SI Review: July/August 2014

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The Other Side: We Are People, Too

Treating temps as humans rather than a strategy is rewarding

By Benjamin Wright

My experience as a temporary worker has been deeply personal. Beneath the kaleidoscopic matrix of the economy, the job market, global trends and exponential technological advance- ments, the basis of working as a temp is built on one’s life choices and circumstances.

I have worked as a traditional employee about as much as I’ve worked as a temp. From my experiences, working as a permanent employee is better. I know there are some people who actually prefer the life of a temp, and I take my hat off to them. I, on the other hand, have worked as a temp in order to support myself while seeking full-time employment; almost every fellow temp worker I’ve known is in the same boat. Silicon Valley is an unusual work environment, a migratory hub for geniuses and savants, but it’s also rich with a huge array of regular people.

I’m one of those regular people. I’m skilled, experienced and a professional, but I’m not a wizard. I don’t dream computer code, I don’t have any ideas for the next killer app, and I don’t have a stock portfolio. I’m a temp. I’m a talented, creative, spontaneous, gregarious, anxious temp. What I’m trying to say is, I’m a human being.

That’s what’s so strange about being a temp (or a “contingent worker,” as the staffing industry calls us): that tension between the human element and the business world. Every one of us has experienced the same feeling of alienation that the corporate world thrusts on us. Such is the human condition.

I’ve had many assignments where I’ve been greeted warmly, supported patiently, and enjoyed acceptance and encouragement. Working with fellow human beings can be wonderful! There’s community, accomplishment, camaraderie and rewards. At the same time, though, there’s no security, no stability, no sense of truly belonging. There’s the feeling of being needed, yes, but also the sense of being used. The life of a temp is one of transience, a life of coming and going, learning and leaving. In temping there’s much to gain but also much to be lost.

We are a necessary element to your client’s business — and yours, of course. You and the onsite staff are good people and fellow human beings. You know we are engaged in struggles every bit as hard and legitimate as your own. How you and your clients treat us is a choice. Once placed, though, our experience is more at the mercy of the client, and there’s only so much you can do. But you can encourage certain behaviors to make our assignments more rewarding for us. In short, let them know that being friendly to us can go a long way.

Let me share one experience I value. During a recent contract, I was treated well by the client’s staff and the management alike. It was the little things. People spoke with me, laughed with me, made it clear I was welcome to the snacks in the kitchen, and the big boss himself took the time to learn my name and greet me in the hallways. My time there wasn’t all socializing and horseplay, of course. In fact, the camaraderie shared made me happy to be productive. I worked very hard and I helped good people get their work done on time. It was a fulfilling and wonderful experience. Because I was treated as a fellow human being (rather than a “component of the contingent workforce strategy solution” or something similar), I was motivated. I always work hard no matter how I’m treated; still, the warm welcome and supportive environment enhanced my experience, the experiences of the rest of the staff and undoubtedly improved the work delivered by the department and me. There was no downside, and it didn’t cost the company a single cent more.

And that’s the bottom line: working human warmth into contingent work- force strategy is highly profitable. Be sure your clients get the message.

Benjamin Wright can be reached at benwrightlives@gmail.com.

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