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Why Temporary Agency Work (TAW)?

In many European countries, the growth of agency work is often seen to be related to the rise of unemployment since the 1970s. Indeed, in the Swedish case there is a very close correlation between the growth of various forms of temporary labour and the dramatic worsening of the labour market in the early 1990s. The increase of agency work in the 1990s in Europe is also argued to be as a result of deregulation of the sector.
More and more companies are using temporary agency work to cut costs and increase flexibility by allowing them to adjust their staffing needs at short notice (Nienhuser and Matiaske 2006). It also helps employers to find workers with specific skills, as and when they want them, while avoiding recruitment and administration expenses. They are also known to use temporary agency workers to fill in for staff absences. This arrangement has also been pointed out as beneficial for individuals, enabling them to work flexibly when they want to, or gain experience in a specific sector. Work flexibility, from a worker perspective is supposedly expected to enable then meet their personal, family, occupational, and community needs (Hill, et al. 2008). It gives the temporary agency workers possibilities of combining work with other life commitments such as studies and family life (Russel, O’Connell and Mc Ginnity 2009). Temporary agency work has also been known as a stepping stone to the labour market (Kalleberg 2000). It facilitates entry into the labour market, mainly for certain groups of workers (transitional workers) who use it as a bridge to permanent employment (Bergström 2001) and gaining skills and experience.
As much as it creates possibilities and opportunities in the current labour market system, it is also known to pose several challenges at different levels in the triangular employment relation. To begin with, the working conditions of temporary workers have been pointed out as being less favourable (Nienhuser and Matiaske 2006). These workers experience far less autonomy, are less able to decide when, how and where they work than regular employees and they also have less influence on their breaks, vacations and/or days off, have less time to complete their work, they receive less training and their wages/ salaries are also much lower than those of regular staff (Bergström 2001). Temporary agency workers are also often treated as outsider and at times denied resources by permanent staff and efforts made to include the temporary agency workers, may also cause strain and tension on the interpersonal relationships between the two groups. (Svensson and Wolven 2010).
The other factor in temporary agency work that is somehow complex is flexibility. “Flexibility for whom?” as has been questioned by several scholars seems to bear different meaning depending on the context of its use (Karlsson 2007; Olofsdotter 2008). For instance is it from an organizational perspective or from a worker perspective? In previous studies this subject has found positive effects that benefit workers as well as organizations (Karlsson 2007). Flexibility has been seen as a way to increase effectiveness in the currently globalized economy. Companies use it as a tool for improving recruitment and retention, for managing workload, and for responding to employee diversity. It is about an employee and an employer making changes to when, where and how a person will work to better meet individual and business needs. This implies that the workers to some degree are able to choose where, when and for how long they engage in work-related tasks, which in the case of temporary agency workers is a limited ability but they are expected to be flexible and adaptable to Client Company and work agency requirements for accessibility in time and space (Olofsdotter, 2008). The standby nature of the job and uncertainty of what, when and where they get the next call to take up an assignment makes it very difficult to have a functionable work -private life balance2.
For the organizations flexibility is all about creating conducive atmosphere for adapting to environmental changes by varying workforce size and grouping them as permanent staff with competence and as temporary staff that can easily be accessed or dismissed to reduce on production costs and achieve efficiency, effectiveness and greater productivity (Hill, et al. 2008).This has led to these temporary agency workers being treated more or less as interchangeable commodity.
Overall, research shows that a higher proportion of temporary agency workers are unhappy with their jobs and conditions than permanent staff. Many do not choose this way of working, but would prefer secure employment. The majority of temporary workers are male, with the exception of the Scandinavian countries, where young people, women and immigrants represent the greater portion (Olofsdotter, u.d.). Young people under the age of 25 make up the largest category of temporary agency workers in general. Many of these workers also have lower education level than the average regular employee (Eurofound 2007) and are often hired out to large scale firms such as assembly and warehouses (Olofsdotter, 2008).
Youths who study find it easy to combine their studies with work in the TWAs, and those who have recently finished their studies can easily get into the labour market and gain valuable contacts for their future careers advancement (stepping stone). The fact that women are also many in the sector could be that much of the work performed by TWAs that they involve occupations traditionally bound to female labour, for example administrative personnel, telephonists, receptionists etc. Migrant workers use TWAs as a way to get in to an otherwise seemingly closed market (Brunk 2008).

