Not long ago, contingent work was mostly one and done. Gigs were few and far between, so freelancers learned to look around for work. A different day, a different gig.

In recent years, however, contingent work has found its footing. Now, with 51 percent of executives increasing their use of contingent labor, that lone gig might be built upon by a second. The company may follow it with a third or even offer a collaborative project.

While gig work has changed, the way many companies treat gig workers largely hasn’t. Although they’re offering regular work, they’re still acting like contingent workers are one-time help. No wonder gig worker turnover averaged 352 percent in 2016 — meaning that the average contingent role was held by 3.5 people throughout the year.

It’s easy to blame others. Perhaps, you might think, you hired rotten apples. Maybe managers didn’t explain projects well. But the real problem could be a lack of onboarding and cultural integration. An Ardent Partners study recently found that 79 percent of best-in-class enterprises have standardized onboarding procedures compared to 55 percent of peers. In fact, 60 percent of those best-in-class organizations consider creating a corporate culture that embraces non-employee workers to be a top retention strategy.

Think about it for a moment: If you’re not welcoming gig workers into your culture through standardized integration and onboarding, you’re communicating that they’re replaceable. If you act like they’re replaceable, guess what? They’re going to act like it, too.

Why Your Contingent Workers Are Leaving

To assimilate gig workers into your culture, first take a look at your onboarding process. Has your company made any of the following mistakes?

  1. You failed to share the company’s purpose.

Gig workers don’t just want to be handed a to-do list. Just like any other person working for your company, they need to understand the “why” behind their work. How does each project contribute to the company’s greater mission and vision?

Communicating purpose isn’t as simple as adding a “corporate vision” document to your onboarding packet, though. During the onboarding process, sit down (virtually or, if possible, in person) with contingent workers — even those hired for a single day — to describe the work that needs to be done and how it serves the company’s goals. The more concise, specific, and personal, the better.

My company took this approach with its own onboarding process. We whittled down a paragraph of buzzwords about our purpose to one line: “We make the complex simple.” When bringing gig workers aboard, we make this mission the crux of our conversations. By communicating our mission clearly, we give every gig worker the chance to contribute to it in a meaningful way.

  1. You kept the company’s culture a secret.

You’ve spent hours building and maintaining your company’s culture. If regular employees don’t feel the love, you think you’ve failed. So why would you purposefully exclude gig workers? Unless you’re running some sort of underground organization, it simply doesn’t make sense to keep your culture a secret.

Don’t assume gig workers don’t care about your culture simply because they chose a life of flexibility. They want to feel like a part of the group just like your part- and full-time employees do.

Remember that contingent workers will be nearly half of the workforce within three years. Companies that don’t adopt total workforce engagement — which includes the ways that contingent workers connect with their employee and non-employee colleagues — close themselves off to a huge chunk of the talent pool.

To bring gig workers into a company’s culture, think about how you’d like to be treated. Start with a companywide welcome email. Include them in emails about company activities and events. Encourage employees to strike up conversations with gig workers.

Done right, you won’t just reduce turnover. By creating an inclusive culture, you’ll keep gig workers engaged while they’re working for you and gain powerful brand advocates once they’ve moved on.

  1. You didn’t prepare managers to lead gig workers.

Managers are working more and managing less, giving them little time to coach an in-office team, let alone a contingent workforce.

Even managers who have the time to manage gig workers, however, are realizing that these workers have to be led differently than typical employees. Most managers are used to focusing on processes, but gig work is all about deliverables.

The key, then, is to prepare managers before adding a crop of contingent workers to manage atop their other duties. Treat this training as meticulously as you do full-time hiring. Walk supervisors through interviewing, evaluation, and relevant regulations for contingent workers. Managers account for 70 percent of variance in employee engagement, so equipping leaders to manage contingent workers is a great way to engage them.

If gig workers aren’t an integral part of your workforce already, they likely will be soon. Invest your time in them. If you don’t, you can’t expect them to invest their time with your company, either.

Photo Credit: shauna_omeara Flickr via Compfight cc

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