What is a Temp Employee?

what is a temp employee

There was a time when someone finished school, found a job, and stayed there for the rest of their working life. But times have changed, and more accurately, business has changed. People now change jobs and even change their careers more often than their parents or grandparents ever imagined – every three to five years on average. Yet we still put jobs in two categories- permanent and temporary. But what does that mean in a world where the average person will likely change jobs twelve times in their working life?


History of the temp agency 

The idea of bringing employees to work for a company on a temporary basis dates back to the end of the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the end of World War Two that the idea of temp employees really took off. The economy was booming after the war, and the fact that women were expected to leave the workforce and return to the home had created a real talent crunch. Temp agencies like Kelly Services found a way to sell the idea of women working by presenting the image of middle-class women who worked a few hours a week for “pin money”, or small amounts of money a married woman could spend on herself, in almost exclusively clerical jobs. This spawned the idea of “pink collar” jobs, low-level office jobs, such as filing or typing, populated exclusively by women.   

Although the idea of women in the workforce is no longer alienating, the stereotype of temps as low-skilled, clerical workers have persisted. It’s only been within the last ten years that popular culture seems to have caught up with American business practices. Today, you can find temp employees in every industry and at every career level, from fresh graduates to project managers. If you can name a job, odds are, there’s a temp filling it somewhere.


A temp employee is someone who works at your company for a pre-determined period of time, whether it’s for a few days or a few months. Usually, temps are hired through a staffing firm that handles the taxes, payroll, benefits, and other administrative work necessary to employ a temp employee. The temp employee reports to the staffing firm’s client for tasks and direction on needed projects. This means that the temp essentially has two bosses, but in most cases, the staffing firm doesn’t get involved in the day-to-day details of the job.

Generally, the client has the option to hire a temp employee to work directly for them after a specified period of time. This is often very successful because it gives both the temp employee and the client company a chance to work together before making a longer commitment. However, temp employees should keep in mind that being hired by a client on a full-time basis isn’t something they should count on happening automatically.

Why temp jobs are good for the temps

A temporary job is, by definition, a short-term job. While some people are critical of the increase in temporary employment as being an impediment to career development, others have embraced temp jobs as a new way to climb the corporate ladder. Whatever you think of the increase in temporary employment, it’s undeniable that there are many positive aspects for the temp employee themselves.

Temps get valuable work experience

Working as a temp employee can give valuable work experience. This is important not only for new grads but for people who have been out of the job market for a while, such as people who have taken time out to build or care for a family. It’s also great for people who want to move into a different industry.

Temps get the chance to try new companies

One huge advantage to temp work is that temps get to try out new companies. Temps get an inside look at what it’s like to work at different companies, which can help them better focus their job search. More importantly, being a temp employee will help them learn what they want and what they don’t want from their next permanent job.

Training opportunities

Staffing firms want to be able to offer better employees to their clients. Because of this, they often offer classes and training opportunities to their employees. Taking this training opens temps to new opportunities and more options.

For temp employees who are smart, ambitious and diligent, working at a temporary gig can be a huge boost to their career. But they aren’t the only ones who can benefit from being temporary employment. Temps can be great for the companies that use them, too.


Why temps are good for the companies

Companies hire temp employees for one reason – they need qualified staff for a short amount of time. This need may be due to business fluctuations, a special project or an extended absence of one or more key employees. Whatever reason a company has for using temps, hiring temp employees comes with more benefits than just finding someone to answer the phone or track invoices.

Temp employees allow you to audition new talent

Interviewing candidates for a position can is stressful. When you’re interviewing a potential employee, you only get to see a brief snapshot of their professional demeanor, and that’s not enough to know how they’ll perform on a regular basis. Will they come to work on time?  Are they really capable of doing the job? You won’t know the answer to these questions until the candidate comes to work, and because terminating an employee can also be difficult and even open your company to legal potentially, it makes sense to give a potential employee the chance to audition for the role by working as a temporary. You’ll know if they can do the job, if they mesh with your team, and if they have any behavioral red flags.

Temps help your company control costs

Using temporary employees can help your company control the cost of labor. When you use temps, your company shifts the administrative burden of their employment to the staffing firm that employs them so your company doesn’t have to worry about payroll, unemployment or insurance.  And, of course, if the employee doesn’t work out, the staffing agency that provided them will deal with the fallout.

Improving company morale

No matter how loyal an employee is, they are going to get tired if they have to put in too many late nights. Using temp employees can help ease the time burden on your staff.

how to get the most out of a temp employee

How to get the most out of a temp employee

Temp employees are a valuable resource, but they need to be treated correctly to really benefit your company. So how can you get the most out of your temps?


Like any other employee, temp employees deserve to be started off right. Make sure their workstations are set up and ready to go on their first day, so you can minimize downtime. Take the time to show them around their work area so they know all of the ins and outs of working for your company, like where the lunchroom is, where the bathrooms are, and what printer their work will go to. Be sure to introduce them to people so they feel comfortable and have a better idea of who to go to with questions or concerns.

Make expectations clear

A temp employee will walk in with an idea of what they will be doing for your company, especially if you’ve taken the time to build a strong rapport with their staffing firm. But even if that’s the case, be sure to let the temp know what they’ll need to do and how it should be done. If a temp employee makes a mistake, be sure to correct them, in the same manner, you would any other employee, and when they do something right, be sure to recognize and acknowledge that as well. 

Treat your temp employee with respect

Even if your temp employee isn’t going to work at your company forever, they should still be treated with the same respect as any other employee. Make sure they’re copied on any emails that apply to them, be sure they’re aware of scheduled meetings and any changes in on-going or upcoming projects.


The most important thing to remember when you have a temp employee is that they have the same goal as you – completing a successful assignment. When you approach your business relationship with your staffing firm and the temps they provide as a partnership, everyone can win.

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