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CDI 16,2

GUEST EDITORIAL

Temporary employment
Costs and benefits for (the careers of) employees and organizations
Nele De Cuyper and Hans De Witte
Research Group for Work, Organizational and Personnel Psychology, K.U.Leuven, Belgium, and

104

Hetty Van Emmerik
Department of Organization and Strategy, Maastricht University School of Business and Economics, Maastricht, The Netherlands
Abstract
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to answer two questions: How do temporary workers achieve well-being and optimal functioning? and how is it possible to promote commitment and productive behaviours among temporary workers? Design/methodology/approach – The paper takes the form of a literature review and synthesis. Findings – Temporary employment can no longer be seen as exclusively bad or as a signal of labour market segmentation. Instead, mechanisms to promote commitment and productive behaviour that are beneficial for all parties involved can be identified. Temporary employment is a reality that is here to stay and that searches for mechanisms to reconcile the sometimes conflicting perspectives of employees and employers. This new approach is promising but researchers should also account for and create awareness about potential and sometimes less visible drawbacks associated with temporary employment (e.g. social isolation or negative implications for career success). Originality/value – The paper shows a new approach to temporary work from both the employer and employee perspective. Keywords Temporary workers, Job satisfaction, Employees Paper type General review

Career Development International Vol. 16 No. 2, 2011 pp. 104-113 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 1362-0436 DOI 10.1108/13620431111115587

1. Introduction The growth in the number of temporary workers, fixed term contract workers and temporary agency workers alike, starting from the mid 1980s (for an overview, see Kalleberg, 2009) has attracted a great deal of scholarly attention (for reviews, see Connelly and Gallagher, 2004; De Cuyper et al., 2008). Temporary employment refers to “dependent employment of limited duration” (OECD, 2002), as opposed to permanent employment which is open-ended (i.e. valid until further notice; for a discussion about definitions of temporary employment, see De Cuyper et al., 2008). There recently has been a revival in temporary work research now that, along with the increased need for flexibility and cost reduction on the part of the employers (Burgess and Connell, 2006; Kalleberg et al., 2003), temporary employment is more pervasive and generalised than ever. The use of temporary employment is no longer restricted to some countries, specific sectors or to so-called secondary labour market

Mauno et al. However. Makikangas. see De Cuyper and De Witte. De Cuyper et al. 2008. there are two perspectives. ¨ Siponen and Natti Chambel and Sobral Connelly. This trend has inspired new studies in the realm of temporary work research which have crystallised into two core topics in this issue. for studies. De Witte and Naswall. in turn. 2008a. ¨ 2009a. also in the sense that temporary employment likely associates with strain. Question 1: How do temporary workers achieve well-being and optimal functioning? The dominant view portrays temporary employment as precarious employment. . whether there are alternative security mechanisms with particular resonance to temporary workers. 2005. De Cuyper and De Witte. In this respect. De Witte and Naswall. The papers in the issue: authors and sample details ... whereas permanent employment provides the workers with a sense of job security. 2005. 2008). . see Connelly and Gallagher. education University workers Call center workers Temporary agency workers Nurses Table I. an observation that is illustrated in the studies in this issue (see Table I). 2008. This prompts the question which factors reduce strain or otherwise promote well-being and optimal functioning among temporary workers.. 2003. Sverke et al. 2005. for example in the form of poor well-being at work or in general. uncertainty and unpredictability are core to the daily experiences of ¨ temporary workers (Bernhard-Oettel et al. 2008). Europe Finland Portugal Canada Australia Temporary employment 105 Authors Clinton. De Cuyper et al. De Witte. 2004. 2005). or instead found relatively higher well-being among temporary workers. along the questions as to how temporary workers achieve well-being and optimal functioning (Question 1) or as to how the organization can promote commitment and. 2.. Moreover. as detailed below: Sample from (country) .segments of workers with notably “weaker” occupational profiles. among the group of temporary workers (Question 2). Bernhard-Oettel. 2002). Mauno. productive behaviours. Workers in food manufacturing. Perhaps one of the core arguments behind this idea is that temporary employment gives rise to feelings of job insecurity: indeed. However. is known to associate with overall unfavourable outcomes (Cheng and Chan.. 2007. 2006. Probst. Rigotti and De Jong ¨ Kinnunen.. and in particular. . 2003).. the evidence so far does not match the assumed strength of association between temporary employment and strain or below optimal functioning (for a review. Temporary (versus permanent) employment associates with poorer well-being in some studies. . job insecurity. 1999. but that job insecurity is far less problematic among temporary workers (for a theoretical perspective. retail. see Bernhard-Oettel et al. Job insecurity. Gallagher and Webster Allen Sample of (level/sector) . or that it hampers optimal functioning (see De Cuyper et al. evidence from a growing number of studies suggests that job insecurity associates with poorer well-being among permanent workers. roughly an equal number of studies did not find significant differences in well-being between temporary and permanent workers. along with commitment.

