7 Simple Ways to Manage Temporary Workers Better

Temporary WorkersWhether it’s a seasonal jump in orders or an unexpectedly large rework project, calling on temporary workers is often the only way to get everything done on time. I refer to temporary employees as one of my three supply chain silver bullets that help me pull off operational miracles. Having managed dozens of projects with workers I just met, I’ve gathered a list of seven ways to make those projects run smoother and quicker. By incorporating the concepts below, your next project with temporary workers will be a better experience for everyone involved.

1.     Start Right with a Clear Orientation Huddle

The first twenty minutes together with your new team sets the tone for the entire day. Use this opportunity to set clear expectations and preempt later distractions and problems by answering common questions.

When temporary workers first arrive, I have them read over a laminated, double-sided sheet. Not only does this protect our company by letting them know of HR policies, but also addresses common issues and questions. The sheet contains a two- or three-sentence summary of our policies on the following topics:

  • About Our Company
  • General Warehouse Safety
  • Forklift Safety
  • Dress Code
  • Time Clock Procedures
  • Breaks and Lunches
  • Bathrooms, Break Area, and Smoking Area
  • Cell Phones and Personal Items (be sure to address cell phones specifically)
  • Substance Abuse Policy (from HR)
  • Harassment Policy (from HR)

After reading over the list, each temporary worker signs an acknowledgement sheet that we keep on file. This protects the company and gives us recourse to send people home that break policies.

After gathering everyone’s signed acknowledgement, I hold a brief huddle. Before going into the days’ work, I emphasize a few key expectations. Specifically, I show them the lockers they can put personal items (or when lacking lockers, ask them to keep everything in their cars). I also point out work and break areas as well as recommend local places for lunch. These few minutes answer 90% of the common questions I encounter, which allows us all to focus on the work at hand.

2.     Set Clear Expectations

Having given a clear orientation, I then strive to set very clear expectations of the day’s work. The key here is many visual examples of the end product and a clear standard procedure to reach that result. For example, if we are trying to build 3000 retail displays that day, then I have several completed examples to show everyone. Each station has a color picture of what the display should look like at that station’s point in the process. I build one or two displays completely with everyone watching to ensure they understand how the display look as it is built and completed.

As much as possible, I strive to make the work mistake-proof. Setting up checks to ensure the display is built correctly helps catch errors. If physical checks aren’t possible, then I ask several people to act as quality lookouts along the assembly line to catch any defects. I empower them with the ability to stop the process and call for help when they see errors. I also let everyone know I’ve asked them to do this job to avoid offense.

Finally, I share with the team hourly and daily production goals. This gives a score to the team’s work and helps them gauge their speed. When I’m building something new and have no experience on what to set the goal as, I just guess optimistically. The team usually rises to meet my estimated goal. Sometimes I even run the process myself ahead of time. This allows me to time how long it takes me to complete a few rounds of the process to set a realistic expectation.

3.     Add Meaning to the Work

Just before they get set to work, I answer the often-unasked question of “why am I doing this?” Even though these workers may just be on the job for a day, I’ve seen impressive results when they know the deeper reason behind their work. My goal becomes theirs as well, and many of the workers will give extra effort and suggestions to better accomplish the larger goal.

The explanation doesn’t need to be long. It could go something like this: “Today we’re building 3000 displays that we’re sending to Walmart. They have to be built this specific way because it helps the Walmart employees quickly put the product out in the store. In a couple weeks, you can visit your local Walmart and find one of the displays you built. Then you can point to that display and tell your friends or children ‘I helped make that.'” As your team is able to focus on the higher goal, not just the menial work that lies ahead, they will rally behind the cause and work hard to produce something they are proud of. Five minutes before lunch or the end of the day, I gather everyone around and solicit their feedback for improvements to the process. Without your team knowing the end goal of their work, helpful feedback is rare.

4.     Create a Positive Work Environment

As the workers begin, I help set the pace and atmosphere by working alongside them. This helps me make sure the project gets off to a good start, but it also helps me learn more about my team. I rotate people to find their strengths and adjust workloads to balance bottlenecks. Once everyone is comfortable in his or her role, I try to ensure enthusiasm remains long after the first hour of work.

If everyone can do a great job while talking together, then those conversations often keep everyone upbeat. However, if they become distracted while talking, then I instead turn on the radio. I always see better results when I try to have a little fun with my team, especially toward the end of the day, than when I am overly strict and serious. Simple rewards for meeting goals, such as cheap popsicles if it’s a hot day, or letting the team take five minutes longer on their break, go a long way toward motivation.

5.     Don’t Make Leadership a Mystery

The biggest problems I’ve had with temporary workers come from not assigning adequate supervision. I am frequently called away from the work, and when I don’t assign someone to be in charge, disagreements often arise. Therefore, if I can’t be there to supervise, I do everything I can to have one of my full-time employees, or at the very least a returning worker, assigned to answer questions that arise. This isn’t to quell power struggles, but to create order in a group of workers who still don’t know each other. Knowing there is a supervisor close who can answer question creates order and prevents most problems.

Having someone you know and trust working on the project also fosters more communication. That person can act as a liaison to the shyer, new employees by giving voice to concerns or suggestions they have. I’ve received some great suggestions for improvement that passed from a new worker, through a returning worker, to me.

6.     Be Detailed in Time Management

Simple Excel Punch Clock

Being exact in timing brings great results. I once used a clipboard to have temporary workers track their time each day. This created some tension because some people would write 8:00, even though they really showed up at 8:07. To avoid this problem, I put together a simple punch clock in Excel – which you can download from the Supply Chain Resources page. Having the computer track the time took away any question of timing – and saved our company a few hundred dollars.

Another time trick I love is something I learned from my high school band director. Whenever we had a concert, she would ask us all to report at 6:53 PM. Such a detailed time was memorable, and many more people showed up on time than had she said 7:00 PM. I use this same concept with breaks. If its 2:03, then I tell everyone, “Ok, it’s break time, we will start the line back up at 2:14 – so be back by 2:13.” This brings much more success than “Be back in 10 minutes.”

7.     Build Your “A” Team

Finally, do all you can to build your temporary worker dream team. If your project spans over many days, only invite back the hard workers – and ask the temp agency to send you others to try out.

If someone is not working, hindering the work, or fostering a negative work environment, don’t be afraid to send him or her home. I’ve only had to do this on rare occasions because talking to the person often resolves the issues. However, if someone is causing a safety risk or HR issue, send that person home as soon as you can. Failure to do so not only invites the issue to grow, and other workers may mirror that behavior since it’s bringing no consequence.

For the most part, however, your team will likely be full of good, hard workers. Pay attention to the best and consider bringing them on full-time. We have found some of our very best employees through temporary assignments. It’s our vehicle of choice to add a new team member in our warehouse because we can try them out for an extended period before investing completely in them.

These seven simple tips have helped me better manage the projects I’ve run with temporary workers. Investing some time and effort into the process will result in more efficient workers and better results. These projects, although sometimes stressful, can become positive experiences for everyone involved.

What other suggestions do you have for managing temporary workers? Please leave your thoughts in a comment.

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