Work Environments and the Impact on Contingent Workforce Productivity


Happy workers are more productive workers. There is no mystical secret to this simple fact.  It is intuitive and makes perfect sense.  Yet, it is commonplace for work environments to be anything but life affirming and healthy for full time workers or contingents.  If there is a culture that produces a negative work environment within an organization for its full time employees, there is little hope that the picture will be better for the contract worker.  However, for forward thinking organizations putting forth the effort to make their work environments affirmative, the rewards are manifold. This post will look beyond the steps these companies have taken to make full timers more productive and examine how fostering a healthy work environment improves contingent workforce productivity. 

Overall, the notion of contingent work is in itself focused on work life balance.  Many contractors struck out as contingents particularly for the better work/life balance they were able to create for themselves by having more control over when they wished to work (as opposed to full timers who were locked into regular 40 hour schedules).  Yet as the ranks of the contingent workforce swell, there is definitely some risk that productivity may suffer.  Particularly if contingents are regarded as throw away commodities by employers seeking to minimize labor costs at the expense of almost any other consideration.

For those that truly wish to capture the best of both worlds – better labor utilization and cost control along with high productivity – there are strategies to employ that can deliver this two-fold objective. Here are a few of the most effective.

1)  Allowing for Telecommuting
Nothing is better for protecting work/life balance than the ability to work in environments that are comfortable and do not require the hassle and expense of a daily commute.  Companies that allow telecommuting among contractors and contingents report higher levels of productivity from that segment of their workforce.

2) Offering Flex Hours
Going hand in hand with telecommuting, allowing contingents to work hours of their own choosing provides the flexibility to the worker to take a sick child to a doctor’s appointment or to take care of banking during business hours.  Workers who are permitted this latitude are typically more contented on the job and exhibit better productivity as a result.  As long as the contractor is performing on time and with sufficient quality, (and as long as the work doesn’t require specific on the job hours such as teaching etc.) there’s much to be gained and little to be lost by allowing flex hours. For independent contractors in particular, the latitude with working hours is actually one of the indicators examined in a classification audit.

3)  Developing Contingent Labor Pools
In a report from Cornell HR Review we learned of the practice in use at greeting card company Hallmark allowing for the development of contingent labor pools. To qualify for inclusion in the pool, workers must have had prior experience working as contingent or full time Hallmark employees so as to ensure that pool resources have experience with Hallmark culture, business rules and processes.  Pool members must accept at least one assignment every six months in order to remain eligible.  Pool workers are often allowed to telecommute at greater rates than their non-pool counterparts.  As a result of this practice, Hallmark has achieved an on-demand roster of talent from which to source as needed at any location across their operations. Workers in the pool are highly motivated and productive because they know there will be work for them on a regular basis, but that they’ll have significant control over when and where they’ll be called to perform.

Other interesting environmental strategies that produce positive productivity effects include Google’s practice of infusing work areas with bright colors and offering games and other distractions to keep workers (contingent and otherwise) feeling engaged and positive. The redeployment of retirees and early retirees into consultative roles within their former organizations provides supplemental income to the worker while delivering highly experienced resources back to the organization, helping train and guide the next generation of employees.  Participants in both these strategies report positive feelings about them and that translates into greater productivity. 

For more information on how to improve the environment in your contingent workforce, ask your nextSource representative.

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