In the 1969 song “A Boy Named Sue” — written by humorist, children’s author and poet Shel Silverstein and popularized by Johnny Cash — the protagonist held a grudge against his father for naming him Sue. Nowadays, social standards have evolved and advanced such that a boy named Sue might be perfectly happy, proud and confident, rather than how the boy in the song grew up.

Hearing the song recently got me thinking about naming conventions in contingent work, specifically, what names a CW program should use in describing contingent worker talent resources — what labels should they embrace and what should they move away from? There are important CW program branding and talent resource satisfaction issues that should be addressed and managed with CW talent naming conventions.

A good place to start is the preferences of the CW talent resources themselves. SIA’s 2021 Temporary Worker Survey, which reflects the opinions of 2,223 North American temporary workers, asked, “With regard to the temporary work you perform through your staffing agency, what do you prefer to be called?”

The results were not surprising, because the connotations of “temp,” “temporary” and maybe even “contingent” can be seen to carry negative and short-term meanings, while labels such as “consultant,” “contractor” and “associate” carry a higher value perception. Interestingly enough, “freelancer” landed at the bottom of the preferred list of names. Whether true or false, labels such as “consultant” are perceived as possessing a higher value and potentially a higher compensation benefit for the CW service delivered.

What temporary workers prefer to be called.

This is not a new concept, either. Back in 2014, I wrote an advisory CWS 3.0 article entitled, “Don’t call them temps. You could be losing out on quality talent.” Even in 2014, the use of the terms “temp” or “temporary” were frowned upon from a CW talent satisfaction standpoint. At that time, the engagement of contingent workers/non-employees was becoming more long-term in nature. Today, contingent talent resources are a strategic, operating model of delivering competitive value in the marketplace for many organizations. The emergence of multiple talent sourcing channels such as direct sourcing and on-demand talent sourcing platforms is requiring a more advanced talent engagement branding strategy to attract the best CW talent, not just any talent available.

Naming conventions will be just one element of an overall CW talent engagement branding strategy. But the key thought here is all stakeholders of your CW engagement brand will have something to say about their interaction with a CW program and ultimately impact the program/engagement brand reputation. This is true whether the stakeholder is a staffing partner, supply chain partner, engagement manager and/or CW talent resource.

In 2014, we supported limiting the use of the word “temp or temporary” when engaging CW talent more strategically and in a more advanced relationship management style. After all, many of these workers are actual experts and skilled professionals who extend the competitive capability of the organization. They would prefer to be called consultants, specialists, professionals, associates, or at least skilled, non-employee talent. Being positioned as commodity resources that are not part of the “team” and can be easily/swiftly dismissed may not be so attractive in terms of CW engagement brand management for the best, quality talent available in the marketplace.

It’s tough enough to capture a targeted engagement value proposition that includes the strategic need to effectively engage quality CW talent/skills, in an ongoing, managed period of time, at a competitive engagement cost. Let’s not make it tougher by insulting them.