1 The stepping-stone function of temporary employment: anticipation of job security The first perspective builds on the so-called stepping-stone function of temporary employment: many if not most temporary workers accept a temporary position with a view to transitioning to permanent employment with the same employer in the near future (see. the new temporary worker is highly skilled and often enjoys the job-hopping that is associated with temporary employment. De Cuyper et al. be it on a temporary or a permanent basis. An obvious example is the case of part-time workers who prefer their part-time position as it allows them to pursue non-work related values. or. An important route for future research could concern the frustration of job security expectations over time: what if temporary workers do not get or see the chance to transition to permanent employment? 2. (2011) is that expectations about continued employment in the current organization. De Cuyper et al. for example reduced strain and increased daily functioning. De Cuyper et al. The idea here is that temporary workers may anticipate job security. Core to the new career models is the importance of employability. 2009.2 Employability as an alternative to job security Another perspective builds on the idea that job security is perhaps the most traditional but definitely not the only way to build a satisfactory career. it has not yet achieved much support so far in the realm of temporary work research (see. In line with this perspective. That is to say... workers under the new career model. which are exemplified in the growing number of workers who voluntarily choose a form of non-traditional employment. For example. the capability of moving self-sufficiently through the labour market (McQuaid and Lindsay.g. Temporary employment in this perspective is seen as a transitory career stage with no serious consequences in terms of strain or optimal functioning. i. Similarly. temporary workers who are motivated to achieve a permanent position may excel at work so as to show their potential as organizational citizens. 2002): unlike the traditional temporary worker. any behaviour by the individual attempting to control or manipulate others’ impression of them (Chen and Fang. 2009b). managers were more satisfied with the performance of temporary workers than with permanent workers in the study by Van Breukelen and Allegro (2000).e. for example by Forrier and Sels (2003) and De Cuyper and De Witte (2008a). However.2 106 2. in other words. Some authors argue that new career models apply also to the continent of “new” as opposed to “traditional” temporary workers (Marler et al.. one of the core findings in the study by Clinton et al. Engellandt and Riphahn (2005) found higher organizational citizenship behaviours among temporary compared with permanent workers.. 2010).g. associate with overall favourable outcomes.. There are a plethora of new career models which do no longer rely on the notion of job security: examples are the boundaryless career or the protean career (Forrier et al. 2003). e.e. 2009a. the individual’s likelihood of obtaining a job (Fugate et al. and the anticipation of job security appears to be a sufficient condition for more effective daily functioning. e.. Hall. Such impression management tactics may also show in in-role and extra-role performance. like some temporary workers. an idea that was launched earlier. 2005). may derive satisfaction and achieve optimal functioning through being employable. i. De Cuyper and De Witte (2010) in this respect demonstrated a relationship between temporary employment and impression management.CDI 16. Rather to the contrary. 2008). One reason could be that previous studies did not focus specifically upon the specific group . 2003).

