THE GOOD, BAD, AND UGLY OF TEMP JOBS
THE GOOD, BAD, AND UGLY OF TEMP JOBS
Like millions of Americans in the past 10 years I, too, have gone to work using temporary staffing agencies. For most Americans seeking to obtain work as temps there are 2 types of temp agencies: 1) the Placement Service which matches up a potential employee with a potential employer, and, 2) the Temporary Help Service which hires a job seeker as its own employee and then "lends out" that employee to a client company. My experience has been largely with Temporary Help Services (THS). Fortunately most - if not all - temporary staffing agencies are legitimate companies but the experiences that temp workers have applying for temporary jobs through these companies are not always satisfying. My personal experiences with temp agencies reflected this dilemma, so last year I deliberately started talking to people I met at work, or at social events or even on the street and asked them to tell me about their experiences working for a temp agency. Their stories - as recounted to me - were remarkable and the degree of satisfaction swung so wildly up and down that it reminded me of the 1967 Clint Eastwood cinematic Western "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly."
Before asking these people to recount their personal experiences at temp jobs I asked them 2 "polling" questions. The first question: "Do you consider temp agencies by-and-large to be legimitate companies?" and, 2) "What is your biggest complaint about temp agencies?" To my surprise the answers were almost unanimous. Almost all of the 30 people I talked to - 27 in fact - said that "Yes, temp agencies are legitimate." They didn't rule out the existence of crooked temp agencies but never complained of being seriously wronged by any temp agency. Of the 30 people I talked to no less than 28 said to me, in response to the 2nd question, that their biggest gripe with temp agencies is "They never call me!" After considering their responses I realized that I too had the same experience as them- namely temporary staffing agencies are, by-and-large, lawful companies that obey the law but, on the other hand, they are not perfect and do aggravate their "employees" at times - with the number one complaint being that "They never call." The people that I interviewed divided the calling deficiencies into 2 categories as follows - A) The temp worker registers with the temp agency which then never calls them for an assignment at all! and B) The temp agency will provide a single assignment that usually lasts from 2 months to a short as 2 days, and, then the temp agency never calls the temp worker back for a new assignment! The proportion of these calling deficiencies, according to my interviews, is about 50-50. I tended to agree with them because I, too, had registered with no less than 30 temp agencies in the last 15 years and found that exactly 15 called me up for assignments and the remaining 15 agencies never called me at all - not even for one day's work. My interviews also revealed that temp workers who got assignments usually got anywhere from 1 to 3 assignments before the temp agency stopped getting them new assignments - permanently! My own personal experiences with my temp agencies confirmed their declarations about their "abandonment" at the hands of the temp agency.
But as distressing as some of these situations were they positively paled in comparison with the horror stories I was told about the abuses these people suffered at the hands of the clients of the various temporary staffing agencies. Exactly 10 people told me that had good experiences with the THS clients, another 10 complained that had bad experinces with the THS clients and another 10 cried out that they had endured horrible experiences with THS clients.
First let's sample a few of the "good" experiences people have had with temp agencies.
One fellow, Dave, about 35, told me that he signed up with a temp agency who sent him to a loan collection company. He worked there for 2 weeks doing cash loan collections and did so well that the owner and his supervisior offered him a job- a position he kept for nearly 3 years. Very nice.
Another man, Bill, also around 30, got a temp position as a medical biller in a hospital. He was working in the medical billing department on a Saturday morning (billers commonly work Saturdays because it is often easier to get ahold of people on the weekend) when a family, weeping and crying, burst into the office. Apparently, a member of the family had been seriously injured in a traffic accident and had been brought to the Emergency Room at the hospital. One family member complained "We're not getting any help! No one is willing to tell us where to go!" In a flash Bill dropped everything he was doing and escorted the family to the hospital corridor and took them down by elevator to the Emeregncy Room. At the emergency room Bill asked one of the nurses if she had any information on the traffic victim. The nurse said no, so Bill went to another nurse and then another one until he got to an EKG technician who told them - "Yes! I just gave an EKG to the patient."
Bill sat the family down on some seats just outside the ER and asked the ER receptionist to brief the family on the patient's status. When she refused Bill went to an ER secretary and insisted that she talk to the family and inform them of the immediate situation of the patient. When she agreed the Bill brought her to the ER lobby and introduced the secretary to the family. When he was satisfied that the secretary had sat down with the family- he left the ER and went back up to the billing office. The next week Bill got a letter of commendation from the hospital president and a lunch pass good for 2 weeks of free meals. Apparently the family had sent a letter of grateful appreciation to the office of the hospital president. Bill told me he felt quite proud of his act. He stayed on at the temp assignment at the hospital for 9 months - which is quite a bit longer than the usual 2-3 months for the hospital assignments that temp workers get.
