Meetings & Conventions: Temporary Solutions January
How to make a temp part of the team
BY SARAH J. F. BRALEY
Hiring a temporary staff member can be a bit
like playing mad scientist: Throw a new person into the mix and
hope the concoction doesn't explode before her tenure is up.
A number of factors can send sparks flying. If the temp has
years of experience, younger employees might feel intimidated. If
the staff members think they are getting along just fine on their
own, they might not treat a temp as part of the team. If the temp
has a noncommittal attitude, she may be unproductive -- or even
In most instances, these pitfalls can be avoided, if you take
pains to neutralize the experiment from the start. Consider the
following expert advice for successfully integrating a temp into a
meetings department.FREELANCE BY
Most of us think of a
temporary meeting planner as someone who is between permanent jobs
or an independent planner who is filling a hole in her
Meet Nancy Schmiderer of Professional Temporary Meeting
Planner Support in New York City, who defies these definitions. She
is a full-time free-lancer by choice, not by default. "All my
clients are companies who want me to cover for someone on maternity
leave or sick leave, or who call me in for a one-time project,"
says Schmiderer, who comes to the rescue of corporations and
associations alike. Unlike an independent planner, she isn't in the
business of taking on entire meeting projects herself -- her
specialty is fitting into an existing meetings
Schmiderer has had her share of permanent positions --
she started her planning career in 1973 and spent 19 years in
"normal" jobs before going free-lance in 1992.
With each new temp assignment, "I go in with the attitude
that I'm there to take whatever amount of responsibility they want
me to take," she says. "I'm perfectly satisfied with taking
direction only, but I will work independently as well. I make it
clear that I'm there to work the way they want things done. I have
to be flexible."
Variety is one of the many benefits of free-lancing.
"There's hardly any place I go where I don't learn something new.
And if there's an aspect that's not pleasing, I know I won't be
there long," she says.
Schmiderer admits she won't be getting rich as a temp
anytime soon: "I do earn less money than I would earn if I had a
steady position, but that's just a quality of life decision I've
made." * S.B.
Pave the way
"Stress comes from lack of knowledge," says Bruce Steinberg,
director of research at the National Association of Temporary and
Staffing Services in Alexandria, Va. If you don't take the time to
let your permanent staff know that a temporary worker will be
coming in to take on some of the workload, you could have a mutiny
on your hands.
"Half the battle is informing the staff of the temp's arrival
and making clear what his duties will be," Steinberg adds.
Call a staff meeting and tell your troops all the reasons you
feel it's necessary to bring in reinforcements. Maybe you have a
pile of registrations that still need to be processed, but you want
your permanent workers to move on to other tasks. Or maybe your
staff is full of detail experts and you need a negotiator. To keep
the process as positive as possible, be sure to support and praise
your staff, and underscore that the temp will be helping everybody
to be more efficient.
If the temp has been around for a week or so and the staff
doesn't seem to be accepting her, find out why. Are they too
cliquish to welcome someone from the outside? "Explain again that
this person should be seen as a hero, a co-worker, to help get the
project done," says Steinberg. "This goes a long way in motivating
the temp, as well as placating the current staff."
The better you describe the job you want done, the easier it is
for a staffing company to find the right person for you. Will the
temp be doing mostly clerical work? Is an experienced planner
called for? Make a list of the skills you think the temp will need,
and the staffing company will sift through its database to find a
pool of qualified candidates.
When the temp arrives, be sure to carefully articulate the tasks
to be performed. "This will help him excel in the area you want him
to," says Shena Morgan, information coordinator for Glendale,
Wis.-based Man-power Inc., one of the country's largest employers
of temporary workers. Also, put in writing exactly what the temp's
hours will be and how you will be paying him (by the hour or a flat
fee). If he will be asked to work overtime, specify how he will be
compensated for those hours.
Another part of the first-day procedures is orientation -- don't
assume the temp will find everything on his own. Point out the
bathroom and copy machine; let him know the company's lunch policy;
introduce him to someone who will be able to answer any questions
he might have. In short, make him comfortable, and welcome him the
way you would a permanent staff member.
"You have to make the temporary feel like a member of the team,
even if he is just a fill-in," says Morgan. "If you treat temps
like temps, you might not get great service."
