It only takes one bad apple. Or any fruit, for that matter.

Most employers spend countless hours and resources working hard to engage with employees, motivating them to produce at higher levels and actively pursue their career goals. Companies are well aware that a disengaged, disgruntled employee can affect productivity and overall morale. As the old adage says (and research certainly confirms), one bad apple can often spoil the bunch. But what if the unmotivated resource is NOT an employee at all, but instead a contractor or a formal volunteer or a temp or even a robot. In other words, what if the bad apple is not an apple at all, but a banana. What THEN is the risk?

Compelling research* recently completed in a joint study by ERE Media and Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) points to the fact that organizations across the board invest considerably less effort in the motivation and engagement of their non-full time workers than they do in their full-time workforce. In one statistic, “while 51% of organizations make a very big or big effort to motivate and/or engage workers, levels of engagement for non-employees are much lower, varying from a high of 16% for business partners to 4% for online freelancers. “ These numbers do begin to improve a little bit with very large companies (50,000+ employees), companies that are facing severe productivity challenges, and companies trying to better manage a global workforce. The difference, however, is still compelling.

Risks associated with such a limited commitment to a clearly growing segment of the total workforce are significant. While most customers never really know for sure whether an individual representing a company is a full time employee, that individual does carry the reputation and the brand image of the organization in his/her hand. And since the percentage of non-full time employees in companies (e.g. partners, contractors, temps, formal volunteers, robots, outsourced services, franchisees) has grown to 16% as the median, and north of 40% in many organizations, we can begin to appreciate the collective risk of so many neglected workers, whatever their profile.

A few years ago, Lighthouse Consulting wrote a white paper about the need to engage alternative segments of the workforce in different ways, based on the unique profile and drivers associated with each segment. That article, entitled Engagement Agility, is accessible in the Thought Leadership section of this website.

A common objection to the argument for funding engagement initiatives for non-employees relates to the traditionally lower ROI recognized by these segments of the workforce. But wouldn’t funding these initiatives create a more loyal part timer less likely to move on and more committed and dedicated to the job? Additionally, if the proportion of the workforce commanded by these segments continues to increase, wouldn’t the risk of disregarding these contributors become collectively higher and, arguably, begin to erode the ROI and perhaps the retention of the employees with whom these people work on teams and on projects? Finally, why would any company that has strategically chosen to deploy these resources want to make a relatively low ROI any lower? In contrast, the opportunity now exists for companies to differentiate their value population by rethinking the ROI of a flexible workforce and building added value by optimizing their productive output.

This noteworthy research on Total Talent Management (TTM) should light a fire on the agenda of all Talent Leaders who are looking to build a fully engaged workforce capable of driving a collective culture of productivity and innovation. As the workforces of all companies across all sectors become increasingly heterogeneous in nature, Talent Leaders must actively seek their discretionary effort and loyalty in ways that resemble the investments in their more traditional employee base.

* Total Talent Management: Towards an Integrated Strategy for the Employed and Non-Employed Workforce. May 7, 2015

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