TEMPORARY EMPLOYMENT has been a staple of the American economy for many decades. It was a solution to surges in demand for workers, such as the retail help added during the Christmas shopping season. It has also proven to be a strategic way of expanding and contracting workforces in many industries.
The “gig economy” is expected to continue to grow, with some predicting that the majority of workers in the U.S will be gig workers in less than 10 years. But how does one motivate this vast free-lance workforce?
The term gig appears to have been imported from the world of entertainment, referring to musicians and singers contracted for limited-time engagements, as in “That was a great gig in Las Vegas last December, wasn’t it?” The idea of this noncommittal approach to hiring needed workers to help run a business effectively and efficiently makes sense in the entertainment sector; there is a need to rotate acts to continue to draw in new patrons.
Similarly, bringing in an outside trainer to cover relevant topics for an organization is an option one might effectively employ without having to increase overhead. Further, during times of economic squeeze, such as was the case in the recent Great Recession, businesses can become cautious about taking on added overhead at a time when many able workers are available, having been let go in the cumulative downsizing that inevitably takes place.
But there is a price to be paid when this practice of short-term commitment starts to become the norm in an industry or place of business. The personal transportation sector, which features such startups as Uber and Lyft, provides examples of this gig economy.
Robust and enduringly successful organizations are those that provide a stable place of employment opportunity to those who work diligently. In such companies, a culture of success and respect combine to provide an environment where innovation and collaboration are characteristic of the work atmosphere. And people want to stay. Since we are currently experiencing the lowest rate of unemployment we have had in 50 years, creating a motivational environment is vital in attracting and retaining the best.
However, at some major gig employers it appears that rate of turnover is running very high (reportedly as steep as 50 percent annually) as the current strong job market has traditional employers attracting the better workers. When stories are written about the gig workforce, most of the discussion falls on economic concerns by workers, especially the relatively higher hourly wages typically paid, and such other benefits as flexible work schedules.
Little, I am finding, is reported on how these gig employers are attending to the intrinsic motivational needs of their employees, in particular the temporary ones. When needs are mentioned, the discussion typically centers on extrinsic matters such as financial incentives. While compensation is vitally important, particularly to this employee population, the research abundantly makes clear that intrinsic or self-motivation results in better performance by, and greater retention of, workers.
In brief, the following three psychological needs, when sufficiently satisfied, result in intrinsically-driven workers who not only perform better but stick around longer. Help meet the need for autonomy by extending choices; resist pressuring or cajoling or otherwise reaching to increase control over workers. Meet the competence needed to grow by allowing workers to develop new skills, including having senior employees train the newer recruits. Take care to present a relational environment in which all feel like members of one team, perhaps by having occasional informal gatherings, meeting the need for relatedness.
While extrinsic motivation devices such as incentive pay schemes are easier to implement, their motivational effectiveness does not have the long-term effect that research has found in the intrinsic approach.
Gig employers would do well to determine how to best meet these psychological needs in their particular work environments and tap into intrinsic or self-motivation in their employees. Doing so could create the proverbial win-win outcome.