Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Temp-To-Perm: Good, Bad or Indifferent?

In the advertising and marketing business there is a vigorous market for freelance talent, especially among creative people – writers, art directors, producers.  Those lucky enough to have a good reputation and a large client/contact list can make a very good living while freelancing.  Many of these people end up being hired permanently. 

There are many companies that like to initially hire on a temporary basis and, if it works out, will hire people for keeps.  This is excellent when candidates are out of work and between jobs – and want to work at the company.  It is good for both the company and potential employees as it gives each a chance to evaluate the other.

This is a great way to hire on a short-term basis.  Many candidates actually prefer it.  The problem is that it often takes several months for both the company and the candidate to become comfortable with each other and fully understand their warts and imperfections.  

However, freelance is just not the same as full time, at least on a psychological basis. A freelance employee is available to work on other assignments, even if the current gig is permalance (full-time freelance at the same company).  A freelance employee still has a certain degree of autonomy which does not exist with a full-time worker. And a freelancer can walk away from their temporary job with complete immunity, even if they have committed to stay longer. Many freelancers prefer those benefits.  It is the same for the company.  There is no real commitment on the employer’s part as freelance rarely comes with benefits, including vacation.

On the other hand, I recently accepted, but then turned down, an assignment from a well-known marketing firm.  They never told me that when they hired a candidate, any candidate, the first three months was always on a W-4 basis and freelance.  Unfortunately, I only found this out while I was about to negotiate an offer for a candidate who was currently employed full time and relatively happy where she was. When the company spelled this out as the basis of the hire, I advised the candidate not to take the job; I couldn’t recommend that she leave a relatively secure job for one where they were obviously “testing” her. The company was not happy with me.  The feeling was mutual.

Hiring a candidate on this basis is unfair if a candidate is working.  For starters, it sets the wrong tone.  While in most states, all hires are “at will”; the beginning of a new employee/employer relationship should be with both parties fully embracing each other with complete enthusiasm.  If the employer starts the relationship and makes it clear that it is a trial period, this is indicative of a lack of commitment on their part, as opposed to a full time hire, which would indicate complete enthusiasm. 

Even beyond that, there is a certain distrust that exists when an employee is overtly hired on a temp basis. It also sends a signal that there is probably an issue with people working at the company. In my opinion, any company which does this habitually, knows that there is something inherently wrong with their culture if they must hire first on a trial period. I know one marketing consultancy that has a huge fall-off with new employees because the CEO is extraordinarily difficult and abusive. Their hiring of-employees on a 90 day trial period is indicative of their awareness of this problem, even if they deny it.

I love the idea of temp to perm when an employee is out of work and wants to work at the hiring company.  It is a true chance of trying before buying.  However in this case, the company is obligated to handle the employee as if they were committed and full time.  That way it works for both of them.


  1. What you've written is excellent - but only one side of the equation. A dear friend of mine runs a temp employment agency; she prides herself on finding "the perfect fit." She's so good at it that clients often try to move her temps onto staff...with NO regard to paying her any recruitment fee or any fee for what becomes lost income two ways. She loses the income from that job as well as any other jobs that temp might have filled. As usual, what seems like a good system just gets abused by employers whenever possible.

    1. Steve,
      Your friend needs to write a better contract for her placements.


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