WorkWise: The push-pull of short-term work

culp@workwise.netOctober 14, 2012 

(Courtesy of Riva Froymovich) Riva Froymovich is interviewing a Millennial. Her book, “End of the Good Life,” covers their generation’s experience working as temporary employees (Harper Perennial, forthcoming, April, 2013).

Short-term work – temping, freelancing or a series of short-term jobs – impacts individuals differently. The stepped-up pace overwhelms some with feelings of instability and resulting lack of focus, while others use it to propel themselves into other work arrangements.

Social media is accelerating this already stepped-up pace. Erika Oliver sees it compelling temporary workers to keep multiple media outlets updated about their work.

“It’s difficult to quantify the amount of time for updating,” observes this interactive design, development and UX agent at the global creative and marketing staffing firm Aquent LLC in Boston, Mass., “but it’s important on a monthly or quarterly basis. Refresh the portfolio and key words in, say, LinkedIn. If you don’t keep up to date, you might miss an opportunity.”

She points out that when she and others recruit, they scour these profiles. Gone are the days of the simple resume update.

Riva Froymovich, author of “End of The Good Life,” paints a bleak canvas of young people post-college who are working as temporaries (Harper Perennial, forthcoming, April, 2013). She attributes their untenable situation to “the consequences of economic policies in the last 30 years and especially after the financial crisis.”

Froymovich says that employers are breaking the temporary industry’s promise to workers to “get training and move up, causing many young workers to land in a lifetime of dead-end jobs, no supportive networks, mentors or colleagues.” It’s not clear how, if they’re young and out of college, she can make this leap. Employer abuse, she maintains, occurs particularly during economic crunches, when companies can’t afford full-time employees.

Rebekah Epstein, a 2010 graduate of New York University, freelances in public relations under her name in Austin, Tex. She sees the glass as half-full. “Businesses want to hire temporary workers for many reasons, including the economy,” she comments. “In my opinion it’s a sign that the economy is coming back, but people are still cautious.”

Her assignments quadrupled after she relocated from New York. She’s wracked up experience in more than 30 PR firms. Her specialty, pitching and placing stories, falls outside of social media in a traditional PR function.

Epstein predicts a continuing need for specialized temporaries in her field, as multitasking has worn employers down and is inspiring them to return to unitasking.

POSSIBLE REMEDIES

Froymovich believes that few young grads are lucky enough to find assignments in their fields. Epstein looked for short-term work while looking for a full-time job, later discovering she’s earning more than others her age. Her bootstrapping method seems to be working. Froymovich wants greater governmental regulation of employers to keep them from overstepping their bounds with temporaries. “The ILO shows the United States is the worst because of its litigious culture,” she explains, with the infrastructure to bypass permanent employees in favor of temps.

Although the author promotes education for everyone involved and employer responsibility, she concedes, “I don’t know what the solution is in the current framework.”

Epstein predicts employers will “have to regain their focus and pay attention to details,” at which point they’ll discover some of their tasks too time-consuming. Then they’ll hire specialists rather than generalists. She adds that individuals who specialize should find people looking only for specialists, build a track record in a specific field and constantly learn and upgrade their skills.”

Similarly, Froymovich adds, “If (the assignment) is in (your) field, leverage your position, network and build relationships among colleagues ... to move ahead in the field, go to a company that’s related or stay.”

Dr. Mildred L. Culp welcomes your questions at culp@workwise.net. © 2012 Passage Media.

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