Theoretical Framework


In this framework both process and content models of motivation are discussed. Process theories are mainly concerned with how people think and behave to get what they want, basically they explain why employees behave the way they do (Vroom‟s expectancy theory and Adam‟s equity theory), whereas content theories are mainly concerned with identifying and explaining internal factors that energize and direct human behaviour (Herzberg‟s two-factor theory) (Brooks 2003). In expounding on the actions and reactions in the TAWs sector that to a large extent determine the pros and cons of working through the agency, there are three theoretical frameworks that I have used to explain what determines or influence motivation of those employed. The first one is expectancy model, which argues that human action is conscious expectations to certain goals that bring reward hence enhancing performance, second is equity model that explains that perceptions of fair or unfair distribution of resources are bound to influence interpersonal relationships at work and third but not least is the Herzberg‟s two-factor theory also known as motivation-hygiene theory.

Expectancy theory

Expectancy theory was developed by Vroom (1964) an American psychologist who based his work on the idea that people tend to prefer certain goals or outcomes over some.” It argues that humans act according to their conscious expectations that a particular behaviour will lead to specific desirable goals” (Brooks 2003, pg.50-51). It is based on the belief that employee effort will lead to performance and performance will lead to rewards, of which may be either positive or negative. The more positive the rewards are the more likely the employee will be highly motivated, while the more negative the less likely the employee will be motivated (Miner 2005). Human behaviour is directed by subjective probability, meaning individual‟s expectation is that their behaviour will lead to particular outcomes. In this case, we are looking at the expectations of temporary agency workers and this will guide in explaining what they see or find as possibilities and opportunities in taking up work within the temporary agency work sector.
The term valence applies to the value a person expects to achieve from an outcome, a feeling about outcomes. If there is a positive valence, (having the outcome is preferred to not having it (Craig 2008). If negative valence exists, not having the outcome is preferred. Outcomes may acquire valence either in their own right or because they are expected to lead to other outcomes that are anticipated sources of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. For instance accumulation of earnings per se might be viewed as inherently satisfying to one person, but to another it is important as a means to an end of buying a sports car (Miner 2005). Vroom set forth a proposition as the base for establishing the valence of specific outcome:
The valence of an outcome to a person is a monotonically increasing function of the algebraic sum of the products of the valences of all other outcomes and his conceptions of its instrumentality for the attainment of these other outcomes. (Vroom 1964, 17)
This implies that the size of an outcome is dependent on the extent to which it is viewed as a means to various other outcomes and the valence of the other outcomes. Since the proposition calls for the multiplication of the perceived instrumentality by the valence of each other outcome, any such outcome that has no valence for a person or that has no instrumental relationship to the outcome whose valence is being computed takes on a zero value, adding nothing to the final sum (Miner 2005). An outcome with a large valence would tend to be one that is linked to many other outcomes, one that is considered highly instrumental to the attainment of a large number of these other outcomes, and one that is linked to other outcomes having large valences. Vroom applied this proposition to occupational choice, job satisfaction and job performance (Miner 2005).
Expectancy is a central variable in this theory. People develop varying conceptions of the probability or degree of certainty that the choice of a particular alternative action will indeed lead to a desired outcome. In contrast to instrumentality, which is an outcome-outcome like, expectancy involves an action-outcome linkage. Expectancies combine with total valence to yield a person‟s aroused motivation or potential for a given course of action. Vroom uses the term force to describe this combination and puts forth another proposition:
The force on a person to perform an act is a monotonically increasing function of the algebraic sum of the products of all the valences of all outcomes and the strength of his expectancies that the act will be followed by the attainment of these outcomes. Vroom 1996, 18)
The total force for an action is uninfluenced by outcomes that have no valence and also by outcomes that are viewed as totally unlikely to result from the actions, since again a multiplicative relationship between the two variables is posited. People are expected to choose among action alternatives in a rational manner to maximize for. When an action is linked to many very positively valent outcomes by strong expectations that it will yield these outcomes, the force can be sizable. For example, promotion is a positive valent form an employee who would rather be promoted than not be promoted Temporary agency workers enter the sector with expectations to achieve certain goals, which according to Herzberg are also known as the motivation factors such as achievement, recognition and advancement (promotion to permanent position). These workers join the sector with the belief that if they will be able to perform their work well and that their success will lead to positive outcomes (their goals). As discussed in the literature review, many of those employed in these sectors are young people in the beginning of their work career and often, taking up work in this sector is seen as accessible entry point into the job market and a place gain experience for future advancement.

