Why you should treat contractors / temps well

One habit many managers have is to dump the boring, unpleasant work of their team onto contract workers. The thinking is that full timers deserve the best treatment and contractors are mercenaries: they deserve whatever they get since they won’t be around long.

It’s a mistake – good managers finds a way to treat everyone well. And there are some reasons contractors deserve special attention:

Here are three reasons why:

  1. Contracts are scouting missions. Smart companies hire interns since they know the one in five chance of finding a future employee are worth all the overhead. It costs an amazing amount of energy to hire a good employee. Any contractor you hire should be thought of as a potential full time employee – possibly not even for the skill they’re contracting for. If you treat them like idiots in a box,  you’ll get idiots in a box. But give them a chance to outperform your expectations and your next star recruit might already be in your office. Sure this is uncommon, but it costs you nothing – tell them if they exceed your expectations you’ll consider, or refer, them for hire and see what happens.
  2. Contract hires create your network. While you’re climbing the corporate ladder, every contractor has a long sequence of future companies and bosses ahead of them. What stories of you will they tell? If you ping them in 6 months about job openings on your team, will they recommend you to their peers in their new company? Contractors are true worker bees. They fly from place to place spreading reputations – will they be your ambassador or detractor?
  3. They bring new ideas. Forget what job you hired them for – they bring experience your team might not have, and exposure to ideas new to you. If you constantly push their heads down into the pidgeon hole, never letting them advise  based on their unique perspective, you’re cutting yourself off from potential knowledge. Give them a voice – it costs nothing. If the three times they speak up with recommendations they sound insane, ask them to stop. But if you get some good ideas and reward them, they’ll be happy and so will you.

I’ve seen dozens of smart people sequestered away in the worst offices, never asked for an opinion and given no opportunity to shine, simply because they wore the label “contractor” – what a waste for everyone. Some contractors run circles around their FT counterparts – in fact that’s why they’re contractors: they’re good enough to make a living freelancing and taking part of the year off something many full-timers (FT) don’t have the talent, or the guts, to do.

The fear managers have is that treating contractors the same as employees raises legal issues, or threatens the full timers, but that’s nonsense – you don’t have to treat them the same in order to treat them both well. And if your team is threatened by talent, you’re in trouble for different reasons.

7 Responses to “Why you should treat contractors / temps well”

  1. Ellen

    It’s how you look at people that projects to this kind of act. If they don’t treat contractors the way they treat their team, it’s like showing disrespect or unprofessionalism to the person. They’re are just professionals as everybody else and needs to be treated like a professional.

  2. Drew K

    It goes both ways. There’s a long thread over at Joel on Software ( http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?joel.3.467142 ) where several contractors lay out their opinion of employees: “It seems as though there are many people out there who feel comfortable with a socialist mindset where the employer is a parent figure that is supposed to take care of them … Maybe it’s because I’ve been a contractor for 98% of my working life doing a job I love that I have a hard time understanding how someone can allow themselves to coast like that.”

    If this view is typical of contractors, and I’ve worked with enough to suspect it is, there’s a reason contractors aren’t treated well. They think employees are lazy incompetents afraid to compete on their merits.

  3. James Bullock

    Well I end up referring to Charles Handy’s “The Age of Unreason” about once a quarter. I was getting close to the end of the quarter without doing so.

    Handy has an interesting take on the realationships – plural – between people and organizations noting how some people are closely and broadly aligned with the organization, others are in it, but less aligned, and others have a primary alignment with something else. A lawyer in independent practice or a contractor might have a relationship with a company client but neither expects profit sharing. He calls it the “shamrock organization.”

    I think your comments on how to treat contractors are astute. I’d add one thing. It is imperitive to keep the kind of relationship obvious and in synch. For example, the problem Microsoft had with the so-called “perm-temps” wasn’t so much about the deal as about different expectations about the deal.

    So don’t expect me to put the company’s needs first if I can’t participate when “we” win, and can be disposed of abruptly. Interesting how I have just described the arrangement many companies have created with their employees. In the end, I think Handy’s model is a more powerful. The color of your badge doesn’t matter. The relationship you are in is what counts.

  4. Scott (admin)

    Jim: I totally agree about the expectations. I didn’t mean to suggest contractors should be treated like rock stars, only that it’s the job of the manager to make sure their role & expectations are made clear from day 1 (and probably again on day 15, 30, 45, etc.)

    I’ll have the check out The age of unreason – don’t know it.

  5. Barb

    Those are good reasons. I’m not surprised on how they treat contractors. It’s a mentality of people to treat contractors unlikely or unfairly the way they treat the ones they work with in a team. It’s like looking down to low grade jobs because they think that their job is more important and complicated.



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