Another temp worker, George, a fellow of about 25, worked for 2 weeks for the Muscular Dystrophy Charities of America. Although the assignment lasted only 2 weeks he said to me that he felt proud calling people to solicit donations for adults and children suffering from Muscular Dystrophy. It was Christmas time and many people he called responded graciously to his requests for a donation. Perhaps the fact the he was neither a loan collector nor telemarketer exerted a positive effect on the people he called. His only disappointment he told me was "That the assignment didn't last longer."
A young woman, Therese, about 25, told to me about her 2 week assignment as a therapist's assistant at a children's hospital in the city. She worked in a rehabilitration clinic at the hospital helping out children who suffered from birth defects and congenital illnesses. She felt a lot of satisfaction and pride in helping out these kids. She said to me: "It makes you realize that all your problems, i.e. money and minor hassles, are really nothing compared to what some of these kids have to go through!" Her only regret, too, was that the assignment only lasted for 2 weeks.
All of these stories are very nice indeed but not all temp experiences are pleasant and rewarding. Some of the stories people told me were about unplesant experiences - what we could call the "bad." Here they are.
One man, Alan, pushing 40, told me he went to work for a software company. His job was to do data entry. All day long the supervisor would approach him, sometimes as often as every half hour, to exhort him to type faster and faster complaining "Your keystrokes are not fast enough!" Exasperated Alan got to the end of the day and called his temp agency to report to his supervisor as per orders. When the agency supervisor told him the assignment was over because the client's supervisor, who was dealing with him during the day, was unhappy with his data entry speed, he was relieved. The man told me "I told my temp supervisor that I was relieved that it was only one day." Unfortunately the temp agency never called him back and he signed on with another temp agency 3 months later.
Another person,Claudia, a lady of about 40, told me she too was unendurably pushed to type key strokes at a data entry office until "I thought I was going to get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome!" Having decided to refuse to continue the assignment, she called her temp supervisor at work day's end and asked for another assignment. Her temp supervisor told her "We'll see what can do!" but the temp agency never called her back and 3 months later she drifted away from the agency.
Another person, Alice, a young woman of 25, told me she was sent to a hospital to work as a medical biller. She complained that "Half the day I had no work to do. Nobody gave me work and no one told me what to do!" In exasperation she looked in a desk drawyer for some patient billing lists and started calling patients. Each day that she was there she seemed to see a different billing office supervisor walk into the office, look at her, and say nothing. "I looked at each one of them and they looked back at me. Then they turned around and walked out of the office without saying a word to me!" Finally after 2 weeks, as she got up at 7 A.M. to head to work over at the hospital for another day, she got a call from the temp agency announcing that the assignment was over.
Another fellow, Don, a young man of 25, related how he went to a hospital to perform medical billing. Each day there, he said "I worked as hard as I could, calling patient after patient, insurance company after insurance company, medical office after medical office." And then it turned out that he had been calling another medical biller's (a regular employee) call list so that many calls were repeats of calls that the employee (who was on vacation) had made only a week earlier. Realizing that there were rules against calling a patient or hospital or clinic too frequently the temp worker feared for his job and approached the billing officer to defend himself. "I explained to her," he said "That someone in the office had given me the calling list and never told me that it belonged to the employee on vacation." The supervisor stared at him and didn't say anything prompting him to nervously tell her "I'm sorry about the mix-up but if you give a fresh list tomorrow I can do a real good job for you!" The next day he got a call from the temp agency informing him "The assignment has ended."
Another temp worker, Jack, a young man about 25, went to work at a drug rehabilitation government agency. He complained to me that "While I was diligently on the phone all day long I kept hearing people in the business office behind me complaining about me." He explained "They were arguing with each other about whether, I, the temp worker, could do the job. Then they argued about who had ordered a temp worker - me! - into the office. Then they argued about the fact that there was not enough money to pay the temp agency." By the end of the day he complained "My nerves were in tatters." He said he desperately needed a 2 month assignment to catch up on his utility bills for payment of which he was in arrears. Then the next day the temp agency- which had sent him to the government agency - called called him up and announced "The assignment has ended." The temp agency never called him back again and after 3 months of waiting he went back to school.
