In our recent research report, “ Tune In To Temps – how employers and recruiters can support agency worker voice in the workplace” we highlight nine key ways that employers can adopt good practice that will promote high levels of engagement amongst this important part of the UK workforce.

One area of some controversy is the recommendation that agency workers’ are listened to at work both when they give advice and suggestions about operational matters and when they raise concerns or grievances they might have. The conclusion is that they should be given the same access to and support from any staff representatives in the workplace as permanent employees.

The vast majority of staff forums exclude agency workers from the process and this is a situation rarely questioned. When a large number of ICE forums were established in the early 2000’s, the perception of what the role of the representative was seemed to naturally preclude agency workers. How could a staff representative “take up an issue” on behalf of an agency worker for example? How could they “canvass and represent their views”? This was, at the time quite understandably, seen as a process that should only include permanent staff.

This, however, is not the role of the staff representative as we see it today. Two major changes have occurred; the role is now more sophisticated than simply canvassing and reporting the views of the constituents, plus the use of email is more widespread than it was fifteen years ago. Both of these mean that there is no reason why the voice of agency staff should not be included in the two-way communication between an organisation and the representatives.

Through research and our training programmes, the IPA has re-positioned the role of the representative considerably. Instead of focussing on problems and concerns, staff representatives are coached to ensure that all staff have a voice – including those who are highly engaged and enjoy their jobs. In other words, the representative is no longer there just to represent the five, ten or fifteen percent of staff who have a problem with something but have to include everyone.

So, instead of becoming the traditional de-facto “agony aunts”, staff representatives have developed into more effective reporters of “hot topics” and a accurate temperature check for senior managers to consider. As a result, good practice and the voice of the engaged is heard alongside the issues that need to be addressed strategically. There is no reason at all why Agency staff should not be included in that accurate temperature check or reporting of good practice.

The evolvement of the “Hot Topic” request and the availability of email in workplaces has also removed a potential barrier to including agency workers in the process. Instead of the potentially calamitous idea of representatives “canvassing views” on specific topics (thereby giving staff an impression that they are voting on something or creating an expectation that their individual views will be addressed using their desired outcome) the “Hot Topics” will be requested on a regular basis by email.

Instead of asking people what questions they have (which should be asked through the line manager) or what issues they “want raised on their behalf”, the representatives will ask them a series of less personal questions that will provide the more accurate and balanced report back:

What are the main taking points in your department?

What are the main areas of concern in your department?

Is there any good practice in your department that we can share at the next meeting?

What’s going well in your department?

It could be that an agency worker might have experience of something that has worked in other organisations and their exclusion might stifle potential innovation. Agency workers might not just have a voice, they may have a well-informed one.

It is also important to remember that staff forums are not there to negotiate. As such, the majority and the minority perspectives are equally important in discussions. Everyone needs factual communication that will allow them to make their own minds up about how they feel about their jobs and staff representatives play a vital role in making sure this happens. The representatives do not, or should not, argue solely from the perspective of a majority and this is another reason why excluding agency workers makes no sense. They are an additional voice, not an additional number. 

As our report concludes, both agencies and host organisations should ensure that agency workers are treated with decency, compassion and respect at all times which they are as entitled to as any other employee. They should not be treated differently where inductions or celebrations of success are concerned if they are going to be genuinely regarded as “part of the team”. It is logical, therefore, that they should also be part of the important two-way process that staff forums provide.

If you want more information about our training programmes or our Hub for Representatives, please contact me:

[email protected]

07780 697024