What are contingent workers, and why should you care?

Contingent workers are becoming an increasingly important part of the UK workforce. But what are they, and how can we help them feel included and connected?

Petru Tinca • 
What are contingent workers, and why should you care?

The UK workforce has changed over the last few years, and 2023 will be no different. The popularity of flexible working is on the rise, and so is the use of contingent workers. So, what is a contingent worker? Contingent workers, sometimes called temporary or contract workers, can be freelancers, consultants, or advisors who provide an independent service to a company. They should be distinct from a permanent employee who is on the company payroll.

According to the Office of National Statistics, there were estimated to be roughly 1.6 million temporary workers in the UK as of October 2022, in contrast to just over 1.4 million in January 2020. With more businesses using contingent workers as a cost-effective way to complete projects, managing these types of workers needs to be addressed and part of your day-to-day HR systems.

How do you manage contingent workers?

As you would assume, contingent workers’ management differs from that of your permanent employees. One of the most critical aspects of managing contingent workers is to have an early and concise onboarding process accompanied by a positive and productive offboarding process. By ensuring that your new contingent workers are introduced to your employees and project processes early on, you are making them feel more connected to the company. All too often, contingent workers are treated as extras rather than part of the business. Having your contingent workers brought on board early in the process will help them feel included within their project and also by their team. You can also extend the inclusivity to team social outings so that your contingent workers feel “part of the gang.”

Beyond onboarding and offboarding, you will want to ensure that your HR systems can accommodate the need for tracking information and paying your contingent workers. For instance, as your contingent workers are not on your company payroll, you must ensure that your systems can track and manage payments via your workers’ invoices. SenseHR offers an all-inclusive system that incorporates all workers, permanent and contingent. The ease of your system will give you back your precious time to dedicate elsewhere in your business.

What are the pros and cons of using contingent workers?

Flexibility and cost are the two most significant benefits of using contingent workers in your business. We mentioned earlier that contingent workers are a cost-effective way to complete tasks and projects. These workers are not subject to the same laws for pay for breaks or time off as your permanent employees are.

The flexibility of contingent workers is another pro for your business. You are not under any contractual obligation to provide further work once your contingent workers have completed their projects or tasks. Likewise, the work completed by your contingent hires can be completed remotely, if applicable, which ties back to being cost-effective.

On the other hand, the flexibility seen as a benefit can also come with its problems. Some managers may need help to trust contingent workers and are prone to micro-managing their work. This can have a knock-on effect on your workers as they then don’t feel trusted or valued.

52% of businesses have increased salaries to attract talented workers, says SME Magazine. The pay increase is significant for contingent workers but can leave a gap within your current employee workforce. This influx of contingent workers can also lead to developing an overdependence on your contingent workers and their skills. Having loyalty between your business and contingent workers is excellent as it becomes easier to use them again for future projects. However, this can disrupt the talent balance between your in-house employees and external help.

In conclusion, using contingent workers is something that most companies in the UK will need to get used to. They can be a great temporary asset to your business and projects, but that doesn’t come without risks. As long as your HR systems are in place to accommodate contingent workers and appropriate management are in place, you can benefit and thrive.