Another temp worker, Ben, a man of about 40, started working as a data entry clerk at an insurance company. He complained to me: "When I got there I and four other temp workers just sat and stood around all day." Finally at around 1 P.M., he continued, "I sat down at a computer and put it on training mode and started to try to teach myself the computer program." A few minutes later a supervisor came up to him and angrily asked "What do you think you're doing!?" He retorted "I'm just practicing the software you want us to use...for later." Satisfied and with her irritation subsiding, she said: "Oh, well that's okay to do." Then she briskly walked away." Finally after about 3 more days of the same aimless routine he said each temp worker was placed in a cubicle on the 4th day. Then for the entire week the temp workers got only a handful of accounts to evaluate. Most of the day he said "We just sat there making a few phone calls and that was it!" Ten days later he got a call from the temp agency at 8 in the morning just as he was setting out to get to the office and was informed "The assignment has ended."
All of these episodes were quite distressing indeed but they positively paled in comparison to those temp assignments that could only be described as "ugly." Here's a few nasty epidodes as follows-
A woman, Shirley, about age 45 was sent to a hospital to work as a medical transcriptionist. As soon as she got there a transcription office manager put her to work right away. There were 3 other temp workers there doing the same transcription work. Without warning the manager, a sour-faced woman of about 55, plunked about 10 medical reports on each temp worker's computer-station table. The woman told me "She said get to work right away and do each report as quickly as possible." When one of the transcriptionists asked if there would be time for proof-reading the manager snapped at her "You're a professional. You're supposed to know all these words! You should be able to write it correctly the first time!" Then she abruptly walked out of the office leaving the temp workers there to do their job. The woman said she listened to the tape of a doctor's medical report as intently as she could and then typed out a transcript as quickly as she could. Unfortunately the doctor who dictated the tape was a foreigner and had a thick foreign accent making many of the words, especially the diagnostic terms, hard to understand. A half-hour later the manager walked back in and asked for her report. After gazing at the first 3 pages of the 5 page report she looked up and glared at the temp lady and snapped: "There's 3 spelling errors on the first 3 pages alone!" The temp worker tried to explain that she was forced to type hurriedly because the report was lengthy and she needed more than 30 minutes to complete it and moreover the doctor's accent was hard to understand and, for those reasons, she needed a few minutes to proof-read. However the manager was cold and disinterested. "She looked at me with cold, unsympathetic eyes, said nothing and then walked out of the office" she related to me. The next day the temp agency called her at 7:30 in the morning and announced that "The assignment has been terminated." And so was the temp worker as it turns out because the temp agency never called her again.
Another temp worker, Carl, a man of about 30, was sent to a hospital to do medical billing. To prepare for the assignment he had studied for the prior 2 weeks about 10 different medical billing softwares. When he got to the hospital in the morning of the first day of the assignment the billing office supervisor, an unsmiling woman of about 30, gave him medical bills to work on. She gave him no training and just said "You can start working now." Then she walked away. Carl immediately saw that he was not familiar with the software program that the office computers were using. He spent a half-hour trying to familiarize himself with the program. Then he tried to process his first insurance claim. A few minutes later the supervisor returned, stopped on a dime at his side and looked at him for a moment before exclaiming "You don't know how to do this..do you?!" The Carl, flustered by now, responded "Well, this is a software that I'm not familiar with." The angry supervisor snapped back "You should know how to do this. That's what you're here to do!" Carl, now becoming irritated, retorted "You know there are about 20 billing software programs and this is one I'm just not faimilar with." The supervisor responded angrily "You were sent here to do a job and it seems you just can't do it!" Carl angry by now, responded: "Like I said there are 20 billing softwares. Do you know every one!?" With this the supervisor stormed off. He finished the day but the next morning the temp agency called him at 8:30 in the morning and announced "The assignment has terminated."
Another temp worker, Marty, a young man of about 20, was sent to a bank to perform what he described as "white collar scut work!" His job was to write addresses, by hand, on hundreds of envelopes which contained bank advertisements. His co-worker was another temp worker- Jane, a lady of about 60. Their immediate supervisor was Betty - a temp worker- a lady of about 40 - who worked at the bank through a different temp agency. For 8 weeks each of the 3 "clerks" - if you will - spent 7 hours a day writing, writing, writing names and addresses on the envelopes. No typewriter nor word processor was ever offered to the workers. No printer was ever offered either. No labels were ever offered to the workers. By the 3rd week the young man's wrist was so sore that he simply scribbled the names and addressed on the envelopes with a limp wrist to avoid further injury. He worried about getting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Every 2 hours the 3 temp workers had to dump hundreds of letters into a basket and lug the heavy baskets upstairs. Finally after 2 months Betty - the lady from the other temp agency - left the bank. That left the work to be done by Marty and Jane - who were both from the same temp agency.
