Tips for Working With Temps and Temp Agencies

by Sheryl Nance-Nash on February 4, 2014
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Temporary workers can be a godsend. They meet your small-business needs at a lower cost than regular full-time employees with benefits, which is a huge plus when you don’t have the resources to hire permanent staff.

Increasingly, U.S. companies of all sizes are turning to temps for support. If you’re thinking about doing the same, here are some tips for using and selecting an agency, handling the paperwork, and making workers feel like part of your team.

Assess the Costs

Sometimes you may pay higher hourly rates to temporary workers than permanent employees, because you’re paying both wages and a temp-agency fee. Before signing on with an agency, do the math.

For example, if the going rate for a position is $10 an hour and the temp agency tacks on $4 an hour in fees, consider whether you could pay someone you hire yourself less than $14 an hour, advises Jennette Pokorny, chief operating officer for EverNext HR. In other words, could you find someone easily, or would the hassle of procuring a temp on your own outweigh the cost of using an agency?

Another consideration: Do you want the temp position to evolve into a full-time job? If so, and you’re willing to pay a temp $14 an hour, consider hiring a part-time employee for $10 or $12 an hour (plus benefits) instead and then gradually increase their hours, Pokorny suggests. This, she believes, may increase your odds of attracting better talent.

Know, too, that if you aim to turn a part-time temp position into a full-time permanent one, it’s a good idea to budget for the permanent salary — and make sure the candidate is interested staying with the company for that amount prior to bringing him or her in. “Otherwise, you may find yourself investing a few months in having the person on as a temporary, only to have them turn down the permanent job later because they were expecting a higher salary,” cautions Mark Goldman, principal at MGR Accounting Recruiters and a member of The Alternative Board.

Select a Temp Agency

If you go the agency route, choose one or two and stick with them. Build rapport with the representatives who influence which workers are sent your way. Invite the reps to your company, give them a tour, and answer their questions. “Treat them like employees you want to hire. They’ll serve you better,” says Jim Grew, president of The Grew Company.

Pick an agency that screens its temp workers (with drug tests and background checks). “You are allowing temps access to your business and your assets, so make sure you protect yourself,” Pokorny adds.

Make Temps Feel at Ease

Once you’ve selected an agency (or two) to send you top talent, you want to keep your great finds. To be successful using temps, assign each one a mentor on staff. This provides a means for the temp to get answers to questions, which can help increase his or her commitment to your business and boost productivity, Grew says.

Provide every temp with an orientation that covers basic company policies, including those involving OSHA and labor laws. Share the company’s culture: Treat temps as “part of the family,” and ask your employees to do so as well. It takes an active, specific conversation to accomplish this, not just an invocation, Grew notes.

Do the Proper Paperwork

When using temporary workers, keep impeccable records. “Employers should have a signed offer letter for each temporary hire, properly classify any temporary employee under wage and hour laws, and request any necessary work permits for minors. Agricultural or foreign workers may need additional forms,” says Marta Moakley, legal editor at XpertHR.

Don’t get into trouble by thinking that you can avoid complaints or even lawsuits by hiring people indirectly through agencies. You could still face legal exposure as a “co-employer,” if there’s a problem, such as claims of discrimination. Workplace protections apply to temps, too.

Sheryl Nance-Nash is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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