particularly among voluntary temporary workers (i. 2006.e. be it employment prospects on the internal labour market (with the current employer) or on the external labour market (with another employer). (2011) take a more advanced approach: they argue and in fact demonstrate that employability has the potential to reduce strain.g. 2011). Voluntary temporary workers accept temporary work for a diverse set of motives. temporary workers may anticipate job security in the form of continued employment (Clinton et al. including the idea that temporary work presents the opportunity to learn from different jobs and organizations. While these perspectives may seem fairly distinct.. those who prefer temporary to permanent employment) as compared with involuntary (i. a potential concern relates to the ` commitment vis-a-vis the organization. 2007. and along with commitment. at least the group of voluntary temporary workers. 2011). and in response to the first question. employment prospects on the external labour market may be particularly attractive for “new” and fairly highly skilled temporary workers (Marler et al.of “new” temporary workers who are relatively highly skilled and who voluntarily accept their position. Whereas employment prospects on the internal labour market may be more relevant for the “traditional” temporary workers with profiles that reflect a secondary labour market segment position. they may seek security in being employable (Kinnunen et al. temporary workers may not feel the obligation to reciprocate with commitment (De Cuyper and De Witte. 2008a). While the flexibility associated with temporary employment staffing is a plus.g. Compared to these studies. and to the extent that commitment is conditional for performance. In sum. organizational citizenship behaviour versus contraproductive behaviour). 3. 2006). The idea is that involuntary temporary workers.. we contend that: . Both the expectation of continued employment and employability reduce strain and promote optimal functioning at work. Temporary employment 107 . they may not engage in productive behaviour. Kinnunen et al. to well-being and optimal functioning. Silla et al. 2002.. temporary employment is seen as perhaps the most obvious staffing instrument to achieve this competitive advantage through flexibility (see e.. or .. From the perspective of human resource management. we believe they actually reflect one underlying theme: employment prospects. 2011).e. unlike voluntary temporary workers. are similar to permanent workers in that they seek job security: many involuntary temporary workers indeed aim at a permanent job and the associated sense of job security (Clinton et al. productive work behaviour (e. Question 2: How to promote commitment and productive behaviours among temporary workers? A further question that has particular resonance now that temporary employment has pervaded the labour market relates to effective organizational functioning: organizations have to be competitive through a platform of flexibility measures. all motives that ultimately lead to employability-development and through employability. or to explore the labour market and future career opportunities (De Cuyper and De Witte. those who would rather want permanent employment) and permanent workers. 2008b). Unlike permanent workers who may feel loyal in response to the job security offered by the employer. Burgess and Connell. 2005).

. given that earlier views on human resource management among temporary workers would not recommend high-involvement human resource practices or. Chambel and Sobral (2011) demonstrate that these assumptions hold also among a sample of temporary call-centre workers. The assumption that employability-focussed training associates with perceived organizational support ties in with the idea that training is a high-involvement human resource practice or a commitment human resource system (Arthur. workers who are employed by a temporary agency (the de juro employer) but perform their work at a client organization (the de facto employer). ¨ De Witte and Naswall. 2004.e. organizational citizenship behaviour) and contra-productive behaviour.. Furthermore. human resource practices in which considerable investments are made (Kalleberg.. 2003 for the Dutch sample. 2000). 2008). 2007. an issue that has been demonstrated elsewhere (e..g. The assumption that perceived organizational commitment ` prompts favourable attitudes vis-a-vis the organization aligns with widely cited social exchange models and has been commonly accepted (Rhoades and Eisenberger. Italian and Swedish sample. the implication being that they are worth the investment.. 2002). Coyle-Shapiro et al. 2007. Van Breukelen and Allegro. By way of contrast. they demonstrate that the motives for accepting temporary employment affect the . That is to say. see e. 2006. differences in affective organizational ¨ commitment between temporary and permanent workers (De Witte and Naswall. i. Their research furthermore ties in with other contributions in this issue. In particular. A group for whom commitment and related issues are even more complex are temporary agency workers. the organization shows that employees are cared for. This is an important contribution to the literature. 2003 for the Belgian. Connelly et al. McDonald and Makin. The question then is: what drives commitment and productive behaviour among temporary workers? One option that ties in with our earlier discussion about the importance of employability in the context of temporary work (Kinnunen et al.g. 2011) is to provide workers with training with a view on employability-enhancement. through the investment in training. in general. Connelly and Gallagher. The obvious reason is that a return on such investments is unlikely because of the relatively high turnover or low commitment among temporary workers. De Cuyper et al. 2006. other studies show few. 2000). Connelly et al. even though there is also evidence to the contrary (De Cuyper and De Witte. as follows: first. 1992) that aims at employee well-being: that is to say. 2010).g. 2009). which then relates to affective organizational commitment. the study by Chambel and Sobral (2011) shows that high involvement practices induce commitment also in temporary workers. they potentially have two foci of commitment: one with the agency and another with the client organization.2 108 The research to date suggests that this concern is legitimate: most studies have shown lower affective organizational commitment among temporary versus permanent workers (for an overview. Lapalme et al. Chambel and Sobral (2011) hypothesise that employability-focussed training may induce a sense of being valued and supported by the organization. Temporary agency workers are engaged in a double employment relationship and hence.CDI 16. if any.. (2011) contribute to this stream of research by illustrating that the double employment relationship has consequences also in terms of productive (e. temporary agency workers may show productive and contra-productive work behaviour towards their agency (“agency productive/contra-productive behaviour”) and towards the client organization (“client productive/contra-productive behaviour”).