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Equity theory

Equity Theory was developed by John Stacey Adams, a workplace and behavioral psychologist in 1963. Much like many of the more prevalent theories of motivation (such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory), Adams’ Equity Theory acknowledges that subtle and variable factors affect an employee’s assessment and perception of their relationship with their work and their employer.
Equity theory attempts to explain relational satisfaction in terms of perceptions of fair/unfair distributions of resources within interpersonal relationships. It describes the relationship between how fairly an employee perceives he/she is treated and how hard he/she is motivated to work. The basic idea behind the equity model is that workers, in an attempt to balance what they put in to their jobs and what they get from them, will unconsciously assign values to each of their various contributions (Brooks 2003). This means that the most highly motivated employee is the one who perceives his rewards are equal to his contributions. If the worker feels that they are working and being rewarded at about the same rate as their peers, then they will judge that is fair treatment. Employees compare themselves with other employees who do not put in the inputs that are equal to the outputs they receive. They tend to compare themselves with other employees to find out if they are being treated fairly (Brooks 2003). Employees may seek a balance between their inputs and outputs and it is not always possible to provide them with correct balance. Although this does not mean that all employees have to be treated in the same way and given what is given to the other employees and this is as a result of the subjective nature of motivation and that not all are motivated by the same outputs. For instance, a newly employed mother may be more interested in having work flexibility than pay increase as may be the case with other employees. To give a fair outcome to all employees, the managers should try and understand the employees better. They should know what the employee are aiming for and try to give them the best possible reward they expect. In temporary work Agencies (TWAs), often the employees from different organizations with different employment terms and conditions work together with the same duties under same managers, but despite all the similarities in duties, temporary agency workers do have less favourable working conditions, less autonomy, less pay, fewer possibilities to influence when, where and how they work when they compare themselves to the regular employees (Olofsdotter, 2008). When employees feel fairly or advantageously treated they are more likely to be motivated; when they feel unfairly treated they are highly prone to feelings of disaffection and demotivation. The actual sense of equity or fairness (or inequity or unfairness) within equity theory is arrived at only after incorporating a comparison between our own input and output ratio with the input and output ratios that we see or believe to be experienced or enjoyed by others in similar situations (Miner 2005). It can arise either in form of anger (underreward) or guilt (overreward). Underreward performance effect occur to the extent that they do not jeopardize future rewards, but if they do, then avenues other than performance should be utilized to achieve equity. Overreward clearly has its effects and over an extended period of time. Perceived inequities lead to discontent, can influence performance, and can result in both trades and leaving the field. Expectations of future rewards exert a motivational influence; therefore the two theories complement each other.
This model explains why people can be happy and motivated by their situation one day, and yet with no change to their terms and working conditions can be made very unhappy and demotivated, if they learn that a colleague (or worse an entire group) is enjoying a better reward-to-effort ratio. In temporary agency work, these differences are very evident when we compare the work situation of temporary agency workers and regular employees, and to a large extent explain the high staff turn-over (Storrie 2006) and strained interpersonal relationship within the sector.

Herzberg two-factor theory

The two-factor theory was first developed by Frederick Herzberg in 1959 and developed further in 1966 and in 1976, although he prefers the term motivation-hygiene. This model is called two- factor because it has its rationale in the dual nature of its approach to the sources of job satisfaction and ultimately job motivation (Miner 2005).According to the hypothesis, the factors that lead to positive attitudes towards one‟s job are different from the factors that create negative job-related attitudes, in other words job satisfaction is not simply the opposite of job dissatisfaction, but independent of one another such that an employee can be happy about some aspects of his job while being unhappy about others (Craig 2008). Job satisfaction according to Herzberg is seen to result from achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility and advancement/promotion (Miner 2005). When present in a job, workers‟ basic needs get to be satisfied creating a positive feeling as well as improved performance. These are the intrinsic aspects of motivation related to personal growth and self-actualization. On the other hand job dissatisfaction are seen to result from work policy, administrative practices, supervision, interpersonal relations, working conditions, job security, benefits and salary which are also known as the hygiene factors (Miner 2005).
Herzberg points out that to ensure a positive feeling and good performance at work, managers must put efforts in achieving good hygiene factors and at the same time put focus on the intrinsic aspects. Meaning they should restructure the jobs to maximize the ability of workers to achieve goals that are meaningfully related to the doing of the job (Miner 2005).
A majority of people are best characterized in terms of both sets of need; there are a few others who are dominated by one set or the other. People who are highly growth-oriented who actually experience what they interpret as unhappiness when deprived of motivators, and those who are fixated on the hygiene-seeking. Hygiene seekers tend to be motivated over a short period of time and require constant supply of external rewards and are not reliable in time of crisis. (Miner 2005) Therefore organizations need to ensure that combine the two (hygiene & motivators) to ensure better performance and productivity. In temporary work agencies, employees are in constant need of external rewards as much as they may have internal factors that motivate them to take up the jobs. These hygiene and motivation factors are the determinants of the pros and cons of working within the sector.
In temporary agency work, we find that both motivation and hygiene factors are at play and these factors determine how employee can be happy about some aspects of his job while being unhappy about others within the sector.

Table of contents :

Concept Clarification
Background Information
Theoretical Framework
Expectancy theory
Equity theory
Herzberg two-factor theory
Results & Analysis
Labour Market Entry
Job Security
Interpersonal Relationships
Control & Performance


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