Unable to write as fast as Betty, Marty and Jane could not accumulate as many letters as the 3 of them had done before. When the office manager Sarah - a self-indulgent woman of about 30 who was obsessed with her own career as a manager at the bank and cared for little else- noticed that the baskets were containing fewer letters than the previous 3 months she said nothing to each worker but then one evening she called the temp agency to dismiss both workers. The following morning the young man was getting ready to travel to the bank when he got a call from the temp agency annoucing that "The assignment had terminated."
A really hideous story came from a man of about 40, Dean, who was sent to work as a file clerk at an insurance company. Day after day, week after week for 3 months he did nothing but file insurance reports and lug about heavy baskets of insurance reports from one office to another.
At the end of the day he was covered with sweat. As he did the work he ruefully noted that he was a college graduate with a bachelor's and master's degree. After 3 months the assignment ended but the insurance office manager liked his work so much that he was invited back a month later. For the next 3 months he repeated the same drudgery- filing and carrying, filing and carrying. Finally there came a day when the officer workers were taking a coffee break. They got up and stretched and poured some coffee. They invited Dean to join them. So he got up and stretched and was waiting for some coffee when- out of the blue - an office supervisor, an unpleasant woman of about 50, walked up right to his face and said "I'm terminating your right now!" Dean, in the middle of a stretch, suddenly wheeled about and looked at her in amazement and stammered out "But, but...I didn't do anything! I'm just taking a break!" She retorted back "You're goofing off on the job. Stay here and I'll bring you your time card before you leave!" Stunned Dean just stood there disbelieving that he had done 6 months of this scut work with a good performance only to be pushed out like this. When the supervisor came back, she took him into a cubicle to talk to him at which the temp worker interrupted her and said angrily to her: "It's debatable who's cheating who. You pay $280 a week. There's no health insurance, no 401K plan and I cannot support my family on $280 a week!" The supervisor was slightly startled but then reasserted herself by dictating to him "Leave now!" Dean grabbed his coat and left in a huff and took the elevator down to the cafeteria in the basement. One of the regular employees followed him down and sat down at his table in the lunch room and said- "I'm really sorry that she dismissed you. What happened?" Dean to the employee that she (the supervisor) had accused him (the temp) of loafing and then said: "Thanks for your sympathy. I'll be all right." But the ordeal wasn't over yet. A month later when Dean tried to collect his unemployment benefits the temp agency filed a complaint to stop the benefits and he was forced to attend a hearing at the unemployment office in the presence of a state unemployment agency attorney acting as a referee. In a 3-way telephone conversation when Dean heard that the temp agency was accusing him of "sleeping on the job" he berated the agency "After 6 months of doing that scut work why would I sleep on the job with only a few days on the assignment left to go?" He won the hearing and got his benefits and, strangely, the temp agency didn't fire him. For the next 12 months however every time he called the agency for an assignment there none was offered. After 12 months he drifted away from the agency.
Another medical transcription temp assignment turned "ugly" for a man of about 40, Rick, who was sent to a hospital. A harried transcription officer - a woman about 30 - seated the man in a very cramped office containing 5 cubicles. The man and 4 other temp workers - there were no employees doing transcription - were given about a half-dozen taped medical reports dictated by doctors at the hospital there. The man tried to get started but when he heard the first tape he was horrified. "The doctor," he told me "was obviously from South Asia. You know..India, Pakistan and the like" He went on to complain "And his accent was so thick that I couldn't understand every other word!" It didn't matter whether the word was a medical term or just a plain word of everyday English. "It was almost indecipherable," he said. In desperation he switched tapes to do another repoort. "This doctor was even worse!" he told me. Apparently the second doctor was an American but he didn't have the faintest skill at giving dictation. Rick complained that he "hemmed and hawed" and that he had absolutely no discipline in dictating in coherent English. "He kept doubling back. He ordered the transcriptionist to change phrases from 2 paragraphs previous. He would go back and re-phrase a sentence 2 and even 3 times." Rick further complained that his syntax was horrible and his grammar even worse. At times Rick said he had to guess what the doctors were saying and write that into the transcript. Just after lunch the supervisor called him into her office, looked up at him and said "This is not working. I think we'll end the assignment." Just as she said those words the American doctor walked in. Rick looked up and said to him "You know, doctor, you're dictation skills leave a lot to be desired!" The doctor looked startled but said nothing as the supervisor gave the man his time card. Disgusted, hot and sweating Rick left the building. He tried to get another assignment but the temp agency called him a week after 9-11-2001 and told him they were suspending assignments indefintely.
