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Short-term Hiring – A crisis or an opportunity?

by on Apr.29, 2016, under Workforce and Work Ethics

Every manager faces the prospect of hiring short-term at least once in their career. It is a situation that evokes mixed feelings and calls for tailored solutions, yet your average manager prefers to have permanent, safe solutions as opposed to looking for a quick patch.

The need for short-term hire arises when permanent employees can not perform in the job due to absence, illness, pregnancy, study leave, travel etc. Who you get in as a substitute hugely matters because your short-term hire has to perform from day one and has to match the level of the permanent employee performance, which is never an easy task.

Looking for a short-term hire is a quest. I was recently in this situation and I called a number of agencies offering temps, only to be disappointed because to them, most important part of the conversation is to ensure I sign the contract; very little probing about the person I need to fill in the gap. I know I shouldn’t judge anyone based on that one phonecall but It somehow didn’t seem right – to talk contract first before even understanding the need my business has.

International organisations have their hiring policies for short-term hires and HR departments follow those policies to a high degree of success. Most businesses resort to hiring on recommendation for a short-time hire. It is seldom advertised and it is usually the incumbent who helps find the right person to close the gap.

This can be a good thing – your employee gets the replacement for the said period, helps them settle down, understand the drills and so on – but this can sometime backfire. What if the incumbent was in a hurry and did not rationally observe the abilities and skills of the person they recommend? Then the business suffers, of course.

Temporary hires have to be approached with utmost care and the organisation must give them maximum support and engagement during the short onboarding time. In other words, if you want your temp to be successful, you have to spend time to intensively train and engage. Temps must not be left to their own devices – remember they are hired for a period of time, to perform specific actions and they have no interest in doing your work for you – they can comfortably sit and wait to be shown what to do, at your expense. So engage them immediately.

I strongly advise that temps fill in time sheets or that their supervisors take note of performance and output. Temps are not keen on producing detailed reports on their work – they usually do not know what they should be reporting on so it is your responsibility to manage their output and evaluate its relevance and correctness.

Things will go wrong so ensure you have a relationship from the start. Obviously, this person will not grow on you like your other, permanently employed, colleagues. Still, as a manager, ensure you offer your presence and make it clear that your short-term hire can have access to you any time the need arises. This will give them confidence that they are also valued, and help them clear with you any issues that may hinder their performance.

A few days should e enough for any temp to reach 80% performance level of your permanent employee if you are in service industry. Production line performance can peak within a day, depending on the level of skill and confidence the short-term hire has. Short-term hires in call centres have to be given maximum attention and crash-programme training in order to ace the calls armed with knowledge and confidence.

Your experience with the short-term hire may grow into a solid working relationship and you develop trust, reliance, confidence in this person and you want them to stay. This is a delicate situation as the person they are replacing may feel intimidated, concerned, threatened. If your short-term hire appears to be the winner, make sure you communicate to all concerned parties in time and find a plausible solution to retaining the temp and the permanent employee, while providing both with sufficient work assignments and ensuring they work as a team, with no animosity.

Sometimes your temp will outshine your permanent employee by miles. I can’t advise you what to do but I’ll tell you what I’d do: I’d retain the temp. Clinging onto your ‘C’ players is never wise and finding ‘A’ players is never easy. But that’s my performance-oriented thinking and I acknowledge and appreciate that many businesses build their strength on empathy and togetherness, rather than performance measurements.

But more often than not, your temp turns to be a lukewarm performer, unable to fill in the shoes of the job. What do you do then? Do you boot the temp out and call your permanent employee back from leave? You can do that if it’s an annual leave and your colleague did not travel to Antananarivo. But if someone is giving birth and someone else defending their master thesis at the university abroad, you are stuck with your temp. This is why you have to have a plan ‘B’. Always plan for distributing the workload among the existing team members as the worst-case scenario.

Word of advice: bringing a temp into a team that’s weak and disjointed would be a wrong idea. Teams with internal rifts tend to vent their emotions on the weakest links and in this case your temp would be the punching bag. On the opposite side, any temp inside a strong and cohesive team will be given the platform to excel and will be able to receive help and guidance all the way.

Think hard about your strength of your people and organisation before you make this decision to hire a temp. Will your team support the short-term hire and create an ambassador for your business, a team player who will be able to jump in when needed and possibly stay on? I hope you find the way!


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