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Mar 29, 2016

For many years, temporary workers came and went without anyone really learning their names or even acknowledging their existence in offices around the world.

Today, however, global talent shortages are forcing enterprises of all sizes to re-think their relationships with contingent and outsources workers.

Demand is beginning to outstrip supply for a number of professions — especially IT experts, programmers and data scientists — and McKinsey estimates that there will be a shortage of about 85 million qualified workers by 2020.

On top of this, the emergence of online labor marketplaces such as TaskRabbit and Lyft and the attraction of more flexible work conditions has driven up the number of people earning a living from freelancing. According to a survey by the Freelancers Union, 34 percent of the population qualified as freelancers back in 2013 — and the figure is predicted to reach 50 percent by 2020.

In the past the emphasis was always on attracting the best ‘in-house’ teams, and then getting them to stay. So why is it now so important for employers to engage contingent workers and offer perks which will keep them coming back again and again?

The real value of contingent workers

For decades, a common grumble among contingent workers was that they were treated like “second class citizens” by management, due to concerns about commitment, confidentiality and conflicts of interest.

For managers, there was little need to spend time developing a personal bond with these people, or offer them added perks and bonuses, as they were simply filling an extra gap which could be filled by countless other people from outsourcing agencies.

Today, there is a global talent shortage emerging rapidly, and no magic wand in sight. High quality contingent workers are becoming a prized commodity which employers need to keep sweet, or risk losing these workers to someone offering better conditions. You could well say that the tables have turned.

Whereas in the past, employers tended to turn to contingent workers to fill lower level roles like secretaries, admin, or coders, nowadays platforms and services exist which can provide staff at all levels, including management and executives.

Freelance platform Elance states that 70 percent of businesses using their platform are doing so to fill an essential skill gap and workers are being used for more valued roles in companies, with 45 percent of businesses reporting using freelancers to expand into new markets; and 50 percent being hired to work on multiple projects.

A pat on the back goes a long way

And this is not just a Silicon Valley problem.

PwC research finds that 63 percent of global CEOs worry about not being able to find employees with the necessary skills and innovative mindsets to fill vacancies. Many of today’s contingent workers are Millennials, a group which needs more attention than their parent’s generation.

So now more than ever, employers need to consider how then can sweeten the deal for their temporary workers and keep a hold of good talent.

It’s not just as simple as throwing money at the problem. Many temp agencies and outsourcing platforms have strict policies on payment and perks which are clearly and legally outlined in official agreements, but there are other ways to engage with temporary staff and have them leave on a high note.

Making sure that these workers are made to feel part of the team, kept in the loop, and praised when appropriate is important if employers want to develop a continued relationship with them in the future. Even the small touch of inviting these staff to social events might make a huge difference. No one likes being the only one who isn’t invited to a party.

The benefits run deeper than simply keeping ahold of good team members. Increased engagement results in increased productivity, improved corporate performance, and higher customer satisfaction.

Also, short term employees that perceive their “psychological contract” with an organization as social and emotional as opposed to merely transactional and economic tend to be more willing to go the extra mile.

Building a good relationship begins at the beginning

For a manager, building a good relationship starts on Day One.

Having a well-developed onboarding procedure connects temporary workers with your company’s culture and makes them feel part of the team straight from the start. Surveys from TinyPulse show enterprises who spend the time onboarding new staff retain 91 percent of their first-year workers. And, those who experience a positive onboarding process are 69 percent more likely to return to the company in the future.

Communication and feedback throughout their contract is key. Whether it be for two weeks or two years, workers shouldn’t be left in the dark about their progress. Communication helps freelancers to feel valued despite their job title or job status.

While companies generally need to have separate administrative systems and records for their contract and non contract workers, there are a range of business tools out there which can be used to make metrics for contingent workers, so that their work can be monitored, and praise can be offered if they are excelling or going above and beyond.

These systems are especially useful today, with the high turnover of temporary staff who may well work multiple times for a company, as their records and metrics stay in the system and can be re-started at will.

Sweetening the deal

Tools like vendor management systems allow employers to focus on administrative issues such as internal training and getting employee feedback through workers surveys. Asking for feedback and offering internal training opportunities allowing people to better their portfolios is a great way to stay in favor with temporary team-members.

Companies could subscribe to training platforms such as Lynda and then offer temp workers access to their profile. This way, the worker gains new skills, feels they have walked away with a good deal, and if they decide not to return to the company in the future, at least the employer hasn’t invested much into training them.

Regardless of the task they are undertaking, or the length of time they are contracted for, managers need to start viewing temporary staff as a re-usable extension of their core team. Searching for, hiring, contracting and onboarding new staff is a lengthy process, and there are a limited number of experienced freelancers out there.

This new generation of “business batmen” can be on hand to save the day whenever your company gives the signal, but be sure to make them feel important or valued, or the the next time you are in need of help they might not answer your call.