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How Do We Keep Contingent Workers From Jumping Ship?

September 19, 2012

Dear Stop the Revolving Door:

Contingent workers have traditionally been treated quite differently than permanent staffers. The perception is that the nature of their employment—short term, along with typically higher rates of pay—justifies the sometimes shabby treatment they receive at work.

For example, contract, project and casual employees usually are not included in training courses, social events and internal communications. Although there are legitimate reasons to treat contingent employees differently in many respects, they are still people who go home at night and reflect on their day at work.

All workers contribute to value to an organization, regardless of the nature of their employment contract. And like most employees, contingent workers crave engagement. They more engaged they are by their employer, the more likely they are to be highly productive.

Contingent employees do have one facet of life that is quite different to permanent staff. They have to address the question "How will I make my next mortgage (or rent) payment?" much more frequently than those drawing a regular salary.

Don't assume that a contingent worker is happy to wait for the contract to expire to begin discussing a new deal. If you do, you probably will experience massive turnover. Workers of all types flock to certainty — and if is not provided by the employer, employees will provide it by securing their next project elsewhere.

So, in terms of practical implications for reducing turnover for contingent staff:

  • Automatically establish a "next steps" discussion at the midpoint of any contract and at subsequent midpoints until the contract expires. For example, for a six-month contract, hold the first discussion at three months. Hold the next discussion after 1.5 months, again at three weeks, and once more at 10 days to go. At each subsequent discussion, provide increasing levels of detail about future opportunities.
  • Conduct stay surveys among your labor pool so that you can provide feedback to your clients as to what they can do differently to hold on to or attract good contingent staff in the future. For example, you may discover that one client includes contingent staff at Christmas parties and staff social events—and that doing so increases engagement, word-of-mouth referrals and intention to return on a future contract.
  • Educate clients on practical steps they can take to include contingent staff, such as team-based planning activities to integrate new project workers on an established team.
  • Reward those clients who rate highly among contingent staff, either by a slight reduction in fees or improved terms, to reflect the increased ease of assigning staff to work for them.
  • Provide some "contract proxies" for high-value contingent staff when they are between contracts with your clients. For example, you may subsidize their external training or engage them to mentor other contingent staff in keys skills.

There's clearly a relationship between the level of basic human regard given to contract staff and their subsequent intentions to stay, return and perform at their highest level. Treating contractors in line with the true value they contribute will pay dividends by way of retention.

SOURCE: Lisa Halloran, Retention Partners, Sydney, Australia

LEARN MORE: There are sound business reasons to keep contingent workers from leaving the fold.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.