Deputy or Gun For Hire: You Can’t Have Both With a Temp Workforce

It's all about your hiring strategy: do you want a deputy or a hire gun?

I was able to watch parts of RecruitFest yesterday and I continued to see a trend I’d seen at other conferences when talking about the future of our workplaces. The dichotomy of the situations presented just struck me as fascinating.

On one hand, there are conversations flowing about how to engage the workforce. There is focus on finding people who resonate with your brand.

We are concerned when people check out, turnover, and generally ignore our employer value proposition. And maybe it is because you actually said “employer value proposition,” or maybe it is for the hundreds of different reasons people decide to not give their best. You’re deciding that you want to fight that.

On the other hand, there is this tacit (or sometimes even open acknowledgment) that we are supposedly moving to a more contingent, contracting, and ultimately temporary workforce. I don’t know if that will actually happen or not, but I know Gen Y is to blame for it.

Does anyone see the disconnect here? If the latter is our future, we shouldn’t be focusing on the former.

Temps aren’t an engaged workforce

Some will misconstrue this as an attack on temp workers and those who use them but nothing could be further from the truth. Contract/contingent/temp workers can be extremely effective workers and companies that are using them can be very successful. I know a company that built a product with 90 percent of the workers on a set contract. Once they sold the product they let the contracts expire, paid the partners in the endeavor, and life went on a little richer than before.

And if you approach your business that openly with that style, more power to you.

My problem is with people who want to do something like that but also want to pretend that they are super focused on having an engaged workforce. It doesn’t work that way.

If you want an engaged workforce (and I’m not saying you want one or have to have one), you hire them and you take care of them as far as their payroll deductions and benefits. That’s the foundation. Then, and only then, can you build up

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Deputy vs. Gun For Hire

Because these are such fluid concepts, I love the example of a deputy sheriff versus a gun for hire.

Now everyone knows that a deputy is there for more than just the security of a town or county, right? Well if you don’t know, deputies often represent their jurisdictions at public events, provide a public face for the jurisdiction they serve, and help impact the lives of people by participating within their community.

A gun for hire is just simple security. Sure, you could send them to all of those same events, but not only will most of them act differently than the deputy sheriff, they will also be perceived differently by the constituents.

Now would I hire a deputy to guard a couple of buildings on my property? Probably not. It’s a waste of resources when a gun for hire could do just as good of a job for a lower cost. But if I were starting a city? I’d hire a deputy, of course. That’s who you want out there because you want the level of control you can get from having a deputy.

The contingent future

Let’s be real about this conversation. If you don’t think the world is going to turn into a jumbled contingent and contract employee mess, then we can talk about engagement. But if your assumption is that we are going to turn into that, then it is time to talk about something other than engagement. We can focus on other skills like communication of expectations, optimal contract types, talent procurement and working with employees that neither care nor want to be a long term part of your vision.

There are more brilliant people than myself working on these sorts of questions but we have to figure out a way to change the tone of these conversations. And it doesn’t mean your organization can’t have both types of employees, it just means you can’t put an employee in one category and treat them like they are in the other.

Lance Haun is the practice director of strategy and insights for The Starr Conspiracy, where he focuses on researching and writing about work technology. He is also a former editor for ERE Media, broadly covering the world of human resources, recruiting, and sourcing. 
He has been featured as a work expert in publications like the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, MSNBC, Fast Company, and other HR and business websites.
He's based in his Vancouver, Wash., home office with his wife and adorable daughter. You can reach him by email or find him off-topic on Twitter.