Contract Employee Engagement and Retention: The Elusive Paradigm

ThinkstockPhotos-487567547I have been around the staffing industry for quite some time — perhaps longer than I care to admit!  Throughout those years, one common theme I have always heard in my commercial staffing career is the struggle of retaining top talent.

And while I agree 100% with this notion, unfortunately, this statement typically correlates directly to retention rates of staff employees.  Equally as important as retaining permanent employees within the organization, there needs to be a systemic shift in mindset of how we treat and work towards retaining contract employees.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe company leaders, HR departments, etc. realize this shift is important.  I just believe the perception of developing and implementing a retention plan specific to contract labor would be a monumental undertaking; that in the end might not be achievable and therefore, is frequently not pursued.

When you truly think about the plethora of benefits that can be gained from a sophisticated campaign built to care for, engage, retain and re-deploy contract employees, you start to realize that no matter what it takes, it is worth the investment of time and resources.  I could go on for quite a while when talking about these benefits, but for now, I will give you four specific areas to think about.

Contract Labor & Your Employment Brand

Contract employees engage with your clients more than you do.  Read that sentence again and ask yourself, “What does this really mean?”  Simply stated, your contract employee’s opinion of you will, without a doubt, be transparent to your client.

They can either be an ally in retaining or expanding that client relationship, or they can help to quickly expedite your exit from the relationship.  On more than one occasion, I have seen multi-million dollar staffing partnerships deteriorate and end because of the negative perception the contract employee had for his or her employer of record.

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Build a Contract Workforce You Have Confidence In

It is much easier and, quite frankly, a safer bet to re-deploy an employee who has successfully completed an assignment.  Seems like common sense, right?  Well, you would be surprised to learn how many times a recruiter makes a placement and then never engages with that employee again.

Instead, when a new position comes up, the recruiter often chooses to go back to the candidate marketplace to source a new, unknown candidate.  The negative consequences of the latter practice are too many to mention.

Create Brand Advocates

Referrals and network building are directly tied to placing contract employees on multiple, meaningful assignments.  Once a recruiter and/or the organization gains the reputation of having ongoing opportunities for top talent, the word spreads like wildfire; making that recruiter or organization the preferred choice.

Direct Financial Benefits

Think about having a large percentage of your contract workforce that hits the state unemployment insurance cap each and every year and the impact that has on your margins.  This coupled with not having to continually vet new candidates against client contractual requirements; i.e., criminal background checks, drug screening, etc.  Organizations need to consider positioning internal recruiting resources in a more efficient and effective manner as opposed to resetting the search process every time a new open position hits the desk.

It should be noted that this type of engagement campaign requires the attention of each and every individual in the organization.  Take into account the activities you and your team perform on a daily basis and ask yourself how many of the activities contribute to the care, engagement, retention and/or redeployment of your valued contract employees.  If the answer is frequently “not many”, you may want to reconsider how you utilize and integrate contract labor with the activities surrounding retention.

MORE: How to improve staff engagement

Jody Rummel
Jody Rummel IS VP of HR for Yoh.

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