WorkWise: Treat contract workers as customer relationships

culp@workwise.netAugust 4, 2013 

(RFC of San Francisco Inc.) James Huling cuts plywood to build a custom bookcase as part of his responsibilities at RFC of San Francisco in San Francisco. As director of operations, he treats contractors as customers.

“Contract workers are the business equivalent of stepchildren who go from one parent's home to the other,” comments Misti Cain, founder of the boutique marketing agency Red Cello Marketing in Carlsbad. She worked with them for seven years and is one now.

James Huling, director of operations at the general contractor RFC of San Francisco Inc. in San Francisco has spent a decade all told working with them in his current organization and in Army logistics. He advocates viewing them as customer relationships, like any others, because they fulfill a need by contributing to a successful organization.

CONTRACT

Jeffery To, marketing manager, e-Commerce and web strategy, at New York, N.Y.’s Pure Minutes LLC, an international long-distance calling provider, spent well over six years as a contract worker in several industries. His assignments ranged from six months to a year. “If anything, people in my department gave me tasks that I thought were a little simpler than those given to other employees,” he says. His assignments didn’t require customer interaction.

He also noticed that while his telephone rarely rang, salaried workers couldn’t get theirs to stop ringing. Not asked to contribute to decisions or problem-solving, he was otherwise free to do his work. When his environment felt out of control and he couldn’t fix it, he felt helpless, reminded that his “input wasn’t valued ... (that he was) just a cog in the wheel.

“Outside departments might have treated me as a permanent employee,” he notes, “because they might not have known the details.” This experience helped him see that, as a permanent employee now, he’ll be in a position to guide conscientious contract workers in their careers.

PERMANENT

Not everyone agrees about how permanent employees should treat contract workers. Huling advocates professionalism, as safer, and a friendly attitude. “Get to know everyone,” he recommends. “Build the relationship the same way. It’s like the Army: You’ll always run across people again. A general contractor will be a general manager tomorrow and will open his own company. Treat people with the fairness and decency you want for yourself.”

David Barfield has spent 18 years around contract workers in The Bartech Group Inc., a temporary staffing company headquartered in Livonia Mich., where he’s CEO. The company also manages temporary suppliers globally. Barfield says to enjoy the relationships, to have fun working together whatever the contract’s length. He also says to focus on the work that each is doing, not the different employment arrangements.

He sees significant differences, however, for the supervisor, who “does not make HR-based decisions, such as approving vacations or time off, or imposing disciplinary action. The supervisor works with the employer of the temp worker on those issues.”

Cain concurs, mentioning that one client overstepped legal boundaries by attempting to dictate her hours. “It’s not the rules of an employee, with the discount,” she observes. She further advises employees not to use labels or classify contractors, because everyone is teaming on the company’s behalf. Instead, letting them know you value them will encourage them to value the company and enhance their contribution.

“They’re still part of the family,” Cain summarizes. “Include them in pertinent activities and meetings and let them know their work is valued like any other employee's. Conversely, be sure their work ethic, time management and image are in line with your business. Unlike with family, that's something you can control.”

Dr. Mildred L. Culp of WorkWise® welcomes your questions at culp@workwise.net. © 2013 Passage Media.

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