“Temp to perm” sounds like an unfortunate hairdo, but for many people it is actually an employment arrangement that could transition into a more permanent job offer. This isn’t a new term, but rather one whose global comeback is generating no small amount of chatter, as it gives way to our new “gig economy.” Hillary Clinton recently said that the return of this hiring model is “creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But it is also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.”
The number of temporary workers in the United States has reached an all-time high, but temp to perm isn’t strictly an American trend. In Singapore, for example, an increasing number of companies are opting to try employees on a contract first; in the eurozone, 52.4 percent of young workers are now in temporary jobs. More than just crossing borders, temp to perm has also crossed industries and ranks; “temping” used to be commonplace in administrative or industrial positions, but it’s now par for the course for high-level jobs, too.
Temp to perm has become indispensable to the modern workforce for a number of reasons: Namely, it speaks to the employee’s desire to prove himself in this era of entrepreneurialism and underscores his quest for stability at a time when we’re still feeling tremors from so many financial crises. But how attainable is that latter goal these days for anyone?
In a new Forbes op-ed, HR authority Liz Ryan says the working world is “almost unrecognizable” now compared with several decades ago, and even full-time salaried positions don’t offer much in the way of job security. The temp-to-perm arrangement, on the other hand, is refreshingly transparent—making no promises to an employee one way or the other. And many temporary hires do have happy endings, according to a 2014 American Staffing Association Staffing Employee Survey. Nearly all the temporary or contract employees who responded said that staffing work made them more employable. Half said that temping helped them get their foot in the door for a permanent job, and one-third reported having been offered permanent positions from a temporary employer.
Temp to perm is permeating the public relations industry, too. Although it might look like rampant commitment phobia, the news isn’t entirely grim for budding PR professionals; it can often yield happier working relationships in the long term. In this moment of historic autonomy, the focus sits too much on the absence of traditional safety nets and not enough on the opportunity for more of us to chart our own courses rather than playing by someone else’s rules.
It can be said that the risk inherent in temporary employment is not unlike the risk in starting one’s own business, which is why so many temps are being called mini-entrepreneurs. To thrive within this new gig economy, we might well need to rewrite our modern definition of stability—that is, if we can’t bet on our employers, at least we can bet on ourselves. Writes Ryan, “Your only job security is the kind you carry around with you. There is no longer a position that guarantees you anything, but the flip side is that everything is negotiable.”
In fact, temp to perm isn’t even always the employer’s idea. Rather, more job seekers are using it as a bargaining chip, standing apart from other candidates by offering to work on a project or contract basis as a trial run. Among other benefits, the temp-to-perm arrangement allows employees ample opportunity to try on new positions or fields for size and to ensure that a work culture is a good fit. Plus, taking on temporary assignments with high-profile agencies can lead to a far more impressive and diverse résumé. It can also pay the bills while a person continues to search for another job that’s a better fit—or starts her own company.
It’s true that nothing is guaranteed, but in PR one thing will always stay constant: Efficient, hard workers with big ideas and great personalities will always be the most desirable, and it takes time to determine if a person checks all those boxes. The temp-to-perm test-drive might not be the most civilized practice on the part of the agency, but it works.
The potential reward—for both agency and employee—for doing a temporary assignment well is a job offer that’s backed with a mutual confidence and trust that has already been established. And that’s something worth waiting for.
By Havas PR