How to Get the Most Benefit from Contingent Workers

Blending contingent workers into your company’s existing workforce requires a certain amount of preparation at the departmental level to make sure that you’re getting the most out of these professionals. Here are some ideas:

  • Brief your staff. You’re inviting trouble if you don’t communicate beforehand to your staff the rationale behind your strategy of engaging contingent workers for a project. Failing to do so can cause trouble on two fronts:

    • It leads to needless confusion or even tension among your full-time employees, who may wonder why the individual has been engaged, what his role is to be, and what may be amiss that caused the need for a contingent worker in the first place.

    • It creates unnecessary pressure for the contingent staff who must work with or near a group of people who are puzzled by his mere presence.

    Instead of merely announcing that a contingent worker has been engaged, involve employees earlier in the staffing process to help you clarify the scope of the department or project team’s workload. This way, the entire workgroup can be clear about the scope and nature of the individual’s engagement, how long the assignment is going to last, and how the situation is going to affect each of them (if at all).

  • Set up a plan. You need to have a clear idea — before the contingent worker arrives — about the scope of the project, when it should be completed and, as appropriate, matters related to quality. Just make sure that your expectations and those of other managers are realistic.

    Also, factor in the reality that even seasoned contingent workers need time to acclimate themselves to a new working environment. Again, other staff members can provide valuable input in clarifying the scope of work and the amount of time it takes to get specific tasks done.

  • Get the workplace ready. Make sure you’ve communicated with the manager to whom the individual will report and arranged an adequate workspace. Materials and supplies the worker needs are already there upon her arrival. Computers have the latest versions of software used by your company, the Internet connection is secure and fast, any necessary logon IDs and passwords are provided, and other details have been addressed.

  • Make safety a priority. Be sure to provide appropriate safety and health training, particularly for workers in manufacturing or other non-office settings.

  • Create a friendly atmosphere. The more at home a company can make contingent workers feel, the more productive they’re likely to be. At the very least, make sure that the receptionist has been alerted ahead of time.

    Either you or someone in the department to which the worker has been assigned should conduct a mini-orientation: a quick tour of the immediate work area and location of restrooms, fire exits, lunchroom, vending machines, and any tools that will be needed for the job. Take time to explain lunch-hour policies, security procedures, office protocols, parking, and so on.

  • Be explicit about the tasks. Here’s a general rule: The lengthier and more complex the assignment is, the more time you or a line manager needs to spend on orientation and explaining the nature of the assignment. Putting the instructions in writing is particularly useful.

  • Provide adequate supervision. Make sure that you stay connected with the work of the contingent workers you engage. They’re working under your direction. Check in with line managers and make sure that they’re communicating well with contingent staff. The manager and others within the department should encourage contingent workers to ask questions when they don’t understand something.

  • Intervene early. Let managers on your team know that if they’re not pleased with the quality of a contingent worker’s contributions, they should contact you or the staffing firm immediately.

  • Don’t settle. A reputable staffing firm won’t argue with you if the person who’s been sent to your firm isn’t doing a good job. For everyone’s sake, however, try to be as specific as you can when expressing displeasure. If you do a good job of telling the firm where the individual fell short, you’re more likely to get a suitable replacement.

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