Working with contingent hires on video conference

5 Best Practices for Working with Contingent Talent

Rachel Stewart Johnson

Psychologist | Driven by communications about human behavior in Work

Career got a new look? Recent years have brought a rise of the term “gig economy.” Along with that discussion, we’ve seen increasing numbers of workers reimagining the career arc. Recent estimates indicate that 43% of American workers partake in freelance work arrangements to provide some or all of their income. Moreover, the concept is evaluated with interest even among those who don’t practice it, with 9 out of 10 US workers reporting that they would consider taking on freelance work.

Rather than taking permanent positions with a single employer and tying themselves to the fate of that one organization, a growing swath of the American workforce has begun focusing more on the work they’ll be doing and less on the company they’ll be doing it for. It’s a tradeoff that more are willing to accept: long-term job security is sacrificed as flexibility, choice, and enjoying a frequent “refresh” become predominant values.

For employers drawing from this growing pool of on-demand talent, questions are numerous. Do these contingent workers have importantly different needs? Should traditional HR concerns like recruitment, workplace decorum, and employee engagement be approached in the same way? Here are five points for employers to keep in mind as they invest in today’s contingent workforce.


Choose wisely.

Bringing talent on board based solely on the technical and practical skills needed to complete a project leaves soft skills unaddressed. Soft skills are important for a variety of job roles, whether that’s the ability to communicate a point effectively, act upon an ongoing interest in learning, or accept feedback. Individuals with real-world experience as project-based workers affirm the importance of soft skills. In fact, 78% agreed that soft skills are equally important as technical skills for career success. Contingent workers often must dive in quickly and bring a project to a timely resolution. They must be ready on day one, able to adapt to those around them and quickly achieve clarity in their mission. Methods of assessing the personality and soft skills of temporary workers must also be quick and accessible to match these requirements, or they are effectively useless.


Set expectations.

Most gig workers (60%) affirm that their work lives are “flexible,” compared to 27% of workers in traditional arrangements. This talent pool is likely accustomed to a level of self-determination greater than that of the permanent workforce. That may include clocking time outside of traditional business hours, working exclusively from home, opting out of certain tasks, and working at an irregular pace. It’s important that your expectations are clear. If you prefer a contingent worker to be available on-demand, don’t assume this will be the default. During the negotiation phase, clarify how meetings, workday access, and response time will be handled. Consider how these guidelines will compare to the expectations of your permanent workforce, and how contrasting approaches could impact those on your payroll. That means the discussion of expectations should extend to all those who work alongside a contingent hire, not just the hire themselves.


Diversify each worker’s tasks.

A majority (63%) of gig workers are motivated by developing a portfolio of clients rather than sticking with a single employer. That credo of not “putting all your eggs in one basket” should be well understood. How can an individual employer respond to this priority? To retain your top contingent workers and ensure they’ll accept your requests when you need them, consider offering them a breadth of projects. That allows you to boost high-value workers by enabling them to add a greater diversity of achievements to their resume.


Teach and learn.

Related to the point above, when you deliberately expand the scope of work an individual is offered, you encourage their growth and invest in them for what can then become a long-term project-by-project relationship. Of course, this then saves your organization recruiting dollars and lowers the risks associated with “reinventing the wheel” every time. In addition, offering employer-sponsored learning and development to your contingent workforce not only invests in talent and builds for the future, it distinguishes your company as an employer with unique appeal. Content that can be accessed on-demand on the worker’s time frame, that is mobile-first, customized to the individual, and perceived as having long-term relevance has the most value for today’s contingent worker.


Cultivate loyalty.

Organizations that pursue contingent talent must recognize that these individuals are likely to be “multi-taskers,” working for more than one organization in any given month. For example, many individuals combine permanent positions with short-term posts that they add to supplement income or develop skills. Among US workers who hold more than one job, for example, 36% include a gig work arrangement as part of their work week. Given this reality, efforts should be made to build loyalty to the organization. That means including contingent workers in newsletters and other updates, extending invitations to company events both in-person and virtual, and adding in perks that might include an impromptu gift card or a paid day off.


Tapping into temp talent

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in mid-2017 that 79% of independent contractors preferred their approach to a traditional one. This points to a high level of satisfaction with the ability to choose where, when, and how much to work. Savvy employers can tap into this workforce with confidence that they are likely to find a relatively motivated and happy labor pool. Notably, the Bureau reported lower satisfaction scores among those with different gig-based arrangements, such as on-call workers and those engaged by temp agencies. That distinction suggests that when gig workers have a high level of autonomy and are well-resourced, able to use their talents and contribute, they are at their happiest. Respecting that value system, compensating talent well, and recognizing how to become a “gig-friendly” employer will help ensure that the gig economy is a win-win scenario for both the modern worker and the leading-edge employer.


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