Another temp worker, Hal, a young man of 20, was sent to a business office in the downtown area. When he got to the building a guard sent him up to the 10th floor. When he got there he found the office he was to report to. The office had a great sliding-glass door. The doors opened as he approached and he entered the office which was only half-lit. At the reception desk he called out "Hello? Anyone here?" However there was no answer. He walked into several rooms in the office and he found no one there. Finally he walked into a room with a spacious table that had a telephone on it. He sat down at the table and waited there thumbing through magazines while waiting for someone to approach him. Every 10- minutes he would get up and look around for someone but there was no one there. After an hour he called his temp agency and reported to them "Well I've been here for an hour! The door was open but no one seems to be here!" The temp agency secretary told him "Well, just sit tight. Someone will be along soon I'm sure." The temp worked shrugged his shoulders "Well, okay." At noon he went out of the office to get a snack and then returned to the still empty office.
Then at about 1 o'clock while he was sitting at his table Hal looked up and was startled to see a tall woman walk by his table. To his amazement she walked by him, staring at him moving her eyes up and down as though she was a radar antenna without saying a single word to him. He tried to say "Hi!" but she had walked away without looking back. Finally at about 3 o'clock he got fed up and walked out of the office. When Hal got home he called his temp agency to report the day's events and was informed by the secertary of the temp agency "The assignment is ended." When he asked why she responded "A lady there called us at about 1 o'clock and complained that you were improperly dressed!" He exclaimed "Improperly dressed?! - I was wearing a suit!" The secretary responded "Yes but the lady said your jacket was gray-black while your pants were jet black." Hal exclaimed "But that's crazy!" The secretary sympathized "I agree with you but that's the way she wanted it. Don't worry we'll get you another assignment." Hal thanked her and hung up. But there was no other assignment. Ha; called the temp agency for 6 months asking for another assignment but none was forthcoming. After another 3 months he drifted away from the temp agency.
Another temp worker, Mel, a young man of 25, was invited by a temp agency to show up at their office every morning Monday through Friday to be transported to a "place of business" to perform work there. The temp agency exhorted its workers - he learned - to show up at 8 o'clock in the morning "on the dot" so as to not miss the van that would transport the temp workers to the assignment. For 5 days in a row he punctually showed up a 7:55 A.M. and waited for a van and for 5 days in-a-row no van showed up. Mel sat there each morning for 3, 4 and 5 hours and no van showed. On some days he was totally alone in the office with only a secretary at a desk to keep him company. On the first day, aftger waiting 3 hours, Mel asked the secretary "What's going on?" to which the secretary - a 19 year old girl - answered "I don't know. Just sit and wait. If a van is coming they'll come and get you off to your assignment." Every day he asked her about the van and every day she gave him the same answer. Finally a week later on Monday morning he decided to stay home and not go to the temp agency. Instead he called them a couple of times later that month but no one answered the phone. After a month he finally gave up and drifted away from the temp agency.
Another man, Jeff, about 30, was sent by his temp agency to do medical billing at a hospital. He was greeted by the billing office manager who then told him to sit at a computer station. The manager walked away and didn't return at all for the rest of the day. On day two he walked in and sat at his computer station and, again, no one approached him. In the afternoon he started approaching employees about what he was to do but they all said they were too busy to help. Then on the 3rd day an office supervisor approached him and handed him a folder containing insurance claims and said to him "Here, you can do this for starters." Then she abruptly walked away. When the temp started working he found he was unfamiliar with the billing program and soon realized that he was "lost" - he didn't know the procedure for running the program. Again he asked for help but no one gave him more than a minute's help.
