There’s a well-known story about how the industry-leading aluminum company Alcoa turned its fortunes around by focusing on worker safety. It’s cited in Charles Duhigg’s bestseller, The Power of Habit, as an example of forming keystone habits in an organization.

Caring about safety made Alcoa care about a host of other things that ended up driving company performance. Learning this lesson, many workplaces today require employees to wear hi-vis jackets and other forms of PPE that are more than what’s outlined by OSHA for compliance.

Every business wants their employees to do the minimum required and exert discretionary effort towards their objectives. Yet how often do employers go above and beyond what’s required of them?

The question is especially relevant now that we live in the age of the gig economy. How far will you go to engage independent contractors who work for you?

An engagement gap

Do the minimum required, and you probably end up satisfying someone. It’s true of customer relationships, and it applies to employees as well.

The difference is that satisfied customers are perfectly acceptable for a business. Satisfied employees, on the other hand, leave a lot of unfulfilled potential on the table. They could be doing even more, but they choose not to.

Engaged employees show up on every level: physical, mental, emotional. They are driven and enthusiastic, seeking out ways to improve. From these qualities, organizations derive improvements in performance and innovation that don’t come from merely satisfied members.

Despite how valuable engagement is and how aware employers are of its benefits, it’s far from the norm. Worldwide, 85% of employees aren’t engaged or are actively disengaged. Leaders themselves may not be engaged, or they may misunderstand the concept. And they have a huge influence on frontline engagement.

Independent workers are the future

This bodes ill for a future where the gig economy figures to play a significant role. It’s not just companies like Uber that have to worry about engaging independent contractors.

The gig model has disrupted the world of work. Many employees turn to these jobs as a side hustle, while others have found them viable full-time alternatives to the daily 9-to-5. Employers have to account for the fact that their people may be hustling, and they may also need to bring freelancers onboard more frequently for various projects.

If any company needed further convincing, the pandemic has probably changed that. People have been forced to hustle amid job loss and economic uncertainty. And they have found that current tools are more than adequate to enable independent work in knowledge-based jobs.

Engaging independent workers

workers concept

Companies face a future where they are likely going to have to work more with independent contractors, even if they otherwise maintain a traditional, office-bound workforce. In turn, that makes it desirable to have a strategy to engage those workers so that they will be motivated to exert discretionary effort towards the common cause.

Management, given its outsized impact on employee engagement, must be educated in this regard. Individual leaders who interact with freelancers also have to be fully engaged.

Tested engagement methods such as coaching for improvement, offering career pathways and opportunities, and giving recognition for performance still work. But they have to be customized to this new segment of the workforce and its unique attributes.

Moving forward, existing technology and bespoke software solutions can play a major role in bringing remote teams together for better collaboration and interpersonal relationships. They will help to bridge the trust gap from the employer’s perspective while also allowing managers to understand the individual psychological needs that must be addressed.

Do that, and your team will go above and beyond for people they barely meet and benefit from the extra effort they give in return.

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