Flexible resources and adaptable human beings: the identity of temporary agency workers

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The purpose of this paper is to explore the work-related identity of temporary agency workers (TAWs), a topic that has received a limited amount of attention in previous research.

The study uses a qualitative method and draws upon interviews with 30 TAWs from four agencies in the south of Denmark in order to link the experiences, as narrated by Danish TAWs, to their identity.

The study unpacks the components of the TAWs’ work-related identity and provides an understanding of the self-notions that the TAWs mobilize to respond to the conditions of temporary agency work. It identifies six components of work-related identity: Being new and unfamiliar, demonstrating the ability to adapt, dealing with uncertainty, feeling inferior and marginalized, pursuing opportunities, and the necessity to impress others. Both the agency and the user-firm try to regulate the TAWs’ identity as they expect agency workers to be flexible and adaptable persons, who possess a high degree of self-control. In so doing they provide a template for identification that the workers have to respond to. The study shows that TAWs develop this identity along two dimensions: their liminal position between the agency and the user-firm; and prescribed identity templates as TAWs strive for autonomy and craft their own work-related identity.
Practical implications

There are managerial challenges with regard to motivation, tensions between temps and permanent staff, low levels of organizational commitment, well-being, and the performance of TAWs. These challenges can be better understood (and probably solved) when agencies and user-firms would take into account the agency workers’ struggle for identification. The paper demonstrates that the work-related identity of TAWs not only has consequences for their performance but also for their whole life. Furthermore, the constitution of agency workers as flexible resource has consequences for HRM in the user-firm.

The paper contributes to the limited amount of knowledge about the meanings that TAWs reflexively attach to themselves as they seek to make sense of the conditions of temporary agency work. Investigating their work-related identity helps to better understand the implications of temporary agency work based on the investigation of the agency workers’ experiences.
TidsskriftJournal of Organizational Effectiveness
Udgave nummer2
Sider (fra-til)142-157
StatusUdgivet - 2018


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