Do you think about engaging your freelancers?

Jasmine is concerned with practical, tactical ways to bolster employee engagement, diversity and ultimately improve organisational cultures. She gives actionable advice to help HR professionals improve their organisations one step at a time and is known as a trainer, consultant and public speaker. Prior to moving to London in 2008, she was a professor teaching international business majors at the State University of New York.

Recently, I gave a talk on employee engagement, and one of the attendees said that it was all very interesting; but, she asked, “what about freelancers? How do you engage them?”

So I started to do a bit of research to find out if engagement is different for different kinds of workers.

I found that, essentially, there are three different kinds of workplaces:

* The “shared space” – everybody’s in the same place at the same time. This category includes office workers and factory workers.

* The “beehive” – this means there is a main hub that workers come in and out of, but their work might take place outside of it: for example, frontline NHS workers, teachers, the police, anyone who travels for work, academics, advocates, carers.

* The “marketplace” – this means freelancers, contractors – people who come together to do work together, but it might not be permanent or full-time. 

My research showed that the basics of engagement were the same in all types of workplaces: have grown-up discussions with employees about strategy; engagement should be linked with performance (not employee satisfaction); share success stories; make sure staff have access to professional development – everyone wants to master tasks or skills.

But, because the nature of work is different in each of these workplaces, it does have an impact on what engagement means for workers in these different environments – especially when it comes to ideas of fairness.

For the beehive, workers tend to be very engaged with their clients – whether clients are students, patients in the healthcare system, or people who need support from their advocates or carers. They have these careers because they really believe in them.  In order for these workers to do their work, there is usually an administrative side, and the us vs. them mentality is really strong. Both sides look at each other and see the other as more valued.

So, to engage beehive workers, it’s important to have different groups speaking to – and appreciating – each other. This might mean bringing people together at the hive or hub.

Workers in the marketplace – freelance and contract workers – are some of the hardest to engage. In today’s world, where the internet has such prevalence, you might not even meet your freelance workers face-to-face. Secondly, freelance and contract workers are often not treated the same way in terms of benefits, and this sends a really clear message: the people who get benefits are more valued than those who don’t.

Engaging freelance workers comes down to building relationships and providing structure. So, have a structured check-in – a weekly phone call, or invite them to staff meetings. And, even though they might just be there for the short-term, you might as well interact as if it’s for the long-term – you never know. What are their future goals? Do you have values in common?

Secondly, think about providing benefits for your freelance workers, perhaps some paid time off. If you’re a small organisation and paid time off is not an option, think about what kinds of benefits you could offer that will make your freelancers feel included.

So here are some tips for engaging in different workplaces with different kinds of workers:

1. Take a look at your workplace literally – are you a shared space physically, a beehive or a marketplace?

 2. Take a look at your workplace metaphorically – when are people together and how does that affect the group dynamic and how different workers are interacting?

3. No matter what kind of workplace you have, what are you doing to ensure that people feel that they’re an important part of your organisation and that they’re being treated fairly?

4. Talk to people. What are their long-term goals? Can you – realistically – help?

5. Build relationships with your staff, managers and freelancers

If you’d like to hear more about my research, check out my webinar on this topic here.

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