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Not necessarily more flexible to use temp agency workers

Temporary agency workers risk facing limited development opportunities and employability. In addition, using temp agency workers may – contrary to the user firms’ intentions – reduce flexibility. These are the conclusions of a new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Hannes Kantelius’ doctoral thesis The Logic of Using Temporary Agency Workers – Individual and Organizational Consequences describes the consequences of using temporary agency workers. Today about 1.4 percent of all employed Swedes can be found in the temporary staffing industry, which has grown in recent years in the wake of the financial crisis.

The discourse surrounding the temp industry usually concerns the relationship between temporary workers and the temporary work agencies. However, Kantelius’ study shows that it is at least as important to focus on the staffing strategies of the user firms.

‘The purpose of using temp workers is often to increase the user firm’s flexibility. But if this staffing strategy does not give enough attention to competence requirements and the time required to train newcomers, it may instead lead to unforeseen inflexibility,’ says Kantelius.

The thesis is based partly on qualitative case studies at a number of user firms and temp agencies and partly on a questionnaire survey completed by more than 500 white-collar agency workers. The case studies concern only user firms engaged in long-term use of temp workers. The study shows which organisational mechanisms are at work when temp workers are used, but also how the logic of using temp agency workers for example can lead to differences in development opportunities between the user firm’s own personnel and the workers from the temp agency.

The questionnaire responses reveal that a majority of the surveyed white-collar temp workers perceive low employment security. Among those who do perceive an acceptable level of security, it is mostly access to competence development and how the workers are integrated into the user firm that make the difference.

‘It seems like the temp industry may be facing a division between workers with good work conditions and a decent level of employment security and those with worse work conditions and a low level of security. The perceived employment security is largely determined by the worker’s perceived prospects for future employment,’ says Kantelius.

The study also shows an example of how the use of temporary agency workers can lead to the temp workers both getting access to competence development and becoming integrated into the user firm.

‘It’s a complex industry where things are presented as either black or white. Hopefully my thesis will help add a few more nuances to the discussion.’
The thesis has been successfully defended.

For more information, please contact: Hannes Kantelius
Telephone: +46 (0)703 619 095 or +46 (0)31 786 4821

Helena Aaberg | idw
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