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The Good Temp

The Good Temp

Vicki Smith
Esther B. Neuwirth
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 248
  • Book Info
    The Good Temp
    Book Description:

    Temporary agencies place approximately two and a half million people in jobs each day in the United States. Every year, about twelve million people use these placement agencies to find temporary work. Many Americans, even those who desire permanent jobs, decide to enter the labor market through the portal of temporary agencies. Compared with the post-World War II era, when it was a marginal labor practice, temporary employment is today an entrenched feature of jobs and labor markets. How have temporary employment relationships become so widespread and normalized?

    In The Good Temp, Vicki Smith and Esther B. Neuwirth provide some novel answers to this question. Their provocative analysis is based on an insider's view of the interior dynamics of a temporary help agency in Silicon Valley. It incorporates a historical perspective on the rise of the temporary help service industry. Smith and Neuwirth document how this powerful industry not only created a new market for temporary labor but also played a fundamental role in the erosion of the permanent employment model. They analyze how agencies themselves came to manufacture and market this reinvented product-the good temp, an employee who is effective and efficient, committed, and sometimes preferable to a permanent staff member.

    Joining extensive participant observation data with historical analysis, The Good Temp contains some surprising findings about temporary employment today and fills a significant gap in our understanding of this important labor relationship.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5931-3
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Chapter One The Temporary Advantage: Introduction
    (pp. 1-31)

    The story of the explosion of temporary employment and the challenge to the permanent employment contract in the last half of the twentieth century has been told many times. Researchers from a variety of academic disciplines have written about it, as have activists who organize to help American workers maintain a decent standard of living and a modicum of dignity, and policy analysts who fear the degradation of the employment relationship that seems to be a foregone implication of temporary work. They have focused on different units of analysis: workers who desire permanent jobs but canʹt find them, workers who...

  5. Chapter Two The Social Construction of New Markets and Products
    (pp. 32-68)

    In the mid-twentieth century the temporary help service industry succeeded in recasting temporary employment from a marginal to a normative practice. But, as argued in chapter 1 institutional and legal market-making activities canʹt fully explain this success. Rather, industry writers disseminated novel views of temporary and permanent employment as part of an effort to promote the new market paradigm. In articles published in personnel and business magazines, these writers attempted to shape the terms of a new labor market and persuade readers of the value of their new product by reiterating five key issues: (1) how new THS industry practices...

  6. Chapter Three “We’re Not Body Pushers”: Constructing a Pool of Good Temps
    (pp. 69-97)

    For a temporary help service agency, attracting, developing, keeping, and controlling good temps is by no means automatic or straightforward. Nor is convincing people who really want permanent jobs that a temporary job is acceptable. Just as the THS industry has had to work over decades to achieve legitimacy for a new type of employment relationship, so, too, do agencies now repeatedly have to build and control their temp workforces. A number of research studies have framed the labor problem facing the industry as a one-dimensional matter of control. Gottfried (1991), Rogers (2000), and Vosko (2000), among others, have argued...

  7. Chapter Four Softening “Rough and Tough Managers”: Creating “Good Enough” Jobs for Temps
    (pp. 98-121)

    Temporary help service agencies have a considerable investment in producing a pool of workers who will accept the terms of temporary employment and work in a reliable, effective fashion. Precarious as their acceptance may be, it is the foundation for participation in a system of contingent employment. Chapter 3 showed how one agency’s staff worked with one group of its customers, job seekers who used the services of Select Labor to find temporary positions. It is time to turn to Select Labor’s other customers—the hiring firms—and look at how agency staff intervened at two different levels to build...

  8. Chapter Five Shaping and Stabilizing the Personnel Policy Environment
    (pp. 122-147)

    The elephant in the room thus far is the human resources manager. In the previous chapter, HR managers appeared on stage as important actors in the construction of new employment relations: adversaries of some shop floor managers, novitiates who enlisted Select Labor’s help on occasion, and begrudging recipients of agency staff’s brokering activities. They had bit parts, as objects that agency staff needed to contend with and manipulate in order to construct new workforce practices and a new type of worker, the good temp. These cameo appearances invite a deeper inspection. The narrative about the increase and normalization of temporary...

  9. Chapter Six Do Good Enough Temporary Jobs Make Good Enough Temporary Employment? The Case for Transitional Mobility
    (pp. 148-176)

    Select Labor shaped and sustained the labor market for temporary workers in a variety of ways. Its staff extended many genuine forms of assistance and guidance to people seeking temporary jobs. They tried to select people who showed promise of being good, quality temporary workers and, once hiring them, tried to further construct and maintain them as such. They provided what they saw as realistic guidance about how to enter the labor market, advocated for higher wages for temps, championed individual temps in landing decent jobs, and, in a larger context of insecurity and precariousness, provided emotional support to the...

  10. APPENDIX I: Analyzing the Management Media
    (pp. 177-182)
  11. APPENDIX II: Frequently Asked Questions about the Economic and Legal Dimensions of Temporary Employment
    (pp. 183-190)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 191-210)
    (pp. 211-228)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 229-236)