SI Review: November 2013

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The Other Side: A Temp Lifestyle

Why contingent work is not for everyone

By Daryl McCuiston

Contingent work is not for everyone. It is not for someone who needs a long ramp-up to acclimate to a team, project or idea. Nor does it lend itself to people uncomfortable with their own level of expertise or poor communicators. Contingent workers need to be comfortable with change. They need to have, and express, their opinions, while realizing the team’s goals. We have to exude confidence, while accepting compromise.

I have been a contingent worker through many agencies and have experienced the pros and cons of this type of work. I choose to work this way because it speaks to my entrepreneurial spirit. As a contingent worker, I get to come in at the planning phase or at the point of execution. I am called in for my specific skill set — and am valued for it. I can make a difference very early on in the engagement. By the time the opportunity moves to a business-as-usual cadence and the daily hum-drum starts to set in, I move on.

For those considering contingent work as a lifestyle rather than as a stepping-stone to a traditional employment role, these characteristics are what I see as necessary to succeed and come with the territory.

Bear risk. To me, contingent work is exciting and rewarding. But it is also risky. Tenures are usually short and the intensity required is normally high. Repeated assignments like this could be a recipe for burnout, so encourage your contractors to gauge their own level of effort and communicate with you. The relative “stability” that people seek in a job is not on the surface of contingent work. This can be considered a major negative.

Undivided attention. However, remind your candidates that they will have work that will keep them busy for a certain amount of time; so-called “permanent” employees often do not enjoy that level of transparency. Contingent workers often have the undivided attention of their new team as they bring a fresh perspective and enhanced skills to projects. This attention also brings a high level of expectation, which must be managed through all aspects of a contingent worker’s deployment.

Highly paid. Finally, contingent work brings a dichotomy of wage and expense. We contingent workers may command a fairly high wage, which is normally negotiable and typically higher than that of a full-time equivalent. That wage is indicative of the skills that contingent workers bring to the table and also the short-term nature of the assignment. Usually, contingents assigned by staffing firms are paid as W-2 employees of the firm, but sometimes they are engaged as independent contractors. Staffing firms, of course, should ensure such a classification is appropriate, and may want to remind contingents in this situation of their tax obligations.

Staffing firm’s role

A contingent’s experience is only as strong as the support you provide. Your contingent workers represent your front line engagement. They are your sole export and most valuable commodities. Remember, they are people. People with skills. People with goals. People with families. Good firms know their contractors by name and treat them well. That’s what the good contractors are looking for. Picking a firm is a tricky, but crucial choice in the life of a contractor. No firm is going to advertise that it considers its workers a number. This knowledge has to come from other contractors or managers that hire contractors. Treated right, your contingents will spread the word.

As with anything, there are pros and cons to being a contingent worker. The risks may be too great for some people, but for those who choose to accept those risks, the rewards are typically great — for them as well as their provider.

Daryl McCuiston is a contingent worker.

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