I want to get after that list of interesting factoids about staffing from my Let’s Talk Staffing post.  What is a factoid, you ask?  According to a favorite operations professor of mine back in the day at business school, a factoid is an interesting piece of information which, if it were true, would be a fact.  He constantly cited factoids from Business Week, which he thought had deplorable articles in terms of depth and research.  I am getting side-tracked here, but factoids are certainly front and center in this blog, so you need to know the definition.

I thought I would work my last list bottom up – starting with #5, just for kicks.  Hey, it’s Father’s Day, so I’m calling the shots.  This whole notion of the footloose nature of a staffing firm’s assets is more than a little unsettling to any number of small business owners and larger firms with whom we work.  And the tricky thing is that the issue is the same if you are staffing caterers in the hospitality industry or highly trained physicians in healthcare staffing.  Why is that?  Well, start by getting under the hood of anyone who works at a staffing company.  Working at a staffing company is inherently less stable employment than having a steady W-2 job at a company.  So virtually everyone at a staffing company, any staffing company, is trading off stability and taking somewhat higher employment risk for some other reason.  What reason?

FLEXIBILITY.

great flexibility-khalid-almasoud-on-Flickr.comThat is my premise after 18 months of talking to hundreds of staffing companies.  Almost every worker at a staffing company is explicitly making a decision to trade off stability to gain flexibility.  Let that thought simmer a bit in your mind.  Stir it around, take a long whiff.  Because you know what I hear from far too many staffing executives?  Their contractors do it for the money.  They can get paid more on a per hour basis than working a W-2 job, so they jump to staffing.  I beg to differ.  First of all, because a staffing contractor usually doesn’t know if they are working tomorrow or next week, many of them actually do not make more in aggregate each year in a staffing business.  So a few of them do it for the money alone – maybe 10-20% max.

But we are talking about the general mindset of a very broad set of workers in a very large set of industries.  And those workers are opting for flexibility.  Trust me on that one.  Maybe that worker is a single mother that can’t be at work first thing in the morning each day.  Maybe that worker has a spouse that works odd hours or travels for long stints.  Maybe a child has an illness that requires attention at differing times.  Maybe it is someone working 2 jobs.  Maybe they couldn’t stand a commute, or couldn’t afford it.  But if you think about your workers and start gathering some information in bits and pieces, you will find way more often than not a personal issue at home that is demanding more flexibility than a W-2 job can offer.  Keep noodling on it.  Ask around.

Why do workers needing flexibility matter so much to us here at Shiftboard?  Well, to start with, this is a trend in the overall workforce of the nation that is going to be growing for as far as the eye can see, so we had all better understand it.  The good news is that if you run a staffing business, you are going up the learning curve on this issue far faster than, say General Electric or Dupont.  Which means that if you think really hard about it and why it matters, you can capitalize on it.

But on a day-to-day level it has mattered here since our founder Bryan built the first version of Shiftboard software back in 2003.  His first customers were staffing RNs and CRNAs (certified registered nurse anesthetists – just so you don’t ever need to wonder again why they are called CRNAs for short).  Those are some skill-sets in very high demand.  So his first customers wanted a way not only to schedule their workers, but also keep them from walking down the street to a competitor.  To keep their workers, they felt they had 2 options:

1. Pay them above market wages – in which case that business won’t be around long.  And besides, based on my premise above, it would not matter that much to most workers anyway.

2. OR be easier to work for.  How?  Capitalize on that notion of flexibility that workers in staffing value so highly.  Milton Friedman would say they derive high utility from additional flexibility, but remember that I don’t talk to him often.

So what did Shiftboard enable for those first customers?

What we still do today.  Our system allows workers to select and confirm some of their own shifts – on the web, any time of the day or night, in real-time.  We call it bottom-up scheduling.  Workers like it, because they have a little more control of their schedule, which allows them to schedule themselves around whatever personal issues drove them to needing the flexibility in the first place.

And guess what?  Since your competitor doesn’t offer that option, your firm just became a better place to work on the issue that matters most to a contractor or hourly worker.  Those key assets of yours just decided to stick around a few more weeks, or months, or years.  Dang!  This combination of both a lemon AND a lime in the club soda I am sipping really does have the kid’s synapses firing.  Maybe its a little different way to think about your business, eh?

Let’s wrap this puppy up with some facts, which would be factoids, except that they are true:

•  A lot of our customers still do plenty of top-down scheduling, where the scheduler tells workers when and where to work.  But even a little of the other way around make big differences in worker satisfaction.  And as you get used to it, you will in our experience at least double your scheduler’s productivity, which reduces a huge overhead cost in staffing companies as you grow.
•  Well over 30% of the shifts on our system, thousands and thousands of shifts a week, are confirmed by workers between 7pm and 6am the next morning.  When your scheduler isn’t working.  But when a worker is off and has time to search for other work.  FLEXIBILITY
•  Fully two-thirds of all the shifts on our system, across all of our customers, are confirmed bottom-up by workers.  That is the trend and a growing expectation of flexible workers in most industries.  It was a trickle that is quickly becoming a flood.

My advice, whether with Shiftboard or any other way – think hard about that trend.  Get out in front of it.  Because not only do you need to move faster than GE or Dupont, but also that competitor down the street.