Temps, independent contractors, contingent workers, andfree-lancers have become the norm, not the exception. As I wrote in a post in March 2010:

Unlike previous recession recoveries, this one will not re-employ large numbers of laid off workers. Because of technology, operational efficiencies, a project focus, and out-sourcing, many companies are finding that they can be more productive with fewer employees. And because of uncertainty about the post-recession economy, they are reluctant to make new hires permanent. Employers have found that they can get the job done by supplementing their regular employees with temps. This gives companies the freedom to increase and decrease their workforce depending on what is needed at the time.

The May 10 issue of Crain’s Detroit Business confirms this prediction. The author writes:

Increased consumer demand, a greater need for flexibility and new health-care requirements are prompting businesses from Dearborn-based Ford Motor Co. to the PeaceHealth health-care system in Washington state to turn to staffing firms…The U.S. has added 913,200 temporary workers since the end of the recession in June 2009 – about 19 percent of all new jobs. Their number rose to 2.66 million in April, about 11,300 shy of the April 2000 record, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures released May 3.

Labor economists are predicting that the number of temporary workers will set a new record in the very near future. And this is without including all of the contracted services such as legal, PR, accounting, Web support, employee training, and management consulting.

Are business leaders prepared for this change in the workforce? How will managers help temporary workers maximize their contribution to the organization?  

BusinessWeek labeled them the “disposable worker”, a pejorative term but symptomatic of the way many managers view this segment of employees. This view is based on at least three misconceptions: 1) temporary workers are not committed to the work, they just want a paycheck; 2) temporary workers are not critical to the success of the organization; and 3) it’s not worth investing time, energy, and money in the development of temporary workers.

The truth is that most temporary workers want to do a good job and care deeply about the quality of MP900401001 their work. The work they do is often critical to the success of the organization. And if they are customer-facing, then they are shaping customer attitudes toward the company.

As far as investing in temporary workers, that time, energy, and money will have immediate payoff and, because you never know how long that person will work for the organization or how many times they will come back to the company in the future, it is worth the risk to train and develop that person. When they go elsewhere, they take the goodwill and learning with them which is good for the community and good for the reputation of the organization.

Regardless of how long temporary workers have been with your organization, they should be treated as important contributors to your success. Applying the 5As Framework, here are five things you should keep in mind when supervising these employees:

1)      Make sure that they understand how their jobs are aligned with the success of the organization. They should know how what they are being asked to do contributes to achieving business goals.

2)      Let them know that you anticipate that they will have a positive experience and that their work is significant. Communicate high expectations for their performance.

3)      Form an alliance with them for the purpose of their learning and success. Give them informal and formal feedback on how they are doing and how they can improve.

4)      Create opportunities and give encouragement to apply what they know and what they are learning to their jobs. Being temporary means that it is all that much more urgent to provide these opportunities.

5)      Measure their success and hold them accountable for doing a good job. This means being clear with them about the indicators of success and how you will help them achieve those outcomes.

It is easy to make the mistake of assuming that temporary workers are not the real workforce and do not deserve our full attention. That is, in effect, discarding a large and growing portion of the workers who can make our organizations successful. We need to embrace this segment and apply the same good practices to them that we use to develop any high performing and engaged workforce.