no such cross-links are hypothesised in the segmentation model. The authors convincingly demonstrate that the spill-over model fits the data best. . be it in the form of high-involvement human resource practice or fair treatment: to put it simply. will predict behaviour in another context: the client organization or the agency respectively. By highlighting the two main questions to be addressed in this issue. 4. when they would rather want permanent employment). (2011): temporary workers who desire to transition to permanent employment may try to excel as a way to increase their chances. rather to the contrary. whereas they engage in client productive behaviour when they see temporary employment in a negative light (i. Allen rightfully points out that temporary work research to date has almost exclusively focussed upon variables that are traditionally used in work. organizational and personnel psychology.agency and the client differently: in particular. In the study by Connelly et al. the focus upon affective organizational commitment may be complemented by other foci of commitment. this means that justice perceptions shaped in the context of the temporary agency relates positively to agency productive behaviour and negatively to agency contra-productive behaviour. whereas the topic of temporary employment may require a broader and more alternative view. one answer to the question as to how to promote commitment and productive behaviour among temporary workers is to follow the practice of social exchange. (2011) hypothesise that justice perceptions are critical in the context of double employment relationships as a way to promote productive behaviour. An important additional lesson to be learned from the studies in this volume is that social exchange principles work also in the context of double employment relationships. Second. treat workers well to reap the benefits in terms of loyalty and productive behaviour and to reduce risks such as contra-productive behaviour. . This finding reflects the stepping-stone idea we discussed earlier in the context of the study by Clinton et al. either the agency or the client organization. But there are other questions . we do not mean to imply that these are the only questions. (2011) is that the authors take research about double employment relationships one critical step further by testing the so-called spill-over model as opposed to the segmentation model: central to the spill-over model is that justice perceptions formed in one context. even to the extent that the benefits are multiplied: if one party to the deal treats the worker right. so that benefits for all parties are multiplied. This aligns with the contribution by Chambel and Sobral (2011) in that both studies rely on the same underlying principle of social exchange: workers reciprocate in kind based upon the way the organization is treating them. Allen advances identity commitment Temporary employment 109 . the best option to transition to permanent employment is to attract the interest of the client organization. The study by Allen (2011) is illustrative in this respect. What is unique in the study by Connelly et al. workers respond with increased productive and decreased contra-productive behaviour. when the user firm provides a fair treatment. For example. the other party shares in reaping the benefits.e. workers tend to engage in agency productive behaviour when they see temporary employment in a positive light. And similarly. (2011). For temporary agency workers in particular. Connelly et al. By way of contrast. Taking a practitioners’ perspective. this underlines how important it is that the agency and the client each develop a satisfactory relationship with the agency workers. Bringing this all together.

for example career success. associates with a lower level of identity commitment relative to permanent work. (2011) also highlight opportunities associated with temporary employment. the issue of social isolation versus embeddedness at work. ` These constructive views may signal a new approach vis-a-vis temporary employment. the focus upon strain or optimal functioning at work may be complemented by outcome variables that are innovative in the field of temporary work research.2 110 which accounts for relationships between individuals and their social networks. in our view. 45 No. Note that Allen observes this finding in a sample of nurses: nurses may have a relatively low risk on social isolation compared to other professions. Arthur. Instead. namely the increased risk of social isolation at work or the lack of embeddedness. Conclusion The studies in the remainder of this issue offer valuable insights in the context of temporary work research. they describe mechanisms to promote commitment and productive behaviour that are beneficial for all parties involved.CDI 16. 16 No. 2. Vol. and the fairly heterogeneous samples and this is summarised in Table I. Similarly. productive behaviour at work. 3. Nevertheless. the studies by Clinton et al. Career Development International. pp. In a similar vein. as exclusively bad or as a signal of labour market segmentation. Identity commitment may touch upon one of the most difficult obstacles associated with temporary or other forms of precarious work. (2011) do not start from the negative message that commitment among temporary (agency) workers is problematic. we also believe that career-related issues may inspire future temporary work studies.B.C. Canada and Australia. an approach that has accepted temporary employment as a reality that is here to stay and that searches for mechanisms to reconcile the sometimes conflicting perspectives of employees and employers. “The link between business strategy and industrial relations systems in American steel mini-mills”. “The role of professional identity commitment in understanding the relationship between casual employment and perceptions of career success”. promising. We consider the focus on identity commitment. for example drawbacks as pointed out by Allen (2011) in terms of social isolation or negative implications for career success. a particular strength being their truly international character with contributions from Europe. a critical area for future studies in the realm of temporary work research. the studies by Chambel and Sobral (2011). 195-215. and ultimately. Allen shows that contingent work. and by Connelly et al. This new approach is. the Australian equivalent of temporary work. 488-506. Perhaps most innovative to the studies in this issue is that they no longer see temporary employment. or broader. (2011) and Kinnunen et al. for example aspects related to employment prospects. (1992). we acknowledge that researchers should also account and create awareness about potential and sometimes less visible drawbacks associated with temporary employment. Similarly. . For example. even when approached from the perspective of the worker. pp. References Allen. J. Vol. Industrial and Labour Relations Review. Allen (2011) shows that reduced commitment owing to being on a contingent contract may have consequences in terms of career success. (2011). 5. A plausible assumption is that it may also affect strain or affective organizational commitment. In her study. B.