Feeling helpless he went back to his computer station and just sat there for 30 minutes. Suddently the supervisor appeared right before him and screeched "I've been watching you! You've just been sitting there doing nothing." He tried to counter "But...but....!" She continued angrily "Don't say anything. I'm going to call your agency and terminate your assignment!" With that she bounced away. Jeff sighed sadly and was preparing to leave the office - without even waiting - when suddenly his phone rang. He picked it up and said "Hello?" The caller was his supervisor at the temp agency. "Hey Jeff!" the temp supervisor said, "How are things going?" Jieff didn't answer. "Well, Jeff. I've got to inform you that you can leave now. The assignment is over." Jeff, surprised, quickly asked "Was I fired!?" The supervisor said with a laugh "No. no Jeff. They're ending the assignment because the hospital doesn't have enough money to pay us...and you." Jeff responded "So there's no firing? Did anyone complain about me?" The supervisor responded "No, not at all Jeff. Well that's all. You can leave now and we'll mail you your check." Jeff quickly exited the building and when he got outside he realized what had transpired. The hospital had laid him off only a minute or two before the billing office supervisor was going to ask for his terminmation due to "misconduct." But the "victory" Jeff had won was short-lived because the temp agency never provided him with any other assignment. After calling them periodically for the rest of the summer Jeff gave up and drifted away from the agency.
Another really "ugly" episode occurred when a temp agency sent a man of about 45, Vince, to work as a file clerk in a eye-glass shop. His task was to file the store's numerous "patient" files. The man arrived at 9 A.M. and was greeted by a Spanish speaking receptionist. The receptionist apologized to the temp worker that "My English is no good." The man, smiled broadly, and said to her "No se preoccupe, Senora. Yo hablo Espanol!" The secretary brightened up and explained his duties to him in Spanish. She told to sit at a little filing cabinet and file patient documents. There was a phone at his cabinet. He asked her if he should answer the phone and she said "Sure! Seguro!"
For the next half-hour he filed documents and then at 10 o'clock, the secretary told him she was taking an early lunch and left him alone. After she left the phone rang every 10 minutes and he answered the phone - sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish. At about 11 o'clock another woman suddenly entered the reception area from an office at the back of the store. The woman, about 40 or 45, and very well dressed stared at him without saying a word. Taken aback and embarrased the man looked up and smiled saying "Hello, I'm Vince. I'm from the temp agency." The woman, who obviously was the store owner, stared at him with cold, angry eyes and exclaimed: "If you answer the phone again I'll call they agency and have you taken out of here!" Stunned he looked at her with frozen fear. She turned on her heel and walked back into her office. Abashed and confused he returned to his filing task for another half hour. When the phone rang he let it ring until it stopped. A half-an hour later the owner walked out of her office and approached him and said in a monotone "I'm going to lunch now."
Forgetting himself Vince cheerfully inquired of her "Do you want me to answer the phone while you're at lunch?" The woman turned her head and looked at him angrily but said nothing. Then instead of leaving the store she walked back into her office. Puzzled and already feeling some dread Vince continued with his filing work for about a half hour. Then, without warning, a man dressed in a suit walked into the store. For a moment Vince didn't recognize him and then he jumped up, in startled recognition, that the man was his own temp agency supervisor - Alan!
"What are you doing here?" Vince exclaimed. Alan looked at him with a nervous but unsympathetic smile and responded- "I came to escort you out of the building. The assignment is terminated." At first Vince was stunned and mechanically reached for his coat to follow his supervisor, Alan, out of the building. Then he turned towards the back office and felt a flash of raging. "I'd like to throttle that bitch!" he thought but then he controlled himself and followed Alan who said to him "Let's go!" The supervisor Alan told Vince to drive over to the temp agency office and pick up his check of $14.98 for his 90 minutes of work. Vince got into his car and drove over to the temp agency office about 10 blocks away. There at the office Alan met up with Vince and gave him his paycheck. Vince asked Alan "What just happened over there?" and Alan told Vince "The owner at the shop said that you were meddling." Vince looked up, stunned, and exclaimed "Meddling?! But that's not true!" The supervisor said "I know it's not true but try to forget about it. We'll get you another assignment in a couple of weeks." With that Vince drove home and mulled over this bizarre incident for the rest of the day. Two weeks later Vince called the temp agency and asked for a new assignment but was told there was nothing available. The weeks dragged into months and after a whole year without any new assignments Vince drifted away from the temp agency.
