Business Week calls them the “disposable worker”. These arethe temps, contractors, contingent workers, and free-lancers who fill the gaps when a company has a job to do but would rather hire short-term employees than make a long-term commitment to so-called “permanent” employees. It used to be that these temporary workers were the exception; now they are the rule. Estimates are that a quarter of the workforce could become temporary in the next few years.
Unlike previous recession recoveries, this one will not re-employ large numbers of laid off workers. Because of technology, operational efficiencies, a project focus, and out-sourcing, many companies are finding that they can be more productive with fewer employees. And because of uncertainty about the post-recession economy, they are reluctant to make new hires permanent. Employers have found that they can get the job done by supplementing their regular employees with temps. This gives companies the freedom to increase and decrease their workforce depending on what is needed at the time. With many “disposable workers” being highly trained and competent professionals, often recently laid off from high-responsibility jobs, these employers are usually not lowering the knowledge and skill level when they bring these workers on-board.
However, employers are experiencing a paradox. They want low-cost, transient employees and, at the same time, they want an involved and committed workforce. As companies hire more temporary employees and become more dependent on them as a critical part of the workforce mix, they will have to find ways to build their commitment to high quality work and involvement in the life of the company, in an environment where people are still reeling from mass layoffs, furlough days, and reduced benefits. What do you think employers can do to promote high engagement in the temporary part of a company’s workforce given the current environment?