Fill the toolbox
To get the job done right, the temporary needs the right equipment,
from computers to staples. This also means providing computer
passwords, important phone numbers, a supply of forms and documents
that your department uses, and information on where to find more if
"Since you've found temps who have the skills you require --
they can come in, roll up their sleeves and get down to work --
training time tends to be spent on nuances," says Dawn Penfold,
CMP, president of The Meeting Candidate Network, a nationwide
search firm based in New York City. "You show them how the office
works, instead of teaching them how to use Lotus. You tell them
what they need to know about personalities and political situations
and idiosyncrasies of people in the office." Penfold also suggests
compiling a who's who list of the company's top executives -- the
people the temporary employee may have occasion to please when they
make an appearance in the office.WARNING!
BEFORE YOU HIRE...
Do not hire a
temporary staff person without first checking her references. Make
sure you get satisfactory answers to these questions:
Would you hire her again?Did she fit easily into the office environment? (A temp
has to be chameleonlike, says Dawn Penfold of The Meeting Candidate
Network in New York City. The environment is not going to change
for them.)Was she able to come in and perform the job immediately,
without much guidance?Was she responsible? (Avoid people with a "temp"
attitude, adds Penfold -- those who fall back on the "it's not my
Don't dismiss your instincts. If you think the temp won't fit into
your team, interview a few more people. In most instances, the temp
will be with you for such a short time, she won't have the luxury
of a slow "getting to know you" process; she has to jump right in.
If you feel the transition won't be a smooth one, choose someone
Unfortunately, some folks interview well but bring that
"temporary mindset" to the job. If you've hired her through a
reputable staffing company, however, chances are a little slimmer
she'll have a bad attitude. "I tell people not to go in saying to
themselves, 'I'm just a warm body; I'm just going to do the work,'"
says Sheryl Sookman owner of The MeetingConnection, a Novato
Calif.-based firm that provides planning personnel for companies
throughout California and in the Washington, D.C., area. "You never
know where one assignment will lead," she emphasizes.FIRM COMMITMENT: CAN YOU TRUST
THE STAFFING COMPANY?
Looking for a reputable
staffing company? Ask these questions, courtesy of Manpower, Inc.,
in Glendale, Wis.
Does the company conduct in-depth interviews and
background checks of all candidates?Does the company test candidates for specific skills? If
so, what is the nature of the tests and how are they
administered?Does the firm offer computer training?Does the company do work-site visits to understand the
job and the work environment?Are temps entitled to benefits such as health insurance,
life insurance, paid vacations and holidays from the employment
Meeting planning companies that provide temps don't
employ their affiliates the way large staffing companies do. When
dealing with these firms, ask for a history of the company and
client reference list. Membership in industry associations is a
plus. * S.B.
If personality conflicts arise or other problems with the temp
pop up that you couldn't anticipate, it's often a lot easier to fix
than if a permanent employee were causing trouble. First, you need
to identify the source. "The temp doesn't have the right skills?"
asks Steinberg of NATSS. "Call up the staffing company, because you
have the wrong temp."
If you find that your staff is using the temp as a scapegoat,
deal with it the same way you would if a permanent employee were
shirking responsibility. Steinberg points out: "Don't let your
staff use the temp as a scapegoat; recognize it for the convenient
out it is." He suggests putting the spotlight on the person whose
job it is to make sure that either the temp is getting the work
done or the project is on schedule. The supervisor should be held
accountable. "Figure out who's really responsible for the situation
and make them explain what's going on," he adds. Of course, the
problems may actually be the temp's fault, so don't jump to any
conclusions until you've got the whole story.
If the permanent staff is still having trouble accepting the
temp even though you've told everyone to play nice for the sake of
the project, it could just be that the personality mix is wrong.
When all else fails, again, go back to the staffing company and ask
for help with the situation.
Both Sookman and Steinberg say that it's generally a
misunderstanding that causes problems. Perhaps the temp was told
she would have some decision-making responsibility and she ends up
stepping on toes, or she was told to only take direction and assist
others, and the staff thinks she's not carrying her weight. Simple
conversations can set all parties straight, and then everyone can
get back to the project at hand. *GETTING TO THE
(414) 906-6614; www.manpower.com
The National Association of Temporary and
(703) 549-6287; www.natss.org
The Meeting Candidate Network, Inc.
New York City
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