In our February issue we speak with Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant. As the CEO of Lynn Taylor Consulting, she provides research-based, lively seminars to organizations on how to establish a more productive management team and workforce. Taylor began her career in public relations and staffing, where she developed an interest in workplace issues. Read how Taylor views the contingent workforce and what advice she has for users of temporary labor.
Q: How do you view contingents in the workplace?
A: I see them as growing, they are a part of the productivity of corporate America. [They contribute to] our ability to compete globally and our agility, especially coming out of the great recession.
Q: What do you mean?
A: At the tail end of the recession -- that's the first phase of the end of the recession -- productivity's maxed out. Workforces are cut to the bone. Use of temporary help increases significantly, and then as the business demands come through in jobs, as the work orders and RFPs start coming in, then permanent opportunities for full-time hires come in. That's not to say that temporary help drops off significantly, but you have more of a temp-to-perm dynamic happening.
I think we've already seen about five months of hires of temporary help. So somewhere in that phase, I believe, where we're seeing healthy demand for temporary help and it may be somewhere in the range of three, four quarters before we're in that third phase of full-time hires really picking up significant speed.
Q: What got you started on this track?
A: The track of the workplace?
Q: Yes, the workplace as well as contingents.
A: My first career was in marketing and PR and I started taking on clients that were in what at that time was called the personnel field. And I had clients that were involved in everything from personnel testing fields to staffing. I had clients that were in the wellness area to boost productivity in the workplace. I had an interest in anything that would boost productivity in the workplace, hiring and all that.
I worked on the PR side for Adecco. And then I joined Robert Half International for 12 years. And then I did consulting for various staffing firms. During this time, I became fascinated by the workplace leisure side of it. So I sort of wore several hats as a workplace expert myself. Because I was so fascinated by the trends, I dug deep into the research side. And then...
Suffice it to say that my career was sort of two-pronged. It started out in PR but morphed into the workplace arena somewhere in the '90s. I worked with Adecco and Robert Half in different executive capacities -- as a consultant and as an employee, respectively. And then when I left, I continued my passion for workplace research. I looked into the disconnect between bosses and employees. What could make the workplace better? And I realized that way too much time is spent on not working and on focusing on just the downtime. How could I make the workplace more collaborative? And I realized that in all of us there remains a TOT, a Terrible Office Tyrant child.
Q: That is the topic of your book?
A: Yeah. So I realized that there are a lot of parallels between children and all of us, and if we can look behind the blustering that goes on -- not just with bosses, but with co-workers and subordinates -- and see the human emotions that we all have -- if we read them and understand them -- then a lot more would get done in the office.
And this applies on a macro level. There are billion-dollar mergers, billion-dollar initiatives, and startup initiatives that never get off the ground because of something as simple as tantrums, overly demanding behavior, territorialism of neediness, moodiness -- all the same traits those toddlers have. So I narrowed them down to 20 traits. Then I wrote the book and now I talk to senior managers about how to tot-proof their companies for better productivity. That's been my passion.
Q: How would you improve the workplace with respect to contingents?
A: That's a big question. One of the ways I've been talking about humanizing the workplace with the contingent workforce is to tap into what I have coined the Gen U. The Gen U workforce is those workers who were going to unretire; that's the "U." Generation unretired, because there's a significant sea change going on -- the biggest that I've come across.
Eight of 10 baby boomers say they're going to work part- or full-time past retirement age. That's 64 million unretiring Americans -- the biggest demographic shift we've ever seen. And that's going to make up 93 percent of the growth of American labor market between now and the year 2016.
So you have on one hand baby boomers who no longer plan to retire. And then you have the unretired. Many of them can't afford to retire, and further, many of them they have found that the grass is not greener on the golf course or in the garden. And so, they are frankly bored and they look forward to building something with a team, or contributing and giving back or mentoring others. And so you have quite a labor pool here. What does that mean for companies? That they have this unbelievably experienced (contingent) labor pool to draw from that never existed before.
And what are the benefits? Well this is a generation that is known largely for an incredible work ethic. There's no substitute for experience. And, learning how to tap into the best they can offer is the key.
Q: So how do these workers humanize the workplace?
A: The way they humanize the workforce is that they now see the forest through the trees. They're not in it. They're not junior or midlevel employees. They see the pettiness and they see the big picture and so they make excellent mentors in terms of diplomacy and people skills.
Q: So what would your advice to corporations be in terms of the contingent workforce? Not just retirees but even the other segments?
A: To treat them like any other employee. Never to say those horrid words, she or he is "just a temp." Or they're a project person, or whatever, because that project person may become your most valued full-timer. These terms, "temp," etc. are demeaning, and your greatest initiative could very well come from that contingent worker. So be aware of what you're saying. This is a huge sea change that will continue for a long time. Just-in-time staffing is not going to go away. And there are so many factors that are behind that right now.
First of all, you have social media that is creating a community for contingent workers that never existed to this level. Earlier, one of the issues for contingent workers is they had no community. But now they do. The entire supply chains are being created on LinkedIn that never happened five years ago. But right now, today, there are great demands being placed on employers for health care and government restrictions. But contingent workers right now are very appealing because businesses (small and big) are struggling. So that's another factor, just the cost of doing business.
Contingents are appealing because there's a lack of a long-term commitment. No one knows when this great rebound is going to occur. And just in terms of the mindset of employees, when enough layoffs occur over a 10-year period, there's this mindset that becoming a free agent gives you a little bit of a cushion and you feel a little bit freer. You feel less like you want to be beholden to one company. So there's a higher value placed on being independent if you can. So I think there are a number of factors that are placing this independence higher up on the chain.
Q: What's your next project going to be?
A: How to increase morale and how to turn that into profits first and foremost. How staffing plays a role in that (phenomenon).
Q: Do you see yourself as a contingent?
A: Well as a consultant I do because I think I'm not working for an employer, so I view consultants as contingent workers in a sense, in the loosest sense. I think contingent workers are most associated with people in the staffing realm. But I don't think that the contingent workforce has ever really been clearly defined. I just think it's one of those things that you could have ten focus groups and you get ten different answers.