And finally there was the ugliest episode of all. A man of about 40, Rich, was sent to do medical billing work at a hospital. When he arrived on the floor of the medical billing office he was encountered by a tall, lanky woman of 40 who identified herself as the billing office supervisor. The supervisor - Cheryl was her name - nervously ordered the temp worker to follow her to the staircase and she quickly led him up 3 flights of stairs to an unused floor in the hospital. She quickly led him to a room and ordered him to go inside and sit down there and wait for "about an hour." Puzzled the temp worker went in and, while standing at the door, discovered - to his great surprise - about 20 other people sitting in chairs in the room. They all had a worried and startled look on their faces. When he asked the supervisor "Are we taking a test?" She hushed him and impatiently pushed him in. Then she quickly shut the door and left in a hurry. The temp worker sat down and for about 5 minutes sat there staring at the other people. Finally his curiosity got the best of him and he asked the lady sitting next to him what was going on. the lady looked at him and said, smiling, "Cheryl is hiding us," she said. "What?" he queried.
"Yeah, that's right..she's hiding us!" Puzzled he asked "Hiding us? - From who?" The lady smiled knowingly and said "Cheryl is hiding us from the federal inspectors!" He looked startled and asked "Federal inspectors?!" The lady smiled again and explained it all "Yeah, the hospital has hired too many temp workers - which is illegal - and if the federal inspectors - who are in the building right now- find out about it they'll fine the hospital thousands of dollars." The man asked "Well, why is she hiring so many temp workers?" The lady answered "Because the hospital saves money by paying lower salaries to temp workers than regular employees." Then he understood "Oh!, now I get it!"
The next day Rich started his assignment at the hospital which ran for several months. Other temp workers there warned him to "Keep your mouth shut about the incident if you know what's good for!" He did and he held onto the assignment until it ended 4 months later.
There is very little a temp worker can do to escape mistreatment at the hands of clients but there are some common sense techniques to improve the quality of one's affiliation with temp agencies - in general - as follows:
1) Temp agencies tend to call the temp worker randomly at any and all hours of the morning, afternoon and evening. So be ready for such a call. Have your clothes ready as early as 6 A.M. in the morning so that you can take a quick shower and be out the door.
2) Assignments vary wildly in length. Some assignments will last several months. Others assignments last several weeks and still more only a few days.
3) Only about half the temp agencies you register with will ever get you an assignment. The principal reason is that they cannot find clients willing to pay them enough money to do an assignment at the client's office. And the Recession of 2008-09 is making things much more difficult.
4) Temp agencies do not formally "fire" their employees unless there is gross misconduct on the job. If there are no work assignments they simply do not call back. If you are disenchanted with a temp agency, just quietly disengage yourself from the agency, i.e. stop calling them for assignments, and sign up with another temp agency. If you do commit an act of minor misconduct, i.e. sleeping on the job, talking sassy to a supervisor, taking too many breaks - don't worry - the law forbids a temp agency from reporting any acts of marginal misconduct to another temo agency. Only criminal acts, i.e. stealing, using drugs on the premises or fisticuffs in the office can be reported.
5) Temp agencies often-times will "hire" employees who are not qualified for many of the tasks that clients want done. This lack of skill often causes the client to be frustrated when the temp worker shows up and cannot do the work. To avoid this problem try to find out what the assignment is advance and tell the temp agency if you feel you cannot do the work.
6) Many clients, as we have seen, simply don't care about the temp workers when they show up for work. They ignore them. They tell them nothing. And then the next day they call the temp agency to end the assignment. Just take such poor behavior in stride. Don't get angry with the temp agency because you'll alienate them and they won't get you another assignment. Just refrain from complaining and ask for another assignment.
7) If a temp agency repeatedly fails to call you back after you've called four, five or even six times then it's time to move on to another temp agency.
8) Temp workers usually get paid less than regular employees and often cannot afford any health insurance or 401K plans that might be offered. The paychecks are so low to begin with that a temp worker, who signs on for insurance and a 401K plan, may see his or her paycheck cut to as low as $200 per pay period (every 2 weeks). Since assignments never run more than a few months and may be as short as a couple of days- it's best to forego the health insurance and 401K plan in favor of a bigger paycheck.
9) Understand that although you are an "employee" of the temp agency their principal motivation is to make a short-term profit from your labor. The client pays the temp agency about $12 / hour for your work. The agency then pays you $9 / hour as your gross pay and reserves the other $3 for overhead and profit. For that reason register with as many temp agencies as you can, i.e. 10, 15 or even 20 agencies. Usually the registration process is fairly easy.
