How to Manage Temporary Workers Who Want—and Do Not Want—Temporary Jobs


Every day in the U.S., more than 3,000,000 people work on temporary job assignments. From coast to coast, and in practically every industry, companies need temporary workers—to better scale their workforce and to access specialized skill sets. While there are many benefits to relying on “temps,” there’s one issue we’d like to discuss: Some of these workers want temp jobs, and others do not.

How should companies approach this issue? Offer each group the same pay? Customize offerings per group? Expect more turnover from one group compared to the other, or assume one group has more "temp-to-hire" potential and foster their skills first?

The bottom line is that not every temp worker has the same motivations. So maybe they shouldn't be managed the same way. Read on for our answers to the above questions, along with some additional advice on managing your temp workforce.

A Lesson from Marketers: Understand Your Audiences

Before you can properly manage your contingent workforce, you need to understand where they're coming from and why they may or may not want temporary roles.

Reasons why people want temporary roles:

  • They value flexibility, both when it comes to various types of shifts and not being tied to a long-term role.
  • They need only a certain, relatively modest income level.
  • They enjoy the variety of employers, colleagues, types of work, locations, etc.
  • They have trouble finding permanent jobs due to their past record, so they are content working in temp roles.
  • They need more job experience, either to fill a resume gap or learn new skills.*
  • They hope to make networking contacts.*

*These reasons point toward a temp who will eventually seek full-time employment. They're happy to take on temp roles for now but see them as a way to eventually land a full-time, permanent position.

Reasons why people do not want temporary roles (or to continue as temps):

  • They prefer a permanent job for the following perks: greater stability, benefits, career mobility and pay potential.
  • Their experience as a temp has left them feeling isolated, or even “second class," at work.
  • They feel forced into these roles based on their lack of skills or questionable background.
  • They perceive temporary jobs as less prestigious than permanent jobs.

So, how can you, as an employer, care for each type of temporary worker you hire and ensure maximum productivity from your entire workforce? Are they that different? Do you manage them much the same?

Strategies for Accommodating Both Types of Temporary Workers

Step 1 – Identify where they stand.

Before you can manage temporary workers based on their motivations, you need to identify which ones prefer temping and which ones do not. Below are a few ways in which you can work on your own, or with your staffing partner, to accomplish this:

  • Look at workers' job and assignment histories. Are there any patterns that suggest they fall into one group or the other?
  • During the hiring or onboarding process, speak with temps directly. “Seek to understand why they're temping and what they hope to achieve while they're on assignment with you," suggests Catherine Joiner, Adecco USA’s Vice President, Regional Sales. “This will help you uncover whether they plan to continue with temporary assignments or they're hoping for a full-time position at the end—with your company or another employer."
  • Ask workers to self-select on their application. For example, the prompt could be, “I plan to continue working in temporary roles for:" Answers could include, “0-1 year,” “1-2 years,” “3-5 years," “Indefinitely" and “Unsure." Include an optional open-ended area for them to explain their reason.

“No matter how you determine which camp your temporary workers fall into, you can build trust by starting out with this type of transparency. It may even lead to better expectations for their job assignment," explains Joiner.

When you understand why a temporary worker has accepted their assignment at your organization, you get a tip on how to motivate them and maybe keep them around for longer assignments or even a permanent role if the need arises.

Step 2 – Uncover why temp workers leave assignments.

Whether your temporary workers fall into the category of wanting to temp or not wanting to, your organization may still run into an unfortunate, yet common problem: hiring temps who often leave their position before their assignment's end date.

If your organization sees this as a common trend in its contingent program, you may need to root out the cause and solve it before you can effectively manage your overall workforce.

Below are common reasons temps may leave their assignments early. We'll explore potential solutions next.

  • They receive better job offers elsewhere.
  • Their expectations of the job, based on the job description and communication, don't align with the reality of the job.
  • They don't feel like part of the team due to poor integration. Good temps want to help—and see their impact. Unfortunately, some employers don't integrate temps with their permanent workforce, and when this happens, they may feel nonessential.

Step 3 – Explore management solutions.

The above issues can be solved, and in a way that makes your management of temporary workers more effective, whether they want to keep temping long-term or not. Often, management tactics that help one group (temps who want to be temps) also help the other (temps who do not want to be temps), just in different ways.

Solve the negative trend of temps leaving for other positions.
If many of your workers leave early for better offers, consider whether their offers are for permanent jobs that align with career goals, or if they are similar temporary assignments with better pay. Then consider the following options:

  • Keep productive temps by paying a bit more than what they're worth. Why? Remember that you aren't offering long-term stability (unless they become a temp-to-hire), but you can offer a short-term—and noticeable—income boost. In return, you get more people sticking around for the duration of their assignments and more consistent productivity.
  • Ask temporary workers about their long-term career aspirations. Then support them however you can in their current positions. Show them how their experience will build a resume that can lead to the job they ultimately want. In other words, show them that you're looking out for their long-term plan, even if your organization may not be part of it.

Align job expectations.
Don't oversell your jobs or you might end up with increased costs, consistently rehiring for the same position. Instead, fully and honestly communicate the job—good and bad—with your staffing partners and share the type of person who's done well in the past, including their skills and character traits. This will help your partners find the right people—and set those peoples' expectations, so your temps are more likely to be impactful for their entire assignments.

Train your temps and your permanent staff on how to work together.
Research has shown that when organizations treat all staff well, including permanent and temporary employees, they are not only more innovative, but also deliver better results to their shareholders. Ensure that your team does this by doing the following:

  • Consider various rewards programs to encourage all types of employees.
  • When appropriate, include temps in different company announcements and events so that they feel like a true part of company culture.
  • Implement proper organizational and on-the-job training. For temporary employees, consider spending half a day of training for each month that they'll be on staff. Make sure part of this training is in learning your company's core values. This will help them better relate to your permanent colleagues and better value their own part.
  • Communicate the value of temporary workers to your permanent staff and ensure they treat temps fairly.

If your organization identifies and follows positive workforce management tenets, then all employees—permanent colleagues, independent contractors and consultants, and temporary workers—are more likely to effectively collaborate and innovate. And you never know when a temporary worker will catch your eye and become a prime candidate for an important full-time role—saving you the time and money spent on recruiting for said role in today’s challenging labor market.

To further delve into how your organization can better understand, and therefore inspire and retain, its employees, download Adecco's U.S. Workforce Report.

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