The Myth of the Disposable Worker

It doesn't take much of an imagination to picture the stress of not knowing if you'll be working next week, or of having no benefits.
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BusinessWeek this month took an in-depth look into the recent phenomenon in American business of hiring temporary workers. The piece, which ran with the headline "The Disposable Worker," touched on many themes familiar to us at Allonhill.

Our business model calls for a strong infrastructure that supports all of our business lines. But to support one of our core service offerings, mortgage due diligence, we depend heavily on contract workers. Because of the cyclical nature of the work, we employ a large number of skilled temporary workers across the country, trained by us, to analyze loans in residential mortgage-backed securities.

Many of the more poignant points in the article are all too familiar to me as an employer. It doesn't take much of an imagination to picture the stress of not knowing if you'll be working next week, or of having no benefits. It would be stressful to me not to know which desk I would sit at from one week to the next, or not to know the names of my co-workers. I am far too dependent on the security of knowing what to expect to ever lose sight of the raw discomfort that a temporary position brings.

I took issue with one theme touched on in the article: that management isn't motivated to build loyalty among temporary workers, because they have become a fungible good. "The idea of loyalty--'I will stick with you and you will reward me'--that is effectively gone," Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, says in the article.

I disagree with that, and I bet other CEOs who employ temporary staff do too. I believe strongly that loyalty among our temporary employees is critical to our success. These are the people who touch every loan we review. We need them to believe in what we are doing, and to approach their work with real commitment. To successfully utilize temporary workers, companies must work every day to show those workers their value to the organization and make them a part of the company culture.

The economics of our business dictate that we can't hire all the people we need on a permanent, full-time basis. If we did, we wouldn't be in business for long, and that would be bad for everyone. But we take pride, and pleasure, in cultivating the best possible work environment. I read long ago that uncertainty is one of the hardest things a person can face. But I believe that in this tough market, with stunning levels of joblessness, a temporary job can be a good job with the right management approach.

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