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Thousand Oaks. “No security: a meta-analysis and review of job insecurity and its consequences”. pp. Temporary employment 113 To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: reprints@emeraldinsight. K.com/reprints .com Or visit our web site for further details: www. mentoring..T. Vol. Silla. C. Employment Outlook. Van Breukelen. Gedrag en Organisatie. Belgium. satisfaction.U. Organizational and Personnel Psychology (WOPP) of his Department. Vol. (2005). 14 No. (Eds). He teaches Work (and Organisational) Psychology and is member of the Research Group for Work. Her research interests broadly include social relationships in the working context (e. 189-217. I. G. Gracia. Organizational and Personnel Psychology. 3. 425-53.M. (2008). Nele De Cuyper is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: Nele. Vol. Een onderzoek in the logistieke sector” (“Effects of flexibility: a study in the logistics sector”). and Peiro.. Paris. pp.g.g. and Naswall. 3. mergers of banks. unemployment. employability. temporary employment and downsizing. J. J. Her research interests include atypical employment with a specific focus upon temporary employment. (2000). European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. 242-64. Journal of Organizational Behavior. Hellgren. L. (2005).U. 2. 1. Journal of Organizational Behavior.emeraldinsight. such as Career Development International. restructuring of plants. M. M. W. Sage.Leuven.. ¨ Sverke. Rhoades. “Effecten van een nieuwe vorm van flexibilisering van de arbeid. J. Group and Organization Management. pp. Barringer. Vol. T. F. Hetty Van Emmerik. PhD Business Administration at Vrije Universiteit. J. 26 No. A. CA. is a Full Professor of Organizational Theory and Organizational Behavior in the Department of Organization and Strategy at Maastricht University.be Hans De Witte (1957) is Full Professor at the Department of Psychology of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K. The Netherlands. “Boundaryless and traditional contingent employees: worlds apart”. K.M. pp.Marler. 87. (2002). J. teams. Journal of Applied Psychology. 13 No. pp. and Natti. and Milkovich. pp. U. networking. He is involved in (national and international) research regarding job insecurity. Human Resource Management.kuleuven. and Allegro. in Cooper. “Perceived organizational support: a review of the literature”. and Work and Occupations. OECD (2002). Economic and Industrial Democracy. Kinnunen. “Job insecurity”. 7 No. Vol.. Amsterdam (1991). 178-95. Department of Psychology.decuyper@psy.H. About the authors Nele De Cuyper is Assistant Professor at the Research Group for Work. burnout. “Psychological consequences of fixed-term employment and perceived job insecurity among health care staff”. and work engagement). leadership. commitment. pp. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Vol. (2002). (2002). and Barling. Probst. social support issues) and the associations with various career outcomes (e.L. R. 698-714. J. “Job insecurity and health-related outcomes among different types of temporary workers”. Makikangas. ¨ ¨ Mauno. and Eisenberger. employees’ attitudes and behaviours and careers in general. She has published in various journals. His research includes the study of the psychological consequences of job insecurity. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.. as well as mobbing and stress versus engagement at work. 209-38.Leuven).W. S. 23. 107-125. Work and Stress. mobbing at work and well-being at work. temporary contracts. Handbook of Organizational Behavior.

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