By Valerie Freeman
On a lean budget, you can't afford to recruit, train, and offer costly benefits to full-time employees who may or may not work out, and whom you might feel obliged to retain if business slowed -- or let go, thus opening yourself to legal hassles. Fortunately, however, you have a solution: Retain a temporary worker. The advantages are embedded in the way the business of bringing on a temp usually works, which is that the placement agency retained by the employer recruits and trains the worker, and also handles and covers the cost of administrative factors, such as benefits, payroll, and worker's compensation.
That's all of the stuff you don't have time for and can't afford to deal with. In addition, you'll never have to say you're sorry if things don't work out. Letting an ineffectual worker go is also the agency's responsibility. On the other hand, if things do work out, you'll have an inside look at a potential new hire.
Using a temp also allows you to avoid the risky strategy of farming out the work to consultants and contractors, who could, in turn, take the business away from you. Instead, you'll retain control of the work -- and keep the client. The temp will be handling the duties in-house under your direction.
What could be better? Not much. In the past two decades, since I founded my staffing service, Imprimis Group, in North Dallas, the concept of the temp has metamorphosed from someone people thought couldn't find a "real" job. These days, temps -- whom we now prefer to call "associates" -- are used to staff not only administrative and clerical, but also professional, creative and technological, assignments. Often, they work at companies for extended periods.
At Imprimis Group, entrepreneurial companies now comprise half of our client roster of some 1,500 employers (although they account for a far smaller chunk of revenue.) However, what has come to the forefront for the entrepreneurial company is the need to understand, manage, and make best use of these temporary workers. Too many times, I've seen employers treat temps either as employees or as pariahs. Neither model is correct. Rather, the entrepreneurial companies that retain these workers must strive for a middle ground.
The first step is to determine the types of jobs suitable for temporary workers. It may be tempting, especially for the entrepreneurial company that needs ultimate flexibility, to bring on temps for all jobs. After all, why pay benefits if you don't have to?
Nothing could be further from the truth. At its core, a young company needs a group of dedicated and committed full-time employees -- who often have more than just a salaried stake in the enterprise -- to oversee the product or service upon which its future depends.
Put another way, there are some jobs temps aren't suited for. Put more positively, temps work best for discreet, project-oriented work that is functional rather than strategic to the company, such as determining whether or not the company should offer benefits.
In addition, temps add value in cyclical businesses, filling in during periods of peak demand. If the company gets a major new client or a large order, it makes sense to retain temps until the permanent level of business activity is determined. Finally, temps often represent a good way to staff or add to a department, such as finance or marketing, which again isn't strategic.
Once the need for temporary workers is determined, entrepreneurial companies need to navigate the relationships that underlie the process. The best first step here is to work with an agency or staffing service, and, moreover, to develop a relationship with that entity.
Let the agency know your specific needs, what jobs have to be filled, what training might be required for the positions, what qualifications you seek in a worker, and even what type of culture the temp will encounter at your company. The more informed the agency is, the better it will be at supplying talented people who meet your precise needs. Indeed, if you develop an ongoing relationship, you will have found an apt substitute for the in-house human resources department that you can't afford.
Next, be sure you work within the parameter that mandates that the agency, and not your company, is the temp's employer. This modus operandi is actually of enormous benefit, as you don't need to be concerned, as you do with full-time employees, with the mechanics of hiring, training, and promoting. Nor do you deal with the ramifications of ugly legal hassles that could arise if things don't work out with the temp.
The danger, however, is the natural inclination to consider temps employees. At Imprimis Group, to counter this tendency, we advise companies to refrain from 10 practices. Don't train, negotiate pay rates or paid time off, don't include temps in company-only functions, don't describe job opportunities. Don't, in short, treat them like employees. We'll do that, we tell them, that's our job. We'll even do the background and criminal checks. You're free to focus on keeping them on task at your company.
DOING RIGHT BY TEMPS.
What you do, as well as don't do, is of equal importance, and that boils down to treating temporary workers, not as proverbial pariahs, but as human beings. Having secured a temp for a targeted job, be sure to welcome that individual to your company. It's a good idea to have an orientation session, especially to explain even to otherwise skilled temps how to do things "your way."
Make introductions, take the person on a tour of the office, and provide the name of a contact to field questions. Then get out of the way, and let the temp do the job.
In short, take that middle ground. Neither employee nor pariah, your temp truly becomes an associate from whom you and your company can reap enormous benefits at a reasonable cost. Learn the rules for retaining these workers, follow those rules, and you will have gained a critical asset.
Valerie Freeman founded Imprimis Group, a placement agency based in North Dallas, in 1982, and currently serves as chief executive officer. With annual revenue of more than $20 million and 100 employees, the firm has 800 to 1,700 workers, or "associates," placed at any given time with about 1,500 employers. About half of its clients are entrepreneurial enterprises. Its associates handle jobs that span the white-collar spectrum, including clerical and administrative, technological, creative, and professional.
Entrepreneur's Byline comes to BusinessWeek Online readers courtesy of EntreWorld.org, a resource for entrepreneurs that is sponsored by the nonprofit Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.