Want contractors to act in your company's best interests? Treat them like people

When companies treat contractors like robots, they get workers with poor morale and little incentive

Dear Bob ...

I liked "When paid by the hour, a contractor's work ethic isn't a matter of economics," (Advice Line, 9/1/2009). Pretty good evaluation and recommendations -- but quite one-sided, in my opinion.

[ Also on InfoWorld: "When paid by the hour, a contractor's work ethic isn't a matter of economics" | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

I've been on both sides of the contractor/contractee relationship and can tell you that how a company treats it's contractors is a huge factor in influencing the relationship. I've been a contractor for companies who treated the "hired help" like dogs -- actually, I suspect they would treat the dogs better!

It's not always the big things, although decent offices for the staff while cramming as many contractors into a broom closet (or other "reengineered" space) is common. Staff have nice computers; contractors are given crap, if a computer is provided at all. Non-ergonomic furniture goes to the contractors, and so on -- the list of ways in which the contractor is treated as third- or fourth-class corporate citizen is endless.

But then there are the subtle ways. Going out for lunch every day but not inviting the contractors -- to the point of even specifically stating, "You have to stay here and work because we're paying you on contract."

Having birthday parties (on company time) but not inviting the contractors -- again, the numerous, small ways to tell the contractors "you don't belong."

Given the above rather all-too-common factors, is it any wonder a contractor continues to work when the others play and perhaps not as "fast" as the company would like? After all, under these circumstances, all we have is our hourly pay.

As for not working "hard enough" or fast enough or whatever, it's tough to code without a break for a whole day. Look at the company employees -- often reading a magazine, surfing the Web, texting the BFF, taking the longer lunch. Heck -- when I go for lunch, the clock stops, so if I take a two-hour lunch, the company is not paying for it (unlike the company employee doing errands over the two-hour "lunch period").

Now, on the other hand, I think some comments were right on the money -- or lack thereof. I know of many instances where the company was charged some high hourly rate, but the poor contractor actually sitting in the chair made only a fraction of that. If the company is expecting $150-per-hour talent, but really only getting $40-per-hour talent, that's a pretty big expectation gap, both in terms of quality of contractor and motivation.

Anyway, nice column -- now we just need part 2, "the contractor's side." :-)

- Contractoree

Dear Contractoree ...

Huh. I thought I was taking the contractor's side. Or, rather, taking the side of both parties, because really it's a matter of making sure everyone involved shares common interests. All of the crud you describe fits into the same topic: Encouraging contractors to feel like part of the team and part of the company -- or failing to do so.

Having once shared a closet with two other consultants on a project -- one of whom was the sort of person you never want to have in the center seat -- I'm very familiar with what you described, and you're right, it's a lousy way to encourage a contractor to feel like an employee.

Seems to me one of the big challenges here is that many companies figure consultants don't need morale. Morale is for employees -- the Hessians are expected to fight at the same level every day no matter what extraneous factors intrude.

For the record: People are affected by morale. Contractors are people. The conclusion: When you work with contractors, be a person.

- Bob

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