Integrating a contingent workforce

How to avoid potential tensions between contractors and full-time employees
By Tony Larm
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/06/2012

At many organizations, it’s common to find contract workers and full-time employees working side by side. In such situations, resentment can rear its ugly head as full-time employees may be nervous or unsure about why the temporary employees are needed.

There may also be concerns about compensation and what having contract workers says about the company’s commitment to its workforce.

The following are the various types of resentment that can happen with contractors in the workplace:

Emotional: It’s typical for full-time employees to wonder why contract workers are needed. Questions such as, “Are they going to take my job?” and “What value do they bring that I have not shown already?” should be expected.

Financial: Many full-time workers ask, “Why is this contractor being paid more than me?” and “What skills do they have that I do not?” Managers must be equipped to explain the specific reasons for the contingent workforce and the differences in management of compensation for contingent and full-time workers, such as vacation or benefits.

Commitment: Full-time workers often ask why their organization is hiring contractors instead of investing in additional full-time employees. Full-time workers feel they have “put in their time” and deserve an opportunity to grow their own skill sets. As a result, some may question their employer’s loyalty and commitment to the full-time workforce.

Building a harmonious workplace

When blending the two types of workers, a couple of rules will help reduce potential challenges and pain points:

Boost communication: Contract workers are often hired in the hopes of meeting short-term needs but too often the employer fails to share with key influential team members why this decision was made. It’s essential to clearly define the strategic objective of using contractors.

Also, explain the benefits of using a contract workforce to employees impacted by the decision. Failing to do so will cause miscommunications and delays to specific goals, which will increase project timelines and cost.

Choose the right workers: Select the proper contractor with the right skill sets for the environment in which they will work. Don’t underestimate the importance of team chemistry. Whether it’s in the workplace, at sporting events or among families, good chemistry can make all the difference. And we know what bad chemistry looks like when skill sets and personalities are not taken into consideration.

Remember that a contract employee is an individual engaged by a business to provide a specific set of services. An employer-employee relationship is established pursuant to the terms and conditions of a written employment contract. There are specific laws and guidelines around this published by governing bodies and industry experts. It is an employer’s responsibility to minimize and, hopefully, eliminate any negative perception employees have about contractors.

Easing employee concerns

There are a few ways to ease the concerns of all employees:

• Create a process for how to measure value and success when using contingent labour. Full-time workers, if not properly educated, may view contractors as a drain on budgets or a roadblock for accessing proper additional resources. They may be unsure of the true value a contract workforce can add. It is essential to measure the success of using contractors, whether by sharing project timelines, cost reductions or knowledge transfer with key members of the full-time workforce.

• When hiring contractors, go beyond their skills to ensure they compliment the company culture and team’s strengths and weaknesses.

• Socialize milestone successes with both workforces. Foster a team environment and promote the gains that occur with a blended workforce.

• Ensure you and your team are well-educated on the protocol and policies of managing a contingent workforce. These guidelines should be established by the provider of the contingent workforce, the HR department and local or national governing laws.

As the percentage of contract workers rises at most organizations, creating awareness and proactively communicating their value will create a harmonious environment.

Tony Larm is a program director at Allegis Group Services in Mississauga, Ont., which offers human capital and workforce management solutions. He can be reached at (905) 283-1403 or alarm@allegisgroupservices.com. For more information, visit www.AllegisGroupServices.com.

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