Temporary Help Agencies and the Making of a New Employment Practice

Smith, Vicki; Neuwirth, Esther B.
February 2009
Academy of Management Perspectives;Feb2009, Vol. 23 Issue 1, p56
Academic Journal
Over the past 50 years in America, we have gone from a system of work characterized by lifetime employment at a single employer to a patchwork system characterized by low security and high volatility. A major player in our new world of work is the temporary help agency, which serves as the intermediary between workers and companies. Traditionally, temporary help agencies have been regarded, at best, as a necessary evil, and, at worst, as machines that eat up and spit out workers. In fact, the reality is far more nuanced. When job seekers' options are unemployment or degraded employment, working with the staff of an agency that has an investment in promoting its profit-making commodity—good temporary workers—gives them a distinct advantage. Agency staff help applicants and valued workers improve résumés and refine their job expectations in productive ways, and often advocate for better wages, higher-level positions, and more humane, safer working conditions for their temps. Temporary employment today is thus a double-edged sword. While, on average, agency temps receive lower wages, rarely can purchase health insurance, and have virtually no employment security, they can also be buffered from the worst aspects of new employment relations by labor market intermediaries such as temporary placement agencies.


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