Contingent Workers: Do their Voices Count?

There’s a cartoon we are fond of at OrgVitality, where a man in a suit sits in his chair, and asks his underling, “You mean all these part-time, temporary, no benefits workers quit??? Where’s that old-fashioned company loyalty?”

This cartoon speaks to the ever-increasing number of organizations that employ temporary or contingent workers. And, of course, there’s that relatively new breed of organization staffed by what’s now called gig employees (basically freelancers or independent contractors). According to a recent NPR/Marist poll, 1 in 5 American workers are contingent, or contract, workers. According to a recent survey by the business and financial software company Intuit, 34% of American workers are gig employees. Both contingent and gig work is expected to grow significantly over the next decade.

Contingent work offers both individuals and organizations benefits and disadvantages. There’s more flexibility but less commitment on both sides, as it’s easy to add or lose workers as needs change. But the traditional factors that motivate most employees – benefits, advancement, and job security – aren’t available to these workers, and as a result, organizations need to look to other strategies. Organizations looking to keep contingent workers might consider providing them with development opportunities, as the data suggests that these efforts help motivate and keep these workers because they feel like they are getting the training and skills to move on to other opportunities when their current position ends. In other words, their time at the organization will be well-spent, even though it is limited.

One question we get from a number of clients is whether or not to survey contingent workers. These workers are still a valuable part of the organization, and many organizations couldn’t function without them. Contingent workers often provide critical feedback. Usually, we create a separate survey for them, with questions that are more relevant to their situations and experiences. Here are some questions we bring up with clients in order to create the survey program that works best for their needs:

What’s your strategy? As always, this question is at the heart of what we do. We would start any design of a contingent worker survey by asking executives or other leaders what specific services, opportunities, and challenges contract workers provide.

What types of questions do you ask? Since contingent workers aren’t employees, a traditional employee engagement survey isn’t appropriate. In general, a contingent worker survey is often shorter, more about the integration into a team, as well as specific career and personal situations. Generally, it’s less focused on the organizational strategy, leadership, or products.

What do you want to communicate? Surveys aren’t just important listening tools; they also provide management with an opportunity to send a message throughout the workforce. If, as we discussed above, you want to make sure you are motivating temporary workers, a survey can be a good place to solicit feedback about what types of development opportunities they would like to see.

What frequency of survey makes sense for contingent workers? This often depends on the amount of change the organization is going through, as well as what other survey initiatives are in place. Does the organization run a large annual survey only, or shorter, more frequent pulse surveys? Together, we talk through the pros and cons of different options to choose what makes the most sense for your organization.

Today's workplace is a mosaic of opportunities and situations. Just as workers have had to adapt to the changing nature of work, so do organizations that are looking to fully understand and capitalize on workers' opinions. In order to get an accurate view into the organization, it's important to include both full-time employees and contingent workers in the survey process.

Want to learn how OrgVitality can help you with your employee and contingent worker surveys? Contact us to speak with one of our executive partners.

And while you're here, register for our upcoming webinar, "The Three Types of Individuals Every Organization Needs," on July 24th at 12:30 PM EST. Join OV partners Jeffrey Saltzman, Scott Brooks, and Victoria Hendrickson as they explain why a successful organization needs Executors, Explorers, and Boundary Spanners - and how to ensure you have the right mix. Register today.

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