10) Temp agencies are suffering from the scarcity of jobs of today's Recession just as job-hunters are similarly afflicted. Sometimes a temp agency will get hundreds of resumes for a single assignment.
11) Many temp agencies concentrate their activities in the procuring of as many resumes as possible for their records to give clients an opportunity to pick and choose from as large a number and from as wide a variety of temp workers as their needs dictate. Indeed for some temp agencies the accumulation of a resume data base is more important that getting an assignment for an "employee."
12) Unfortunately some temp agencies and many traditional employers, for a variety of reasons, will post "phantom jobs" on-line and in newspapers and job magazines. They do this to comply with federal discrimination laws and to compile resumes. An ad that claims an "immediate hire" may not result in quck assignment nor even any assignment at all. These phantom jobs are illegal but some temp agencies and even regular employers have posted them for many years usually without sanction by the authorities.
13) Clients sometimes cancel an assignment because the temp agency is charging the client too much money. The law allows a maximum of upwards to 30% of a temp workers salary for the temp agency to charge the client. For example, if the temp agency pays you $10 and hour then they can charge the client $13 an hour. Although paying a little more short-term, the client actually likes this set-up because the client company usually has no intention of hiring a full-time, salaried employee to stay there months-on-end and get stuck paying that new employee for other work once the assigned task is finished- thereby saving a bundle of cash. Clients, instead, often-times let the work pile up and then call in a series of temp workers to slowly "chip away" at the work - sort of like termites!
14) Temp agencies will offer you a job that does not match your skills simply because that is the only job available. Sometimes that job will be a blue collar assignment for a white collar worker, or, more often degrading "white collar scut work" i.e. filing folders, addressing envelopes, and pasting labels.
15) Temp agencies during this worst recession since the 1930s will probably reduce your pay from $10-12 / hour down to $8-9 / hour. As the Recession of 2008-10 worsens, temp agencies will have fewer and fewer client companies willing to pay them. That loss of money will transferred on to their "employees" i.e.- you.
16) A dirty trick that clients often pull on temp workers is to abort the assignment just as the temp worker or a group of temp workers arrive in the morning at the entrance of the client's office building to begin the first day of an assignment and then offer and engage in a phony interview. Indeed, one temp worker, Jim, told me "Three of us were greeted by the company manager at 9 A.M. right at the front door of the office." The manager said "I'm sorry for your inconvenience, but we can't use you today. However, I'd like to interview each one of you, in turn, for an employee position with the company! That okay with you?" Jim then told me that the temp workers, although irritated at having made a wasted trip, happily accepted the chance for regular work. However after the 3 interviews were conducted the 3 temp workers met for coffee at the building's cafeteria in which it dawned on all of them that the manager had no intention of hiring them. "Yeah!" one of the temp workers told the other two, "He talked about the company for a minute and then said he'd let us know in about a month- that's too long a time!" The 2nd temp worker said "He kept looking at the clock over my head while he was talking to me- as though he was trying to hurry the interview!" The suspicions of the three temp workers turned out be correct - none of them was ever offered a regular employee position with the company. Another temp worker, Larry, told me that a hospital billing department manager pulled the same type of trick on him. "The billing office manager met me outside of the hospital on the street!" Larry continued "He invited me inside to his office where he gave me a fancy interview." Then Larry noted, "But when I walked out of the door I saw in the corner of my eye that he (the manager) was grinning at me mischievously!" Larry then realized that the interview was a sham - and he was right- the hospital never hired him.
There are many inglorious and downright brutal situations that a temp worker can find himself or herself in. For these reasons, then, a temp worker should follow 3 cardinal rules: 1st- Sign up with at least 20 temp agencies. 2nd-Never display hostility toward your temp agency surpervisors or the temp agency workers. And 3rd- Adopt yourself to a temp career that accepts abrupt starts and stops as part of the routine.
By signing up with at least 20 agencies the temp worker will assure himself or herself at least some work in a year's time- which can boost one's unemployment benefits by as much as $50 a week during those periods of unemployment between temp assignments or the occasional regular job. Like with a regular job always be diplomatically cordial with your temp agency even if you don't think they're treating you right. Never ever "Burn your bridges" with them just as you wouldn't burn your bridges with a regular employer. Remember, hostilities might come back to haunt you! And,finally, the world of temp work is now a place of zero job security and constant changes much like the zero job security and abrupt changes found in traditional employee-workl. If you keep these realities of the New World of Work in mind you'll fare much better in your endeavors to earn money.