January 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Temporary Solutions January 1998 Current Issue
January 1998
Temporary Solutions

How to make a temp part of the team


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 counterproductive.

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.

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 schedule.

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 department.

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 necessary.

"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 job" defense.)
  • * S.B.

    Choose wisely
    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 else.

    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.

    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 agency?
  • 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. *

    Manpower Inc.
    Glendale, Wis.
    (414) 906-6614; www.manpower.com

    The National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services
    Alexandria, Va.
    (703) 549-6287; www.natss.org

    The MeetingConnection
    Novato, Calif.
    (415) 892-1394

    The Meeting Candidate Network, Inc.
    New York City
    (212) 689-7686

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