CWS 3.0: May 1, 2013

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How to Handle Early End-of-Assignment Requests

During a recent supplier meeting, our supplier thanked us for how we handle early end-of-assignment requests for our temporary employees. In that same meeting, one of my new staff members characterized our process as “her biggest surprise” since joining our team. She says the phrase she’d hear most often in her prior role as an on-site staffing supplier was “we don’t have a use for them anymore,” which meant any number of things, but ultimately the request was to end the assignment.

Certainly temps should be a flexible resource that can be rotated out based on business needs and skills necessary to do the job. But we’re not talking about situations where the production line is shut down or when skill needs change. Rather, we’re talking about when there is a performance issue and how it is handled. And, truthfully, there is no perfect answer to this issue; I realize it probably doesn’t make sense to implement a formal performance improvement plan for a contract worker.

But with companies so concerned with co-employment and with the understanding that the client does have that co-employer responsibility, clients and suppliers should pay more attention to the separation process. Shouldn’t there be a better standard for how temps are treated? Despite our growing sophistication, in some ways our industry is still in the dark ages. I like to take a different approach. Here is some of what we’ve learned.

The Process
We make sure we have a discussion with the internal manager, the temp and the staffing agency to discuss any performance issues prior to taking action. Communication is the key and it works. If skills gaps show up early on in the assignment, say two weeks or less, and it is clear we don’t have a skills match, we may end the assignment. But in cases of long-term assignments where performance issues arise mid-assignment, having the discussion early on is the key to turning things around. Getting the individual, the manager and the agency to understand and agree to the issues and to agree on expectations becomes the next step. This provides an opportunity to turn around the performance issues by understanding what areas are deficient and how to make things right. The time allowed for improvement could be a couple of days to a couple of weeks, depending on how long they’ve been on assignment and the nature and complexity of the work.

Staffing Support
It is critical to have the right people who are experienced in employee relations handling these situations. We have an employee relations specialist on our contingent workforce team, which has been a game changer to helping us grow this practice. We also have a close relationship with our employee relations organization and leverage their expertise and guidance in most situations. They too will tackle the toughest issues and take the lead when necessary. This partnership has allowed us to define who does what and when, when the agency is involved and the strategy on how a situation must be handled. It is a great example of partnership and key to this process.

Early Communication
One thing we always share with our managers is the importance of letting us know early on if they are seeing performance issues. The earlier we know, the sooner we can step in and help facilitate performance discussions with the supplier. This is the single most important aspect to turning around a difficult situation.

Resetting Expectations
Often an issue can arise from a lack of clarification of work priorities. In some cases the manager may have neglected to set expectations, or there can be confusion about who is giving direction and who sets priorities. We’ve all seen this with our own employees, so of course this could happen with a temp worker.

Other times additional training or tools are the answer for the temp to be successful. The reality is that sometimes a temp may be afraid to ask for help and that’s where we step in; we work to identify the communication issues and to reveal the issues affecting the worker’s chance to be successful.

Training Helps Managers
As you can expect, we’ve had managers who were upset when we said we need to give the temp a chance to turn it around. But those same managers have thanked us when those same temps did turn it around and were rolled over to perm status. This is where training can pay off. Having a training manual or offering training sessions for the managers on how to handle temps can help. Let’s face it: there are unique nuances to managing a temp population. Spending time on training can help.

Things to Consider
Temps carry our brand. They carry it around the company while they are working for us and they carry it out the door. The supplier that shared its appreciation for our process also stated that 90 percent of their fills with our organization come from referrals. I have to think that in some part that demonstrates the type of environment we’ve created for our temp workers. What is your brand when it comes to how you handle temps in good times and in bad?

To us it’s about treating people right. Yes, it’s probably easier to pick up the phone and ask the agency not to have this person return. And it’s just easier for the provider to do what the customer is asking, but next time the customer says a temp isn’t working out, take that extra step to find out why and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to say you helped turn things around and now the person is perm or is referring friends to your company.

Ed Hidalgo is senior director of staffing at Qualcomm.

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