the norm and they’re reprimanded for drinking the wrong coffee or helping themselves to a free banana intended for FTEs only.  

If “it’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s just company policy” are phrases used to defend this kind of unequal contractor treatment, it’s probably time to engage your legal team to reexamine your contingent workforce policies.

The bottom line: Treat people with the same respect you’d expect yourself. There’s zero legal risk or cost required to treat contract-based workers with dignity and kindness. Simply expressing interest in their success is encouraging and motivating. Better yet, Heck, learn their names and look them in the eye when you pass them in the hall.

Treatment of staff – both FTE and contract-based – is an important factor in becoming an employer of choice in your area. Focusing on contractor retention – by making these individuals feel like valued, included, and empowered contributors to your organization – creates an environment of ownership and team spirit that increases production, advances culture and improves retention. The result is a healthier bottom line – and that’s a win for everyone.