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How to Gain Permanent Benefit from Contingent Employees

Contingent employees have become a significant part of today’s workforce, and there are sound reasons for this growth. More and more talented people are drawn to contingent work because of the flexibility and opportunities these arrangements provide. Contingent assignments allow job seekers to try out work in different firms and office cultures, and, in fact, many times a contingent engagement may become a full-time employment opportunity.

Increasingly, professionals who want a flexible work schedule along with the diversity of working in different offices and work environments are attracted to this arrangement as a long-term work style. This group includes working parents who want more time to devote to their children, Baby Boomers acting as caregivers to elderly parents, and people at retirement age who still want to be active but perhaps not on a full-time basis.

What’s new is not the use of contingent workers but the enormous growth in their numbers and the level of experience and expertise that you can bring into your company on a contingent basis: finance, sales, information technology, law, and medicine, among others. In contrast to the past, the specialist who joins your firm is often part of the contingent workforce by choice rather than necessity.

Firms are increasingly attracted by the labor cost flexibility they can gain though a combination of full-time or part-time employees and contingent workers. When employers polled in a 2011 survey by the McKinsey Global Institute were asked how their workforces would change in the next five years, 58 percent said they would hire more temporary and part-time workers.

The flexibility of variable-cost labor provides an advantage to companies that seek greater control over their human resources budgets and appreciate having access to skilled talent when and for as long as they need that talent. As companies continually rebalance their workforces to remain profitable, many are discovering that a year-round mix of core employees and contingent workers is their best bet for ultimate flexibility.

Here are some of the advantages of using contingent workers in your workforce mix:

  • It allows departments to adjust staffing levels to the ebb and flow of business cycles, thus helping keep overhead costs under control.

  • It eases the work burden on employees who may already be spread too thin because of business demands or duties added to their roles from prior layoffs or downsizing.

  • It offers departments a way to handle special projects — or special problems — that lie beyond the expertise of current staff members.

  • It gives the company an opportunity to engage — on a short-term basis — high-level specialists it can’t afford to bring onboard for the long term.

  • It creates job stability for a core group of full-time workers in highly cyclical businesses.

  • It provides what amounts to a trial period for potential new employees. If, as your needs evolve, you decide to consider converting a contingent worker to employee status, you already know some of the individual’s capabilities and personal attributes.

The more proactive and systematic you and line managers are in approaching your staffing needs, the bigger the payoff.

Here are some threshold questions as you consider the use of contingent workers:

  • What specific tasks do you need someone to perform and over what time period? The shorter the time period, the more inclined you should be to seek contingent help.

  • What skills or expertise are necessary to perform those tasks? Generally speaking, the use of contingent workers enables you to tap into a knowledge base that’s far broader than you can find in your current staff.

  • Can people who are on the company’s payroll perform those tasks — without affecting other aspects of their job performance and without creating excessive overtime costs? To answer this question, departmental managers will likely look to you and your HR colleagues, because you’re probably more familiar with the skills and workloads of people in all parts of the company.

  • Can the department and company afford the extra cost involved to engage highly skilled supplemental staff? Think overall value, not just immediate expense.

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