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CFOZone Experts

Opinions and views from expert CFOZone members.

May 13

The brave new world of temporary workers

Posted by SherylNash01 in Untagged 


Temporary workers have been a godsend for companies facing uncertainty. They give employers the muscle they need to get work done with the flexibility to hire and fire as needed. Plus employers needn't pay such employees the same health-care and retirement benefits they provide full timers. But the presence of part timers in an organization can be a tricky proposition. They're not on staff, but they're there - how best to integrate?

According to research from the University of Arizona, employers may not be doing such a good job of that. Joseph Broschak, associate professor of management and organizations at the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management and Alison Davis-Blake of the University of Minnesota, found that full-time employees in workgroups of larger proportions of temporary workers are less satisfied with their colleagues and supervisors.

The researchers collected data from two U.S. locations of a large, multinational financial services firm. They were chosen because both were responsible for similar activities (payment processing, account reconciliation, and inquiry/complaint handling) and local managers regularly utilized nonstandard workers to supplement the standard workforce. Survey questionnaires were administered directly to employees on-site during working hours. The survey asked respondents for basic demographic information and also asked questions about their work attitudes, behaviors and interactions with standard and nonstandard coworkers.

Their dissatisfaction is not insignificant. "We found that people who worked with a lot of temps thought more about leaving the company. They had turnover intention, whether they actually left or not," Broschak explained to CFOZone.

What's driving the division in the workplace? For one thing, the task of training usually falls on the full-time staffers, who likely already have much on their plates. That can stir resentment. Then too, because temps come and go, work can turn into one big, continuous training session. Sometimes, the full-time employee finds that tougher tasks are thrown in his or her lap and the "easy" stuff goes to the temps.

In addition, organizations have treated temporary workers as a separate workforce, excluding them from employee-only events and limiting the extent to which full-time and temporary workers interact socially at work. This can breed resentment and tensions that create the workplace equivalent of class warfare.

With the use of temporary workers not likely to slow down, and the trend extending to include professionals and even CFOs, learning to manage them effectively could be a competitive advantage. The key is to erase some of the distinctions between temps and permanent employees. Here's what Broschak recommends for going about that:

Don't treat them as temps. If you treat temporary workers as just a stop-gap measure, you'll get adequate work at best, and breed trouble with full timers, Broshak said. Instead, think of their employment as an audition for full-time work, and they will work to impress. "See them as a strategic resource rather than a cost savings, think renewable resource versus a disposable resource," Broschak added.

Get permanent employees involved.  Employers need to communicate up front to their permanent employees the role they will play in engaging the temporary workforce, advised Joel Capperella, senior vice president of Client Services for Yoh, a provider of talent and outsourcing services.

 "We typically recommend that hiring managers have a conversation with tenured employees about why they have decided to hire a temporary worker. This will drastically decrease anxiety," said Beth McNamara, a senior staffing specialist with Find Great People, a temporary staffing and executive search firm.

Recognize success. Praise the success of teams that integrate well and recognize the milestones of your temporary workers. "This will help your permanent employees understand the position and value of the temporary workforce, and mitigate some of the perceived threat," Capperella explained.

Watch for legal minefields. Make sure temporary employees are aware of and abide by the company's employment-related policies, particularly anti-harassment and discrimination policies, warned Nigel Telman, head of the Chicago Labor and Employment Law Group at Proskauer. Supervisors should treat temporary employees fairly and even-handedly. "They should be held to the same performance standards as regular employees and should be given good feedback to keep them motivated and to ensure that they are performing as expected. Supervisors should eliminate any opportunity for a regular employee to conclude that supervisors are biased towards temporary employee," he added.

Employers should also not retain a temporary employee indefinitely without specifically "renewing" the agreement of temporary assignment. That raises the risk that a temporary employee will be deemed by the court to be a "regular" employee and is therefore entitled to all of the same benefits.


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