Creating an edge with your gig workforce

With gig workers growing in numbers, HRM Forum host Sam Neo says it's time to stop treating them like outsiders.

The author

Sam Neo is Founder of People Mentality Inc. He also hosts the Millennial Insights Forum on HRMAsia.com.

At present, our workforce is predominantly made up of full-time employees, while having some contract workers, part-time staff and perhaps insourced workers in the mix to supplement it. Based on Singapore's Ministry of Manpower data, the current proportion of “own account workers” is between 8-10% of all full-time employees.

It might seem that the gig workforce is still a small portion of the workforce. However, the rise of the gig economy is real. Increasingly, we will be seeing the balance of full-time versus gig workers shift towards the latter. Question is, how do you manage this supposed “outsiders”? What can you do to bring the best out of them? 

“Us vs Them” mindset

It’s a common sight for most organisations to have a “Us vs Them” mindset where full-time employees are seen as “insiders” while the gig workers are viewed as “outsiders”. The gig workers are typically involved for some preliminary discussions, if any, to be delegated the required work and thereafter, left out when it is time for the “insider meeting”.

When it comes to team building activities, gig workers are often left out even when they are present in office or could easily be roped in at minimal or no additional cost. Why? Because it is seen as unnecessary, additional work for the organising team and even a waste of precious resources. Or perhaps, these are merely excuses where they simply do not consider “outsiders” as part of the team.

Treating gig workers like vendors

Unlike full-time workers, gig workers are usually engaged on a more ad-hoc basis and may be perceived as more of a vendor rather than a fellow colleague, regardless of what their work scope is. What I mean by vendor is that they are seen as people who are merely executing their job because they have been paid a certain fee to do so. It’s a transaction and this means you tend to hear comments like, “Aren’t they paid to do the job?”

Some might even resort to exploiting the gig workers because of this vendor mindset. After all, they might think that since you are paying for the same amount, why not extract more value right? This often results in one problem, a lack of respect. It’s viewed as a transaction between people rather than a relationship that is fostered for the longer term.

Would you think that your gig workforce is going to give their best if you treat them as such? Are you going to develop a good reputation to attract quality gig workers? Will you be able to sustain long-term success if you are unable to engage this group of people effectively? How then can you turn that around and leverage on this asset to create an edge?

If you are showing signs of any of the above, it is not too late to make changes now. Consider the following 3 approaches:

1. Treat them like family

Whether it is full-time employees or gig workers, it is really just a difference in contractual terms. Everyone is playing a part to contribute towards greater organisational success. No one’s job is too menial or any less important. You need to recognise that any missing piece will cause the organisation to perform at a less than optimal level. It may not be a matter of life and death but is definitely not ideal either.

A simple inclusion into team activities could go a long way in sending a strong and effective message that everyone is part of a big family. Imagine this, how does it feel if you were invited even though you were not expecting to be included? As a family member, would you be encouraged to go the extra mile if the situation requires? Will you be more willing to think from the organisation’s perspective if you feel part of the team rather than being a mere “outsider”?

2. Think partnership, not vendorship

To create synergy, you will need to align the strengths of the entire workforce. Everyone has a role to play and by thinking from a partnership perspective, you are bringing out the best in the gig workforce and leveraging on their strengths to deliver greater value.

Imagine this, if someone is treated as a vendor, what he delivers will typically be whatever is required on the contract. Nothing less, nothing more. However, if the person is viewed as a partner, the entire dynamics changes. The relationship is now interest-based where the interests of both parties are taken into consideration. You will be able to observe a stronger intent to create a win-win situation. That’s what a partnership brings to the table. Would you rather have someone who simply executes blindly and requires a lot of supervision? Or do you prefer a partner that can watch your back and takes care of your interest as well?

3. Respect, respect and respect

Everyone deserves respect. Regardless of job title, work scope, years of service or age, they should all be treated with equal respect. That’s how you earn the respect and bring out the best in them as well. As mentioned previously, gig workers are playing their part to contribute to the organisation as well. Regardless of how big or small a role they are playing, it is important to recognise that they too are an integral part of the organisation’s success.

By making them feel big, not small, you help to improve their motivation at work. They will no longer see themselves as just another contractor but rather, part of a team that is delivering something meaningful. Once they feel that you care and respect, the entire relationship changes. Does it cost you anything to show basic respect to someone? No. Bottom line is, if you do not respect your people, if you do not care for your people, you will not be successful.

Closing thoughts

The gig workforce is growing and increasingly, they will become a more critical part of the organisation’s success. How you work with the gig workers and how you treat them will determine the outcome of the value they deliver. When managed well, they can be a powerful asset onboard. If you still do not see how valuable this group is, it is high time to start reflecting.

Sam Neo, Founder of People Mentality Inc, explains how culture, retention, engagement, and recruitment are affected by the youngest generation in the current workforce in the monthly Millennial Insights forum.

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