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Recession to Succession: The necessity of investing in employee engagement (Part 1)

The first installment of Recession to Succession: The necessity of investing in employee engagement ... or ... Why should I engage the "temps?"

I understand the reasoning behind calling a contract worker a "temp." It use to be descriptive of the expected time they would be at a company. I'm sure in about 1940 when this all started, many worked in the steno pool, or drafted using actual paper and pencils. (No, I'm not old enough to remember.)

A lot has changed, and if you've been exposed to any temporary workers in the past 10 years, you know that the name is no longer descriptive. I generally use the terms "contractors" or "contract employees," but even that isn't consistent or necessarily descriptive.

Regardless of the name, what's most important is that contract employees can make up 10 to 15 percent or more of a company's workers, and they work in almost all areas of the company. And if you've been reading about the increase in their use as the economy recovers from the recession, there's nothing temporary about them. They're here to stay.

So why should you and your overworked human resources staff spend any time engaging your contract employees? Simple: today's temps are tomorrow's flexible workforce. And some day we might drop the "flexible" part altogether, and they might just be your workforce.

I realize this largely depends on your industry and business model, but it's become clear to me that at the rate the world changes today, agile companies with access to an inventory of skills, funding and business networks will lead the way to sustained prosperity.

With this in mind, my short list of reasons to consider investing some precious time and resources into engaging your contract employee population includes:

    • Contract employees are gauging your company's willingness to engage them as direct employees in the future. I'm not talking about offering them a job. I'm talking about giving them a good impression about how you treat your employees, even those there on a temporary basis. And believe me, they'll tell their friends the good and the bad stuff.

    • It's been proven that engaged employees are more productive, innovative, and stay longer. Why would you simply ignore 10 to 15 percent (or more) of your workforce?

    • Most contract employees would likely be interested in a direct position if offered, especially in this economy. You engage them. They work harder to impress you in hopes of landing a direct job. You hire them. They become engaged direct employees. Everybody wins. And again, they tell their friends on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

Engaging contract employees is not without risks. In all contract employee engagements it should be clear that they are not employees of the company, and the engagement efforts should be around communication, teamwork, and clearly defined expectations.

For large users of contract employees, it might make sense to outsource the administrative management of these workers to ensure your risks are properly managed. Outsourcing the heavy transactional elements such as on-boarding, time cards, supplier management, invoicing, etc. might give you the breathing room you need to talk to managers about the proper way to engage contract employees. A side benefit to this model is that it can streamline these processes and make the on-boarding and off-boarding process a good experience for the contractor.

But here's the best reason to engage contract employees: A great way to get approval for increasing your headcount is to get your projects done, or hit your numbers, or better leverage technology for efficiencies and cost savings. All of these things take skilled people to accomplish, and for now, contract employees might be the best (or only) way to do that.

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