Employee engagement

How to Keep a Contingent Worker Engaged and Motivated

George Dickson
December 7, 2016
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There are plenty of guides and advice on keeping full-time employees motivated and engaged, but what about contingent workers? As the contingent workforce trends larger and larger across the world, this becomes an increasingly significant question to answer.

According to SAP / Oxford Economics' Workforce 2020 insights, over 80 percent of executives are increasing their use of contingent workers.

That's a dramatic shift from even ten years ago, when contingent work was less prevalent. But perhaps more important than the increase in the number of contingent workers being hired, is the type of work they're being hired for.

This type of working relationship is no longer the realm of retail organizations and seasonal business. 

In his Workforce Magazine article "Contingent Workers: Why Companies Must Make Them Feel Valued," Ed Frauenheim explains,

Increasing amounts of work are going to higher-skilled contingent workers—to professionals such as engineers, graphic artists and nurses—whose talents can be pivotal for organizations.


If trends continue in the direction they're headed, contingent work will only become more common, and organizations across the world are going to need to develop a modern strategy for keeping contingent workers engaged and motivated if they want to stay ahead.

But what does it take to keep a contingent worker engaged?

People are still motivated by the same fundamental drives, whether they're a full-time employee, or a contingent worker.

Although contractual obligations may not require an organization to treat a contingent worker the same as a full-time employee, the fundamental goals of that working arrangement are often very similar for both parties to those of full-time employment.

In his Forbes article "The Rise Of The Contingent Worker," SAP's HR Line of Business President, Mike Ettling explains that:

...thinking differently about the workforce is only one part of the larger solution. Contingents must be included in processes that are traditionally reserved for full-time, permanent employees: onboarding, corporate learning, expertise sharing...

Ettling touches on a few of the processes that contribute to a more successful, engaged contingent workforce strategy, but it's also valuable to consider some of the more tactical aspects of getting this done.

So what are some key areas where you can make a major positive impact right away?



Employee experience is a major competitive advantage in the war for top talent, and that advantage isn't diminished in the contingent work landscape.

It's going to be increasingly important to nail the experience, from candidate, to contractor, all the way to the exit process. The transitory nature of the contingent working arrangement demands it.

If contractors who work with your organization are delighted at every turn, they're going to be more likely to refer their friends and colleagues — both as potential customers, and employees/contractors.



Organizational alignment is just as important for contractors as it is for full-time employees. 

Although a contractor may not legally be considered an employee of your organization, they're still operating in a similar capacity, and their work can benefit equally from a solid understanding of organizational goals and culture, and where their work fits in.

So how do you support organizational alignment among freelancers? 

Recognition is a huge factor in building and reinforcing organizational alignment. If you have a recognition program in place already, it's worth ensuring contingent workers have a place within it.



It's unfortunately common for contingent workers are treated as outsiders to an organization.

Under these circumstances, it's difficult to develop the strong emotional connection to an organization that's require for sustained motivation and engagement.

In Abraham Maslow's seminal work "A Theory of Human Motivation," a sense of belonging sits just above physiological needs like water and safety in the hierarchy of human needs. Without fulfilling those requisite needs, it's a major uphill battle to provide any higher-level motivators like self-actualization, which can have an extraordinary impact on output.

That's why it's crucial to provide an environment where both freelancers and full-timers know they belong. Although by nature their tenure in your organization might be shorter, it doesn't mean they need to be any less a part of the team while they're with you. 

How do you do that?

Lead by example. Treat freelancers and contractors like you would treat any other esteemed colleague — even if they're not on the full-time payroll — and encourage the team to do the same.

Transparent communication

Communication and transparency are key to developing the type of organizational environment that supports engagement. This is especially true in relation to contingent workers.

It's not only essential to be abundantly clear about the scope or length of a project -- It's just as important to be upfront about the part a contractor will play in your organization.

Many contingent workers look at and value job security differently than full-time employees — the nature of their working arrangement demands it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it becomes problematic if not everyone is on the same page when it comes to employment terms. 

Focus on clear, frequent communication and defaulting to transparency — it costs nothing, and the potential upside is a stronger contingent workforce program.

In conclusion

As the modern business and talent landscapes continue to evolve, the importance of contingent workforce engagement will only increase. You don't need to reinvent the wheel to provide an environment conducive to that, and the dividends that effort pays will be well worth the upfront investment.

If you're ready to take the next step in building an extraordinary organizational culture, check out our latest guide:

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