On the Job: Here Come the Supertemps

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Some 58 percent of companies plan to use temporary employees — at all levels — over the next few years, the Harvard Business Review reports. Authors Jody Greenstone Miller and Matt Miller say that temporary employment is no longer limited to administrative assistants, warehouse workers, or other low-level work. High-level people are choosing to work as temporary employees and earning money comparable to what they would have earned as an employee, or even as a partner, in a traditional company.

When you have specialized skills that are in demand, it can be to your advantage to work solo. That allows you to take on the projects you like, rather than dealing with the typical administrative and political headaches in a traditional corporate job…

Working on your own is not traditional, but the people who do it find it to their liking. A 2011 survey of independent professionals (in other words, high-end temporary workers) found that close to 80 percent of these workers were satisfied with their current situation. That figure is especially notable given that 45 percent of the respondents had been “forced” into that role.

Among those who aren’t forced into these less permanent positions are the highly educated and experienced women who are building their own mommy track. Instead of settling for a less fulfilling career in favor of a family, these women get both. Brooke Borgen writes:

I am absolutely seeing this “Supertemp” trend among many 30-something moms (like my business partner and me) who have incredible resumes and have attended some of the country’s best educational institutions. As driven and motivated people, most of our career paths end up with a binary all-or-nothing proposition once we have kids whereby even scaling back to a “part-time” schedule can be a 40 hour work week instead of the 60-80 hours we were used to. In order to spend quality time with my kids after getting my MBA at [Harvard Business School] and then working at Bain & Co, I opted out of the traditional corporate track in order to do freelance projects. My business partner, a mergers and acquisitions attorney at a major law firm, was in the same boat and Canopy Advisory Group was born: now a portfolio of ~25 professional services consultants across consulting, law, finance, and marketing in Denver, Colo.

Will such “supertemps” become more common? Health insurance can be difficult, if not impossible, for an independent person to obtain. People who would like to work solo but have health concerns cannot give up their traditional jobs without losing health coverage. This is a nationwide problem, with health care tied to employment for most people. But companies do see value in an experienced, capable temp. There’s less risk in hiring a temp then there is in hiring a “permanent” employee. And filling a role with an interim person can allow a company the time to determine which path they would like to take.

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