It started before the “Great Recession” but that period of economic history has seen it proliferate even more. Certainly reports suggest the trend of hiring contract workers is growing. Yet it is something you need to think about very carefully.
At the end of the day it depends what level of service you want from your employees. The article "Does Silicon Valley have a contract worker problem?" describes the pros and cons of contract work better than I can. But the key point that you should never lose sight of is the fact that your employees enable your brand. So if customer service is critical for your business, contract workers are the last thing you should consider.
Of course, at the end of the day, it is ultimately a question of degree because employees are also contract workers: employment is simply a specific kind of contract. The attraction of employment is that it offers the promise of greater control (something that is also alluded to in the article.) Yet, how important is control at the end of the day?
This is a question you need to be asking in an era where “command and control” is said to be dead. After all, control implies the perpetuation of a philosophy that requires people to behave in a prescribed way. This inhibits autonomy and innovation and so counters the very behaviour that modern organisations need and that you ought to be encouraging. In fact prescription is a massive de-motivator and is a primary reason your employee engagement efforts are largely so ineffectual.
In reality the dividing line between contract workers and employees may not be as big as you think, because a disengaged employee is only marginally better than a contract worker anyway. And this margin is only due to the perception that s/he has more to lose than a contract worker.
Remember, at the end of the day, either category of worker each ultimately works for himself/herself. Consequently you cannot count on them not to move on when they see any kind of opportunity that appears to meet their aspirations better than you can. You cannot buy loyalty!
You are, however, more likely to win loyalty, and the kind of behaviour you need and want, when you align their aspirations with yours. In more simple terms, you have to make them want what you want. And the best way (and possibly the only universal model) to do that is through meaningful employee ownership. That delivers have engaged partners rather than contract workers – of any type. Surely that has to be better?
Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, a company created to help larger small to large business organisations to properly value their people and thereby inspire them to optimise their self-worth and so engage them that they transform organisational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement.”