Are temporary staff a good thing?

One of the latest papers I’ve reviewed is this one:  Do Temporary Workers Affect Workplace Performance?, Alex Bryson, J Prod Anal (2013) 39: 131-13 Published online 22 April 2012 ©Springer Science + Business Media LLC 2012.

I read it fearfully: the whole point of The Care Locker is to improve what I perceive as a very broken system, but if temporary workers are just blanket bad, it’s the wrong approach. This is what I found…

The authors had looked at whether the use of temporary agency workers has a positive association with financial performance, and the answer was (as I read it): it’s nuanced.

Overall, there is a positive correlation between the use of temporary workers and a company’s strong financial performance – and there is also some correlation between the use of temps and sales.

However, reading between the lines, whether the association is a positive one depends on the motivation for using temporary staff. If it’s to fill a skills gap, the association is positive. If there’s already strong financial performance, the association is positive. (Perhaps this is because staff have been stretched by success and are grateful for the help?)

However, where temporary staff (TAWs – temporary agency workers as they are referred to in the paper) are brought in as a money saving exercise, there is a less positive correlation, with permanent staff also paid less and more disgruntled.

Similarly staff see that more is being paid for temporary staff, which can be a cause for discontent, but don’t see the lack of job security or the lack of pension.(I ask myself whether trying to create a more positive association in the workplace might just be seen as patronising?) Generally, however, staff also see a wage premium of around 9% in environments where temporary workers are used.

The paper did throw up some of the challenges in productivity where temporary staff don’t know systems etc and are therefore sometimes less productive, but did make a nod to the fact that temps can bring in knowledge and processes from other environments. (Our algorithm will ensure that good staff get back into the same units regularly.)

Overall, this paper did little more than empirically highlight questions around the use of temporary workers, and made no specific mention of care situations.

To my mind, more research is needed to be making some of the claims in this paper, but I think we need to ask why it matters before addressing the issue. Each temporary assignment is unique and the factors governing its success include the receptiveness of the workplace and the suitability of the temporary worker

I suspect that the financial measures are variable with management skill, and reasons for using the staff member on the temporary basis, and that this is not something that can be generalised. However, it’s good to note that the association is, for the most part, a positive one.

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