Contract Employees and Temp Workers: Sexually Harassed, Stressed, and Second Class Citizens

As of 2005, about 4.1 percent of the U.S. workforce—5.7 million American workers—held a temporary position, according to the most recent data available from the Current Population Survey.  As budgets drop and workloads rise, this trend is rising; there were 250,000 temp workers on U.S. payrolls in January 2010 than September 2009.

Not only are contingent workers on the rise, the “face” of temp workers has changed dramatically from the quick fix during busy work months or temporary coverage during illness or maternity leave employers saw 20 years ago.  Today’s temp assignments are longer (over half last longer than 11 weeks) and just as likely to be behind a computer or in an executive suite as at the receptionist desk.

Temp Workers Often Feel Like Second-Class Citizens

Despite the advantages of temp work for both the employer (less money) and employee (flexible schedule, varied work environment, chance for permanent hire), new research suggests that workers hired for temporary, contract or fixed term positions report more symptoms of depression and psychological stress than similarly employed full-time workers.

One reason may be the temp’s work environment.  For one reason or another, some employees resent contingent workers. Employees may feel that workers such as independent contractors and temps are robbing them of overtime opportunities or taking a full-time job from someone who’s more deserving. Or they may know former employees who were discharged during a reduction in force only to later have their jobs filled by contingent workers.

Managers, too, often treat temporary employees like second-class citizens, excluding them from important meetings, denying them access to on-the-job trainings, and leaving them out of team meetings and social events.

More Likely to Be Sexually Harassed

In addition, women employed in contract jobs are up to ten times more likely to experience unwanted sexual advances than those in permanent full time positions, a University of Melbourne study has found.  These findings suggest that workers in precarious employment arrangements need much greater protections from unwanted sexual advances yet, because of their temp status, are unlikely to be included in the very training they most need.

Getting the Bang for Your Buck

The good news is that, when handled properly, temp employment can work for both sides.  The key is for managers to make all their workers part of the team – keeping them “in the loop,” giving them challenging assignments, and including them in training opportunities – and never, ever introducing them as a “temp.”

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