Spotlight on: temporary workers

Many HR professionals are gearing up for the potential introduction of the Agency Workers Directive and the rights it could grant to temporary workers. Yet still the stereotype of the office temp, who fills in for a few days and then disappears, continues to ring true.

The annual SecsLife report, published last month by recruitment consultancy Gordon Yates, reveals that among many employers, office support staff are seen as a short-term commodity, rather than a valuable resource.


Despite the stereotype, a typical temp assignment is just as likely to be six months or more.

While an increasing number of casual staff make strenuous efforts to keep their skills and training up to date, the clichéd attitudes of employers towards non-permanent workers is a problem, according to Richard Grace, managing director of Gordon Yates.

Our classic image of a temp is of a secretary with few skills, but often temps are highly adept at IT presentations and software work, project management, customer service and even recruitment, he says. “Yet although temps deliver results every day and in every conceivable UK business sector, induction, training and motivation for these people is often minimal, because ‘it’s only the temp’.”

The SecsLife survey shows that limited career development and lack of recognition from employers – as well as innate financial insecurity – are the three biggest disincentives to being a temp in today’s business environment.


“Too many employers think that temps are highly transient, and assume that it is not worth investing time and effort in integrating them into the business,” says Grace.

“Our message is that there is no typical temp, and many of the anonymous agency staff who walk through your doors have exactly the experience you are looking for.”


Although a CV littered with temping placements is seen by some employers as suggesting lack of sticking power and solid experience, Grace believes the reverse is often true.

“Temping tends to nurture better software and social skills, wider commercial experience and greater adaptability, as well as the inner confidence needed to take on new challenges and work with different teams,” he says.

This year’s survey suggests that almost half of temps are dissatisfied with their work, for reasons including lack of recognition by employers, and limited opportunities to work as part of a team.

Among more enlightened employers and agencies, valuable temps with hard-to-find skills are routinely offered season ticket loans and travel expenses to keep them on board, according to Jenine Ward, a senior manager at recruitment company Crone Corkill.

Ward believes that the ‘temporary to permanent’ trend will gather pace in 2008.

“Try before you buy is a sound way of sussing someone out in terms of skills and cultural fit before offering them a permanent position, and I believe it is a win-win for both candidate and employer if only the stereotypes can be broken down.”

Tempting temps?…

  • 77% of firms used temps last year.

  • 61% of temps were offered permanent posts.

  • 50% have temped for the same company for at least six months.

  • 41% earn £12.50 or more per hour.

  • 26% stay more than a month with the same company.

  • 73% have been temping for more than a year.

  • 27% dislike the limited career development.

  • 26% dislike the insecurity.

  • 14% dislike the lack of recognition by employers.

  • 6% dislike not being part of a team.

Source: Gordon Yates SecsLife survey, 2008

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