The Changing Role of Contingent Workers

July 28, 2020 John McLaughlin

First published on LinkedIn


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies like Amazon, Uber, and Microsoft have announced plans to financially support certain contingent workers whose jobs have been affected by the outbreak. The COVID-19 crisis reveals just how much our current economy and workforce is built around contingent and gig workers — from the Amazon warehouse workers packaging and shipping us our essential items to the app-based delivery workers bringing our groceries to the telecom workers shoring up our increasingly taxed networking infrastructure.

But in a moment where we have never depended on contingent workers more, it’s also apparent how far companies still have to go to fully embrace their role in digital-ready teams. Roughly 15% of the total workforce are contractors. Reliance on gig workers has increased across all industries and especially in IT roles.

But these workers are often more vulnerable to market downturns and economic instability, and companies often fail to fully integrate contingent workers in their workforce development efforts. We found that less than half of organizations (42%) plan to use contingent workers as part of their future talent strategy in our Organizational Digital Readiness survey. With contingent workers playing an increasingly integral role in the workforce, employers need to do a better job ensuring that they are positioned to maximize their value to the company.

Here’s how employers can integrate gig workers into their workforce of the future.

Integrating Gig Workers Into Digital-Ready Teams

Most organizations need to improve how they support their virtual teams overall.

Contingent workers may make up an increasingly larger percentage of the overall workforce, but when it comes to supporting digital-ready teams, many organizations don’t fully integrate gig workers. Team readiness for digital transformation depends on two abilities – working in a virtual environment and working flexibly.

Most organizations need to improve how they support their virtual teams overall. Our Digital Readiness survey found that 54% don’t know how teams need to be set up to be successful in a digital environment.

Meanwhile, teams working in a virtual environment need to engage others and understand their needs through digital channels compellingly. But only 25% have teams that operate flexibly. The degree of flexibility varies by industry, with technology and telecom companies being significantly more likely to have teams that work flexibly than companies in financial services or transportation and logistics.

Supporting digital-ready teams requires integrating contingent workers smoothly into the team workflow and ensuring that the virtual environment functions for both traditional and contingent workers. And while flexibility in teams is essential for a digital-ready workforce, that flexibility is also necessary for contingent workers to be able to adapt to changing company needs quickly and pivot more easily to roles where they can provide the most value.  Siloing them in their contingent role can mean losing out on valuable talent and skills.

Enhancing Career Mobility for Gig Workers

Employers often overlook providing career mobility for contingent workers within their organization. But fostering digital-ready teams includes understanding how job architecture and career paths are evolving for all workers. The business environment is constantly changing, and organizations simply can’t offer employees a one-dimensional upward career progression anymore.

For contingent workers who often feel overlooked and more vulnerable than traditional employees, moving on to seek better career opportunities can be the norm. But true career mobility can help you retain your best contingent and gig workers. If your company doesn’t offer career mobility for these workers, the impact to the business can be substantial. Our research finds that in the U.S. technology industry, employees are three times more likely to quit working for their organizations than moving laterally across job families or functions within the same organization.

More flexible options can enhance career mobility. Employers need to open up career patterns, allowing for movements throughout the organization and enabling all employees to move in all directions – toward their version of career success and as part of teams where they can add maximum value.

Are you interested in knowing more about the Future of Work? We asked over 1,500 HR leaders how they are dealing with it - read our report here.

About the Author

John McLaughlin

John has worked for Aon’s Assessment Solutions for 10 years in a variety of roles and geographies across Europe, South America, and North America. This in-market experience combined with his current role as the global commercial director for the group leads to an in-depth knowledge of global trends impacting talent strategies across all organizations.

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