Keeping your contract workforce healthy and engaged

September 18, 2019

There are plenty of articles on the internet that talk about workforce wellbeing and employee engagement. I’m even responsible for some of them! But what most of these articles fail to mention, is that your efforts to boost engagement and wellbeing should extend beyond your permanent workforce. You should be looking out for your contract workforce, too!

The case for wellbeing and engagement in the workplace

Before I start talking about why engagement and wellbeing is just as important to your contract workforce, I want to remind you that there is most certainly a case for both of these things in terms of your company’s bottom line.

You may remember some of my articles on these topics, actually. For example:

And many other experts talk about the benefits of a well and engaged workforce, too.

“There is a clear employee health and happiness case for wellbeing within the workplace” says wellbeing expert Khalil Rener, “as well as benefits to their work performance and the organisation’s bottom line.”

In fact, in a recent case study on wellbeing, as published by Mad World in advance of their 2019 conference, Khalil’s company, Rener Wellbeing, found that when staff were happier and healthier, numerous benefits were recorded. These included reduced absence, less presenteeism and improved performance. There was a noticeable ROI increase, too.

But this article is not to persuade you about the benefits of a happy and healthy workforce. I’m here to talk to you more specifically about why you should think beyond your permanent full-time employees, and consider your contract workforce, too.

Over 15% of the UK workforce is self employed

In the UK, around 1 in 6 people are classed as self-employed. These people will perform many different functions in society, and not all of them will be involved in contract work for a commercial organisation. Many will provide goods and services to the residential market – such as joinery, plumbing, painting, etc.

But of course, a huge number of the UK’s self-employed population, are people who contract their services out to organisations such as yours. Developers, designers, writers, consultants, construction workers and more.

Then, there are contracted organisations, too – these employ people directly, but contract their services, sometimes exclusively, to other companies. So there are a lot of people to consider.

Now, you might not outsource much work. Or, you might outsource a lot. But regardless of how many people make up your contract workforce, they are an important part of the product you provide, and the service you deliver.

Contract workers are just as important as your in-house employees

The people who make up your contract workforce still represent your brand. You should therefore want them to be just as happy and engaged as your regular workforce.

I mentioned this to Khalil Rener, and he emphatically agreed.

“On-boarding contractors into your current wellbeing strategy could benefit the organisation” he says, “as well as help maintain the existing culture of wellbeing. It could also ensure they do not feel like lower tier workers, like some Google contractors did.”

This last comment intrigued me. You see, I have always thought of Google as the ‘God-tier’ of employer branding – the best place to work; the place where everybody wants a job. I never stopped to think that perhaps their contractors were getting a raw deal. And so I did a bit of digging.

Are you making contract workers feel like they are a lower tier?

Earlier this year, The Guardian published a killer piece that branded Google a ‘white-collar sweatshop’. Essentially, the article focused on reports from anonymous employees, which said that while permanent Google employees were indeed treated like royalty, it was a different story for their contractors.

According to The Guardian, one anonymous employee said that Google had two tiers of workers. Highly paid full-time Googlers, and low-wage precarious contract workers.

One Google employee described this two-tier system as a “white-collar sweatshop”, saying the system was “corrosive”, “highly problematic”, and “permissive of exploitation”.

Including your contractors in your wellbeing strategy

Khalil Rener says that companies claiming a culture of wellbeing, should include their contract workforce wherever possible.

“It is important for contractors to feel enabled to work on their wellbeing” he says. “And if wellbeing is truly part of your organisation’s cultural DNA, then they should have access to such benefits.”

Yet despite this seeming like an obvious solution, the UK’s contract workforce still seems to be shut out of health and wellbeing strategies. And one reason is that nobody seems to want to take the responsibility.

Nobody is willing to make the first move

I was talking about this recently with Paul Mulligan, the Group Occupational Health Manager at Kier UK. He shared my concerns.

“When we talk about mental health or health in general of contractors” he says, “nobody appears capable of making a decision on how they should be supported and who is willing to fund this.”

Paul added that this is an increasing concern, because of the rising number of construction workers – and adds that the problem will only increase with large infrastructure projects such as HS2.

Take responsibility, and understand that there is no turn key solution

So perhaps, instead of wondering whether or not it is your responsibility, try thinking about it like this. If you really want a full workforce that is healthy, productive, and engaged with your brand, then whatever you are doing to support this, should include your contract workforce where possible.

There are practical difficulties, of course, according to Khalil Rener.

“Some benefits will be bought on an annual subscription, such as gym memberships and health insurance” he says, “which will be expensive to provide for a contractor working on a five or six week project.”

But he also advises that this is no reason to exclude your contract workforce from wellbeing and engagement initiatives full stop.

“A bespoke strategy is always going to be the most effective” he says.

For example, you could organise more ad-hoc leisure activities, engagement programmes, and wellbeing days, making sure to invite everybody – including your contract workforce.

Engaging a remote contract workforce

In the digital age we live in, it is quite normal to work with another human being for several years, without ever actually meeting them. But just because a person works remotely – whether that’s around the corner in their bedroom, or across the ocean in a coffee shop – that’s no reason not to include them.

Here are a few things you can do to help engage your remote workforce:

  1. Invite them. If you plan events like Christmas parties or team get togethers, make sure your remote workers get an invite too. Sure, they might not be able to attend. But they also might! And besides, feeling included always feels good, even if you can’t accept the invite.
  2. Contact them. Just because you aren’t sitting next to a person, doesn’t mean you can’t engage them with a bit of light chitter chatter or office banter. Include your remote workers in group chats, and if you haven’t spoken to them in a while, make a point of picking up the phone, or dropping a quick email.
  3. Reward them. Bonuses, perks, incentives, etc. Don’t only extend these to your in-house staff. Apply them as far and wide as you can, including – perhaps even especially – your remote contract workforce. And not all rewards are physical or financial. A sincere thank you goes a long way.

In my personal experience, I work with a lot of remote and contract workers. And we make many conscious efforts to include these colleagues on a face-to-face level, and on a level that gives them access to many of the same benefits permanent employees receive.

I can tell you now that after meeting a remote colleague face to face, even if there is no practical ‘need’ to do this, your working relationships will improve significantly, and you’ll get more done.

Why not come and meet me, or the two guests I interviewed for this article?

Both Khalil Rener and Paul Mulligan will be attending the Mad World Summit in London, on 9th October 2019. To see what else they have to say about mental health and wellbeing, why not head over to the event yourself?

You can register to attend Mad World here.

I will also be there, so if you see me, make sure you say hi!

Stay ahead with HR

Get free HR insights, expert tips and exclusive interviews, and start making more impact at work

Please enter a valid email address

See People HR in action

View our short video demo

Get started absolutely free

No credit card required

Talk with an expert to learn how People HR could help your organisation