Temporary Employment

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Temporary employment is work that is not a permanent job. Rather, temporary employment allows an individual to work for shorter terms in a variety of jobs utilizing many skills. The scope of temporary employment is wide-ranging. In many cases, temporary employment can lead to permanent positions. Temporary employment is an expanding type of work in the twenty-first century. As America joins the global marketplace in seeking qualified employees for its work force, temporary employment is playing a major part in the process.

Since the middle of the twentieth century, temporary employment has expanded greatly and become a viable and effective tool for American businesses. In 1995, it was estimated that the actual size of the contingent, or flexible, work force was between 2.2 and 4.9 percent of the work force (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1995).

Clerical workers accounted for approximately 40 percent of the total U.S. temporary payroll in the 1990s. However, the number of contingents includes CEOs, human resources directors, computer systems analysts, accountants, doctors, and nurses. Approximately 20 percent are professionals. About 90 percent of short-term temporary workers are supplied by a staffing company.

When a business can hire temporary help on an as needed basis, costs can usually be controlled. In the twenty-first century, temporary employment plays a major role in expanding jobs in the global marketplace. Employing people on a temporary basis to work in diversified work environments allows businesses worldwide to deal with competition more effectively.


There are several major reasons for increased temporary employment. One is company downsizing. Many companies are being forced to downsize because of increased costs of operation. When a company is placed in this position, temporary employment often becomes a realistic option. From the standpoint of cost, it is cheaper, as many fringe benefits do not have to be paid to temporary employees. Companies can hire temporary employees for periods of time necessary to accomplish the project or task at hand. Also minimal training is required for temporary employees.

Another reason is increased global competition. The global marketplace of the early twenty-first century necessitates the use of temporary employment on a worldwide scale. There is a growing acceptance of temporary hiring through Europe. Formerly, many nations did not acknowledge temporary employment. However, governments are beginning to recognize a legitimate need to use all human resources available in dealing with global competition.

Job requirements vary greatly from country to country, thus creating unusual challenges for those considering the use of temporary employees. Benefits also vary greatly. For example, Belgium requires a substantial contribution to health and social security costs for temporaries, a contribution that totals about 35 percent of the gross salary, payable by the temporary help firm. In contrast, the United Kingdom requires very few benefits for temporaries.

In many European countries, temporary employees function as temporary replacements for those on maternity leave. Throughout much of Europe, maternity leaves last much longer than in the United States. For example, in Belgium pregnant employees get four and a half months of leave. In France, employees stop work six weeks before their due date and come back to work eight weeks after the birth of the child. In both countries, the employees' jobs are guaranteed upon return.


Temporary employment is growing for several reasons. To begin with, technology has provided opportunities for both large and small companies to customize and streamline their tasks. But doing so requires specialized technical competence. Temporary employees can provide state-ofthe-art competence.

Professional staffing firms are especially helpful in this area. For example, Manpower has a division called Manpower Technical, whose employees are assigned to many of the world's leading high-technology firms. Specific technology training is provided for them to meet this increasing demand.

In addition, with the workplace constantly undergoing change, temporary employees can bridge the gap when a business experiences a shortage of help. Temporary employment gives companies the opportunity to test patterns of employment trends and gives employees the opportunity to explore various careers. The combination creates a unique opportunity for a win-win situation.

Reasons for considering temporary employment are as individual as the individuals who seek temporary employment. The major reasons individuals become temporary employees include the following:

Additional income:

With a continuing trend of more family members needing to work, temporary employment provides additional income.

Career-path mobility:

Temporary employment can often lead to full-time temporary positions or to permanent positions. Employers who use part-time employees have the opportunity to try out an individual to see if perhaps a permanent job match would work. The wide variety of firms using temporary employees provides for ample career exploration.

Temporary employment can alleviate the financial and emotional stress involved in the search for a permanent job, thus resulting in a better permanent job.

Skill improvement:

Temporary employment provides employees with an opportunity to gain additional training in specific skills, especially in the area of technology. Most large staffing firms provide training to temporary employees on an ongoing basis.


Temporary employment provides flexibility in a variety of ways. This can be both a plus and a minus. Being assigned a temporary job usually means working with different groups of individuals to get a job done in a short period of time. On the other hand, temporary jobs can provide personal opportunities for acquiring knowledge in various fields of work. Temporary employment demands flexibility in being available for work on short notice with a positive attitude toward whatever the assignment may be.


The most common route to temporary employment is through a professional staffing service. One good approach is to look in the Yellow Pages telephone book. Newspapers are also good resources. And the Internet abounds with a wide variety of staffing services. In addition, many companies who have Web sites have a section called "Applying for a Job." Of course, the traditional door-to-door approach can provide opportunities for temporary employment, as can word of mouth.

It is recommended that persons consider these points when seeking a temporary job through use of a staffing service:

  1. What is the history of the staffing service?
  2. What is its placement record?
  3. Do I have to pay a fee if a job is found?
  4. What benefits does the temporary staffing service offer?
  5. How often am I paid?
  6. Is the staffing service affiliated with a national association such as the National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services?
  7. What potential is there for growth with the staffing service?
  8. What, if any, job restrictions exist?
  9. Will I be kept busy with challenging and interesting assignments?
  10. Will I be provided with training?

Getting answers to these questions is important for those considering temporary employment, for they often reflect the quality of the staffing service.


The future of temporary employment appears extremely good. Temporary work assignments are becoming more challenging and are lasting for longer periods of time.

Temporary employment will probably continue to be a strong training ground for businesses. The effect of downsizing indicates that no job is stable forever. Because of technology, many jobs have become obsolete, and thus employees without technological skills have been separated from companies for which they had been employed for many years. These displaced workers often turn to temporary employment as an opportunity to improve old skills and learn new ones. Although education can be obtained by returning to a formalized school setting, training can also be obtained at a staffing agency.

Professional temporary employees work for a variety of reasons. Many seek only short-term employment to keep busy. Many are semiretired and looking for a sense of involvement while supplementing their retirement incomes.

Temporary employment offers many interesting opportunities, but it definitely is not for everyone. A staffing agency should be investigated carefully before one signs on. Being flexible and assuming a fair amount of risk taking is recommended. Long- and short-term goals should always be kept in mind.

Temporary employment is almost certainly here to stay and should continue to grow in the years ahead. Learning both the obstacles and the opportunities of temporary employment can provide a sense of focus and direction.

see also Human Resource Management


Bureau of Labor Statistics (1995). U.S. Department of Labor, Report 900, Contingent and Alternative Employment Arrangement.

Burgess, John & Connell, Julia (eds.) (2004). International perspectives in temporary work and workers. New York: Routledge.

Dorothy A. Maxwell