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Why so many organizations struggle to manage contingent workers

Posted by
Alexandra Kane
July 27, 2023

When it comes to tracking time for contingent workers, businesses have it down pat. But actually managing the liquid workforce? Well, there’s some work to do. 

Just about two-thirds of HR pros either strongly agree or agree that their organizations are effective at tracking contingent hours worked. But this is such a small part of the puzzle when it comes to maximizing your liquid workforce

The bigger story? About two out of five (44%) HR professionals think that they’re good at actually managing the performance of their contingent workers. In other words, while they know how much time they’re spending on the job, they probably aren’t getting the most or best performance out of those hours. 

There is an incredible amount of productivity and potentially, profit, being left on the table when it comes to the liquid workforce. 

In a recent blog, I took a high-level look at the results from our joint study, and ensuing report, with, Effectively Managing Today’s Liquid Workforce. Today, I’d like to dig into some of those results to understand why so many organizations are struggling to manage their contingent workers.  

While around 40% of survey respondents use members of the liquid workforce in their businesses, most of them admit that they probably don’t manage their liquid workforces very well. Only 30% of these organizations believe they manage consultants well (30%), with the number dropping to 23% for temporary workers from staffing firms, and plummeting to 22% for freelancers and independent only 14% for volunteers.


To help you understand what is causing this disconnect, and to take action on the opportunities that exist, we dig deeper into the data and responses. For an inside peek, let’s take a high-level look at two of the primary reasons why a majority of organizations are struggling to effectively manage their contingent workers: 

1. Poor communication

Many respondents acknowledge that within their organizations, many managers are not communicating well with contingent workers (45% of respondents). There could be a few culprits at play here, including:

  • Lack of onboarding
  • Missing pertinent job-related materials
  • Inadequate feedback

The nature of contingent staffing often means that workers are added to the team at the last minute, taking on some pressing need. In these instances, many managers lack the time or resources to adequately communicate expectations or other pertinent information before the worker is expected to deliver. Data from our survey respondents seems to support this inference. Only two-fifths (39%) believe that their contingent workers always get key updates. 

In some instances, a lack of structure, process and automation around communications, from onboarding to feedback (gathering and disseminating) can contribute to this problem. With the right technology and processes in place, the burden of communicating core details can be alleviated, allowing managers to effectively manage their entire teams, and arming contractors with the information they need to immediately jump in and start contributing.

It is also possible that in some situations it is difficult to manage performance because organizations do not measure engagement levels. Less than one-third of respondents (29%) report “we have engagement metrics for contingent workers.”

2. Unknown or poor engagement

Organizations acknowledge their struggle to measure engagement levels among their liquid workforce. Just 23% of our respondents consistently measure the engagement or satisfaction of their contingent workers. 

This may seem pretty obvious, but it is extremely difficult to maximize your investment in, and the performance of, workers who are essentially operating in a silo. If you don’t know how your liquid workforce feels about their role with your company, how can you effectively manage those workers? 

Short answer: You can’t. As the data showed throughout our study and report

I’d like to circle back to an important, short question I posed earlier: Why? Why are so few organizations measuring the engagement or satisfaction of their liquid workforces? 

Our research found that the primary reason is that they simply have no intention of acting on the information they may receive. In other words, many organizations simply don’t believe that engagement and contractor satisfaction matter. Another large concern was that soliciting feedback could make their organizations susceptible to legal risk, while others did not feel they had enough contingent workers to merit tabulating a score and several did not know how to survey contingent workers. 

Although “candidate engagement” and “contractor engagement” or “contractor care” are popular buzzwords in our industry right now, data shows that many organizations struggle to take these concepts and apply them in order to effectively manage their liquid workforces. 

So, how are the few organizations that are successfully measuring and improving the experience for contingent workers, and why are they making the investment? Here are some key findings from our research

Participants believe measuring engagement empowers them to improve performance and productivity

While the number of organizations that did consistently measure engagement and satisfaction was small, among those that do, over three-quarters (78%) do so to improve productivity/performance. They understand that workers who are more engaged in their work typically outperform those who are disengaged, and take active steps to ensure all of their workers are highly engaged.

Looking further at the data, about half measure satisfaction/engagement to improve retention (48%), and another half use surveys for full-time recruitment purposes (49%). Trailing behind, but still important to survey respondents was measuring engagement/satisfaction to ensure cultural fit, understand the best fit to inform staffing agencies for future recruitment, and to make contingent employees feel included.

Higher-performing organizations commit to strong communication with their liquid workforces.

The data here is extremely compelling. Put simply, less than a quarter of lower-performing organizations think that communicating with contingent workers is easy, versus almost three-fourths of higher-performing organizations. 

One factor that could be at play here is that twice as many Higher Performers are better at tracking hours (88% to 44%) and measuring engagement (54% to an astounding 11% of lower performers). The correlation between engagement, communication and success is really compelling here. 

There’s only one way for many organizations to go: Up!

Around 1 in 10 organizations that acknowledge they are not effectively managing their contingent workers do not measure engagement. They’re tracking contingent workers at a significantly lower rate, and are not communicating with them effectively. Imagine the profound impact a sound engagement strategy (and the use of powerful engagement technology) could have on the performance and ROI of their liquid workforces! 

For more data and insights to help you better leverage your contingent workers, be sure to download our full, 33-page report, Effectively Managing Today’s Liquid Workforce.

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