Here let me read it to you through a blocked nose from the savage cold snap. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
A dirty boss habit
A dirty habit that some bosses have is forcing their workforce into casual employment. Even dirtier, when it’s through labour hire companies. And every second tech platform is built on the idea of forcing everyone into casual piece-work deals.
Casual work has a lot going for it. It keeps students alive and teaches them the world of work. Even if that lesson is what jobs you never want to do again, and bosses you will never be like when it’s your turn.
Casual life suits some people’s lives better. Some industries just need an army of staff for a few days every so often. And if your business is just starting out, maybe you can’t afford permanent staff just yet. That’s all cool.
What’s not cool is pushing people who work for you regularly into casual conditions when they don’t want that.
The fact that it’s bad for those staff is no concern at all to some bosses. Which is why I’m writing on why it’s also bad for businesses.
People who feel valued outperform people who don’t
If your business involves any contact between customers and your people, permanently-employed people will outperform them almost every time.
People who feel valued outperform people who don’t.
Casuals have no security, so if they have an issue at work, they’re not going to raise it. Because their salaried supervisors will just take them off the shift list and their livelihood evaporates overnight. For casuals, it’s nearly impossible to get a loan, so they can never buy a home. They’re permanently marginalised in society.
Why the fuck should they go a step beyond minimum effort for you?
You can hammer them with surveillance and threats, but customers can feel the prison energy. Competitors who look after their staff will win your clients off you, one positive experience at a time.
Over time, permanent staff learn how your business is meant to be different to the others. They teach the people around them. They attract other good people to your business. It takes a long time. Over a decade or so, you can build unstoppable momentum if it’s consistent. It’s not something you can just turn on and off at your whim.
Our experience with too many freelancers
We’ve experienced this recently. Not as a deliberate choice to go casual, but because of skill shortages.
The financial performance of one of our offices was lagging behind the other ones a year or so back. The local labour market was super tight. Nobody good replied to job ads. We offered lots of freelancers full-time gigs, but they were surfing epic waves of demand and all said no.
So we had to use a lot of freelancers. Most are really good. But they’re working with all your competitors, so how is your client’s experience going to be any way different to all their other generic suppliers?
It’s like jumping in any Uber, Lyft, Didi or Ola: indistinguishable. You’d never go: yeah, that was a real Uber ride, not like a Lyft. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes bad, with all of them.
That’s not what clients want. Wherever you are on the price/quality scale, they want you to be consistent and dependable.
As Rory Sutherland pointed out, McDonalds might not be the greatest burger on earth, but they’re great at not being shit. This reassurance is the essence of why people buy brands and it’s what makes them so valuable.
Your brand is what your staff do
Consistent execution is important. But so is doing it in a consistent way: what are the values that your staff have? Service is a complex mix of technical skill, response speed, friendliness, subservience, communication ability, diplomacy, frank advice, collaboration, ability to work unsupervised, willingness to negotiate and hundreds of other dimensions. Some of them work directly against each other.
The ones that you prioritise become what your brand is, at least for smaller businesses that can’t do mega-marketing.
Casuals and freelancers aren’t dialled into your particular balance, and will just do what they do everywhere.
So we hired a bunch of newer people full-time and set about training them. A year on, the difference is transformational. They’re a proper team, and they have each other’s backs. And the financial performance of that office is back up there with all the others.
By the way, if you’re a freelance person, don’t steal your client’s client. I can’t believe I even have to write this, but we’ve had it happen occasionally. We put a senior client-facing freelancer on a project, and the client was so delighted with the experience that they started working together, independently of us. It is hard to describe how not ok this is. Clients who hire freelancers talk, and your dirty rat reputation will follow you for a very long time.
A potentially fatal casual hiring trap
Here’s an unpleasant admin trap I’ve seen send companies under, so listen up. (International readers, it’s specific Australian advice. You can stop reading, thanks for dropping by and see you next week.)
If you use casuals, pay them as casual employees. Deduct the PAYG withholding. Pay the super. DO NOT PAY THEM ON AN ABN TAX INVOICE. It’s a common request in a lot of industries..
The Tax Office will come back at you in five years, audit you, and find that you were in fact just hiring staff on an hourly rate. Then they’ll bill you for all the PAYG you would have deducted if they were employees. This is more money than you have and it will be somewhere between super-unpleasant and fatal for your business.
All business owners should be across the signs the ATO looks for in this decision. Read them here.
Sorry that was a boring note to finish on but that’s business: you can undo all your good work if you neglect just one dull item. Don’t blame me I don’t write the rules.
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Why not buy this nice book?
Want a book that makes even the dull bits of business mildly entertaining? Why not read Undisruptable: Timeless Business Truths For Thriving In A World Of Nonstop Change.
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