Employee engagement is the most important factor in enabling organizations to inspire and mobilize their people. Engaged employees are motivated to succeed, take pride in their company, are committed to the success of the enterprise and are more adaptable to change. But what about flex-force staff – those that are temporary, contingent or contract workers?
Many companies are focused on the importance of keeping their full-time employees engaged and recognize the direct correlation to high performance, efficiency, retention and ultimately, customer satisfaction that leads to increased revenue and profitability. These companies often make meaningful investment in employee programs, such as surveys to understand and act on employee perspectives, change management initiatives to address issues, and internal communications to ensure awareness of and alignment with corporate vision, values, strategies and objectives. Few, however, recognize the importance of similar programs for the flex-force.
Increasingly, over the past few years as layoffs, restructuring and a lingering economic recession persist, companies have relied on non-full-time labor as a human capital strategy. The reasons are myriad and often beneficial including:
- Flexibility in allocating resources to short-term projects.
- Bringing in expertise for specific needs where it is unfeasible to assume long-term employment commitments.
- Reducing salary overhead, benefits cost and other infrastructure support expenses.
- Saving valuable management resources (e.g. reviews, etc.).
While these savings may make perfect sense on paper, there are two very significant engagement pitfalls to the trend of relying on significant numbers of non-full-time resources, not to mention the potential co-employment risks. These are:
- The core full-time employee base may resent this new class of workers. They miss their friends and colleagues that were laid off and feel those individuals should be brought back before alternative hires. They also worry that as the company focuses on further cost reduction they may be the next casualty. Fearing the trend is permanent, pressure is placed on their ability to gain promotions, increase compensation, learn and grow and build a career. They further are challenged to build the close personal and professional relationships with a contingency workforce essential to effective teamwork.
- The flex-force workers on the other hand, while relieved in this economic environment to be working, may not necessarily be committed to the company but rather to the agency that placed them there, knowing their next job is likely coming from that organization. As a result, they are less likely to be invested in the long-term health of the company. Also, without the rights and benefits of full-time employees, and frequently being shut out of positive employee activities, they are much more likely to be disengaged with resultant performance and productivity deficiencies.
It is vital to company success that the flex-force be treated with an eye to keeping them engaged for as long as they work for the company, regardless of capacity. Specific employee engagement tools and practices should be implemented to ensure this workforce is contributing maximum value to the company rather than damaging vital stakeholder relationships. Finally, these workers may end up being part of the full-time team in the future. Getting them engaged now will enable stronger performance over the long-term.