Temporary employment services (often referred to as temporary employment agencies or firms) provide employees who possess specific skills to client companies for brief and often fixed period of time. The arrangement can provide a client company with needed help during peak demand periods, staffing shortages, or vacations of regular employees, without requiring the time, expense, and long-term commitment of hiring a new employee.

Temporary employment firms typically undertake hiring and firing decisions, issue paychecks, withhold payroll taxes, and make contributions for employment insurance, workers’ compensation, and social security for their own employees. Client companies simply describe their staffing needs and time frame, and then pay a set of hourly rate to the temporary employment agency for the services of a “temp.”  The business scenarios in which temporary staff can be used are virtually endless.

A large staffing service can bring in any number of temporaries to work days, nights, weekends, or holidays, and not just to perform low skill tasks. Specialized temporary services can routinely handle specific, time sensitive and highly skilled projects. In fact, very often temporary workers are so qualified, employers end up adding them to the fulltime staff, saving the high cost of hiring and training. Additionally, a temporary employee allows you to judge whether you need a fulltime person for a particular job or if ongoing temporaries can complete the tasks.

Some changes in the nature of workforce, such as an increase in the number of working mothers, have contributed to the popularity of temporary employment arrangements. Part-time workers who are employed a temps enjoy a great deal of flexibility in setting schedules and choosing assignments. For example, a mother with young children in school might opt to work fairly consistently during the school year, but not at all during the summer months. 

Some professional workers use temporary assignments as a way to add variety to their jobs, while recent college graduates might view temp job as a stepping stone to permanent employment. But even though temporary employment offers advantages or some workers, many others, who have been laid off or are unable to find permanent positions, work as temps out of necessity rather than preference.

The expanded use of temporary employment is likely to persist. The forces that gave rise to the increased use of temporary workers as an alternative to permanent employment are generally expected to stay with us, if not accelerate. These forces include the shift from production of goods to processing of information and others service industries; employer reluctance to add permanent staff in the face of possible business downturns; increased technology that both requires special expertise and facilitates its development; and the availability of capable individuals who must, or prefer to, enter the temporary labor market.

Nonetheless, there are potential drawbacks associated with going the “temp service” route that must be weighed. One factor commonly cited is the greater allocation of time and resources to training that may be necessary if a company receives several different temp workers in succession for one job.

Another criticism that is sometimes raised in conjunction with reliance on temp services is that some temporary staffers do not feel a connection to the company for which they are working, which can have a deleterious impact on effort and effectiveness. Companies can do much to address these potential problem areas, however, by establishing and maintaining a program that continually monitors and reviews the contributions of temp workers.

Choosing a Temporary Service 

Temporary employment services are a particularly attractive option for small businesses, which often need help on a limited basis but lack the resources to recruit, screen, and pay new, fulltime employees. A small business considering the services of a temporary employment agency should first consider several factors:

Gauge Need: Business owners should examine production schedules, composition of employee benefits (number of sick days and vacation days, etc.) and seasonal workloads when weighing whether to pursue temporary staff. Shortcomings in specific areas of business knowledge should be factored in as well.

Another key factor that should be weighed is less quantifiable but even more important: quality of customer service. Check the quality of the work not just during the times when employees are covering for another worker, but on regular basis. Judge the way employees react when asked to do more from each other and from managers. Most importantly, look at how employees treat people outside the company, from the vendors and suppliers to the customers themselves. Are they harried, short and tense? If so, temporary additions to the workforce may be in order.

Put an effective screening process in place: It is important to understand the temporary services firm’s screening process for temporary employees. Though minimal screening is acceptable for low-level jobs, the process should include more sophisticated screening methods such as personal interviews, computer testing, or psychological evaluations, for positions running specialized skills. Existing employee job descriptions can be used to determine temp staffers’ suitability for the jobs and to measure their performance once they have begun work.

Evaluate potential temporary staffing services: Business owners should seek out recommendations for temp services from other members of the business community. Once you have targeted specific services for consideration, conduct extensive interviews with management to explain your company’s needs and determine their ability to meet those needs. The natural inclination is to look for the lowest rate, yet quality service is as important. A firm that carefully screens and evaluates the skills of all its temporaries will provide you with workers who do the job right the first time.

Establish partnership with the temp service: The temporary services firm your company selects should be able to evaluate the client company’s project requirements, time frame, budget, and working environment, and provide temporary employees who have the right skills, availability, and personality to meet its client’s needs. Ideally, the temp services firm should be flexible in accepting last minute requests for temps or in changing temps in the middle of a project if the first one does not work out. Payment rates should be negotiable, based on the skill level required and the quantity of work.

Make your workplace one in which temporary workers can succeed:  Companies should make sure that temporary workers are made to feel welcome upon arrival, and that they receive solid training. Do not abandon temporary workers to ‘sink or swim’ on their own. 

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Bernard Taiwo

I am Management strategist, Editor and Publisher.

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