Temporary staffing is one of those employment strategies that—depending on what you've heard—has an excellent reputation or a terrible one.
The fact that views are often mixed is for good reason. It all comes down to factors such as what agency you're using, the personality and skills of the temp, how the employer manages the temp and the work culture.
If you're thinking of bringing in some people for short-term employment into your workplace, keep the following in mind.
1. Find out who is withholding the taxes and collecting the tax forms.
Are you doing the withholding and collecting forms like the W-4 and I-9 forms, or will the temporary staffing agency be doing that? You would think it would be the employment agency, but that's not always the case, says Nance Schick, an attorney, arbitrator and mediator who owns The Law Studio of Nance L. Schick in New York City.
“Far too many businesses are hiring through agencies that they think will be the employers of record, when in fact the agency is nothing more than a matching service for 1099-MISC contractors—other business owners—to meet clients," Schick says. “In states like New York, when the relationship is not clear at the outset, I often see them fall apart and end up in the Department of Labor, entangled in an unemployment insurance claim that leads to a workers' compensation inquiry and penalties in both agencies."
Gee, that sounds fun. If you're bringing in temporary staffing from an agency, consider finding out who's doing what first.
2. Make sure you give the temp a decent orientation.
Peter Yang, co-founder of ResumeGo, headquartered in Boston, says that he has hired temps numerous times. Overall, it's been a good experience, he says. But Yang also says that you shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking that your temp will know intuitively what to do.
—Kristen McAlister, president and co-owner, Cerius Executives
“They go in with their preconceived notions of how things should be done without taking into full consideration how things really are done at your company," says Yang. That's why Yang always gives his temporary staffers examples of the quality of work that he expects them to produce.
3. Use a temporary staffing agency as a hiring platform.
Carrie Wood is co-founder of Toronto-based Lease Ref, an online commercial lease review company. The company has three part-time employees, and they all came from a temp agency.
“Our intent has been to hire people on a temp basis as a litmus test," Wood says. She and her business partner/husband Jeff Howell look for people who are very interested in landing a permanent position. It helps them weed out the people who are simply looking for a paycheck.
Wood says that she and her husband have even created some evergreen training videos with some mistakes purposefully put in the videos (but, shh… don't tell anyone).
“The good temps come to us when they discover a problem with the training videos, while the great temps solve the problem and then let us know of the issue with the training videos," Wood explains. "The bad temps either do not notice or fail to report any issues. They are the ones that don't last long."
4. Bring in a temp who doesn't have the background you'd look for in a full-time employee.
Remember, you're looking for a temp, not a full-time worker. (Well, unless you are looking for a full-time or part-time employee—see previous section.)
Sure, it's terrific if you can find somebody with the perfect background for the job. But if you're only looking for temporary staffing and the temp appears intelligent and nimble, this could also be the perfect time to experiment with who you're hiring.
"Use this as an opportunity to test different backgrounds than what you'd normally expect," says Kristen McAlister, president and co-owner of Cerius Executives, an Irvine, California-based company that specializes in providing executives for short-term employment.
McAlister once had a client who went through four office support employees in about two years before trying out someone McAlister found. The temporary staffer the client used was a former 911 operator with no obvious experience in the position.
“Two years later, the client still laughs that she never would have thought to hire a former 911 operator with no office background. It was a great fit," McAlister says.
5. Vet the temporary staffing agency.
You're probably hoping the temporary staffing agency will thoroughly check out anyone looking for short-term employment, but you need to make sure you do a thorough job of researching the agency. That means looking at online reviews and preferably getting recommendations from fellow business owners.
While it may not save you, it can't hurt. Janet Kearney, who is based out of New York City, is a co-founder of Vegan Pregnancy & Parenting LLC. She and her two co-founders have two full-time employees and seven people who operate as volunteers or interns.
Every once in awhile, they've brought in temporary staffing, but it has always ended in disaster, Kearney says.
“We have a required skill set, which isn't that extensive: Spanish speaking, basic computer requirements and knowing how to enter invoices into QuickBooks," Kearney says. "In all the temp agencies we have used, never has someone come to us with all three. The agency will outright lie and say they thought the person had it."
Just because you hire a temporary staffing agency to supply qualified temps, it doesn't mean it'll work out. This can mean the arrangement may be even more temporary than you imagined.
In one instance, Kearney had a temp answering phones. Two suppliers had called, asking to be paid. The temp never passed along the messages to Kearney or her business partners. She later learned that one supplier had called five times in one day.
Kearney eventually gave up on temps, finding someone part-time through word-of-mouth. Three months later, that part-time employee because a full-time staffer.
However you handle your temporary staffing, don't rush the process, Schick cautions.
“As a small-business owner, I understand that we get busy and often wait too long to hire help," Schick says. “So our hiring decisions, especially through agencies, can be made hastily. But these decisions, when rushed, almost never work as well as we would like. Worse yet, they can cause far greater losses than the time it would take for us to make very strategic, fully-informed hiring decisions."
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