Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Motivating Temporary/Casual Workers

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As reported in the NY Times (December 22, 2009), for the last four months there has been an increase in the number of temporary workers, well beyond the hiring levels of permanent workers. This four month increase of hiring temporary workers over permanent workers is of longer duration than the last two recessions, which saw two month increases until increases in permanent hiring were greater than temporary ones. Are we seeing a quirk, driven by the severity of this recession/mini-depression, or have organizations decided now that for the long-term that they will operate with larger percentages of their workforce being temporary?

A quick search also turns up increasing numbers of casual workers in many countries globally, along with growing alarm that these increased numbers of inherently insecure jobs can wreck havoc with a country’s economy. Recently one HR magazine reported that a permanent shift may be underway moving the US economy from 15% casual workers to 30% or greater casual workers. If this shift occurs, it is a seismic shift in the US workforce and most organizations as well as workers are ill prepared to deal with it. While many organizations look at the financial benefits that accrue from jobs that are more easily shed, very little thought appears to be given to the costs of having a substantial component of the workforce without a long-term commitment to the organization and organizations without a long-term commitment to its employees. Loyalty died a long time ago, right?

These unexplored costs may rear their head in terms of poorer customer service, less attention to quality, little to no organizational memory on how things should get done, no commitment to seeing things through, and higher levels of turnover as people leave what is unstable employment for opportunities that may provide more stability or at least a few months of more stability. The defense industry has struggled with this for decades as people within that industry can get “hired” for a specific project and well before the project has ended, these temporary workers being to look around for their next opportunity, as they have little incentive to finish a project that upon completion leads to their termination, and only after being terminated spending time in a search of a new opportunity. The searching and exodus begins well before the end of the project.

Other organizations with the desire to look good on paper to their investors or boards when it comes to headcount will utilize temporary workers to keep the number of permanent staff below a certain threshold. They are willing to have a constant rotation of temporary workers fill positions that could be filled by a permanent worker, a permanent worker who would likely be more effective and efficient in completing work than the rotating temps who are constantly on the learning curve.

There are plenty of models out there regarding what an employer should do to motivate employees, (e.g. pay them well, have good benefits, provide them advancement opportunities, give them interesting work to do, even plenty of it), but there is a serious hole when it comes to what you can do to motivate temporary or casual workers as to maximize chances of organizational success.

While some organizations hold out the carrot of permanent employment with better wages and potential benefits should the organization’s fortune continue to rise, those promises may not always or often materialize, and these days’ workers have an awful lot to be skeptical about.  “In the past, temps who do well have often been offered regular employment, with higher pay and benefits. Given the uncertainties about this recovery, companies are not doing that now, and temps, as a result, are less likely to spend as freely as regular employees or to qualify for credit, generating less demand than permanent employment would.” (NY Times, December 22, 2009). Sounds like a self-reinforcing negative cycle to me.

The traditional motivators of pay, benefits, advancement and job security are not available to many organizations or the people working within them these days, so what can an organization offer that would be motivating to these temporary or casual workers? Well if you can’t offer job security, how about offering career security?

Job security is an attribute that affects the Personal Internal Confidence quadrant of the Employee Confidence model, a concept that I developed a number of years ago and have been collecting data upon and testing out over the last few. Personal Internal Confidence is the notion that things that happen on the job, leading to perceptions of job security being high or low, advancement opportunities being there or not and overall whether a bright future is to be had at the organization, will impact an employee’s overall confidence. These factors are internal to where the person is currently employed and are the traditional drivers of employee loyalty, and are significant motivational factors.

Personal External Confidence is the notion that, were I to leave my current employer, for whatever reason, that I could land on my feet elsewhere. I am prepared to succeed with different employers within my area of expertise or in other areas, but regardless, should I depart I will be fine as I have transportable skills, others are hiring people with skills similar to mine, and the likelihood of me finding a comparable or better job elsewhere is pretty good. In other words I am not afraid of the outside world. Helping prepare people to successfully deal with the outside world and becoming known as an organization that is very good to be “from”, is one way to motivate workers and to keep them, whether they are temporary, casual or permanent.

In fact, an article appearing in the Wall Street Journal (October 26, 2009) starts off this way: “Determined to retain your most talented executives? Well, here’s some counterintuitive advice: The best way to keep them from leaving is to prepare them to do just that.” The concept of preparing people to be successful upon leaving the organization is not only motivational but also encourages them to stay. One argument that is made against this notion, and I have heard some CEOs suggest is, “why invest in people when, as soon as you make the investment, and they get trained up, they will walk across the street for a 10% raise?” So one response to that is, “so you would rather have an untrained or unskilled workforce doing your work?” But rather than a snide comment for these executives let’s look at the data.

The data that has been collected on this topic shows that those employees who recently joined the organization and feel like they are not getting training or development will leave as soon as they possibly can, they have no loyalty. So the organization will have a continual drain of talent that the organization just worked to obtain. At the other extreme the most loyal group to the organization are long-tenured employees who feel that their skills have rusted away and that they would have difficulty finding similar employment elsewhere. So those who feel most trapped, with limited opportunity elsewhere and who are likely not in possession of start-of-the-art skills are not going anywhere. Not exactly the kind of workforce to guarantee organizational success. For those folks in the middle ranges, the data shows that those who are receiving development opportunity and are keeping their skills sharp are no more likely to leave than anyone else.

So in a nutshell, if I join a company but am not getting developed, I leave. If my skills have become obsolete, I stay, and if I get past the short term and get development opportunity I am no more likely to leave than others. That combination would seem to be a good argument, promoting the notion that it doesn’t hurt to give people what they need to develop high levels of Personal External Confidence. Some organizations have already gotten this, with one well known beverage company using this notion to recruit and retain staff. They say, “We invest in you, you invest in us. We cannot guarantee you lifetime employment, but what we can say is the time you spend here will be well spent.”

Employee Confidence has many interesting implications at the company, industry, country, even global level. If you would like to learn more about Employee Confidence and its impact on organizational performance, contact me at

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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One Response

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  1. Really loved the article. Helped a lot to think more on career security instead of job security for temps.


    December 8, 2011 at 11:26 am

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