A recent Washington Post article, described the life of temporary employees working at an automobile plant in Kentucky. Working at a fraction of what permanent employees make at the plant, some employees had been working as temps for extended periods, as long as three or four years, when early indications had been they would be permanent within six to 12 months.
At four years, making two thirds of their permanent fellow workers and without benefits, the plant had essentially treated these employees as disposable.
Properly utilized, contingent employees can be used to manage a variety of business issues: staff increases in business, fill temporary vacancies, seasonal or peak time assistance, even “test-drive" potential permanent employees. All of these can be vital operational functions. However, extensive or over use of “temporary" employees might be a sign of significant operational problems.
Are You Providing a Product or Service that You Shouldn’t?
The first chapter of Jim Collins book, Good to Great is titled, “Good is the enemy of great. " Just because you can do something does not mean you should. Relevant examples surround us. The most successful companies are the most focused.
On occasion, a company might find itself engaged in a new activity that requires contingent employees to staff. A special occurrence, a unique client request, or a short-term need might steer a company to uncover a new competence. New competencies, like new toys, can be fun. It engages you in a new and unique way.
Being good at something also has a way of reinforcing your self-esteem, organizational and personal. So the new activity and capacity that was originally undertaken to solve a unique problem is maintained after the problem is solved, perhaps more because its fun than its consistent with your raison d’etre.
There is nothing wrong with fun and gratifying. However, you have to evaluate if the new activity is consistent with your company’s mission and highest and best use. If you have successfully focused and engaged your company, then fun and gratifying should be nothing new.
If the new activity does not leverage your resources toward your company’s mission, it is drawing time, resource, and energy away from what you should be doing. A contingent workforce maintained in such a case is a sign that you should be finding another method of performing the work, such as a vendor or strategic partner, or simply discontinuing the service.
Is Your (Contingent) Staff Performing Under Unclear Mandate?
A former mentor cautioned me to never expect the quality of performance to exceed the quality of instruction or clarity of expectations. Clear expectations are a fundamental tenet of a tightly focused organization. They are fundamental to having mission, values, and purpose statements widely disseminated, clearly communicated, and completely understood, and practiced by every member of an organization.
How then does a company communicate this through an incongruous policy of “temping" staff for extended periods? Maintaining a temporary employment relationship for an extended period is inauthentic. If this description of an employee role does not conform to stated policy, a clear mandate is obscured at the most basic level: the employee’s role in the organization. What then can be expected of performance?
The quality of contingent staff performance would then stand to suffer. If the quality of contingent staff is not valued as highly as permanent staff, then why retain the capacity?
Are Your Relational Resources Appropriately Invested?
Relationships are one of the most vital components of business. The relational investment a company makes in its employees is reciprocated in their performance and their perception of the company. Like a social virus, that perception—the investment that a company makes in its employees—is carried within that individual to everyone they interact with.
Employees, even contingent ones, are the carriers of your company’s values, mission, and purpose. They will carry their experience of your company, how it serves its customers, and how it treats its employees, in some measure, throughout every aspect of their lives.
The stronger the relationship an employee has with your company, the more potent a social virus carrier they will be. Your most loyal employees, vendors, and customers are your strongest carriers. They are the medium through which your brand is communicated.
If your relationship with an employee is clearly articulated and tacitly agreed with, even a short-term contingent employee will become an effective vehicle for your brand. If an employee is left in the limbo of temporary for an extended period, their relationship with your company will suffer. In essence, without a clear understanding, a long-term contingent employee is a wasted opportunity to appropriately inoculate a potential carrier of your organization’s brand identity.
Are You Growing Too Fast?
A company should never grow past its capability to function in it’s mission and serve it’s customers. The corporate graveyard is littered with stories of companies who collapsed under the weight of their own growth, having insufficient capacity or talent to manage an increasing customer base.
Extending temporary employment contracts might be a sign that your growth is getting out of control. Unmanageable growth comes in two forms. 1) You are growing in your core markets faster than you can adequately service new and continuing customers. 2) You are growing into areas that are not within your current or planned sectors.
Managing growth is about making disciplined choices. There may be portions of the customer base that are outside your desired market. Or, it may be necessary to explore outsourcing or strategic partnership agreements.
Permanent temps: oxymoron or inauthentic?
When it comes to managing operational problems, you can either pay to repair the issues now or pay later with interest. Your use of temporary employees might provide valuable clues to some serious operational problems. If your organization does not maintain a clear understanding with employees, permanent or contingent, you risk losing control of one of your greatest organizational assets.
At a fundamental level, temporary employees retained for years, when they have been informed that they would be permanent within a few months, is inauthentic. If your organization manages their staff relations without authenticity, how can you expect customers, vendors, and stakeholders to treat you?
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