Just a Temp

Front Cover
Temple University Press, 1996 - Business & Economics - 202 pages

"So this is where the brain starts to shut down and that which we treasure most, our personal identities, begins to slip away....I suppose I should be thankful; it's a paycheck." With this disturbing sentiment, Kevin Henson begins a voyage into the world of "the temp." For several years while a graduate student, Henson logged in thousands of hours as a temporary worker in offices throughout Chicago's Loop. Those experiences, and numerous interviews with other temps and temporary counselors, create a vivid and often disheartening picture of working 9 to 5 behind the receptionist's desk, telephone console, or data-entry terminal.

In their own voices, the temps in this book lament the frequently demeaning and mundane nature of many assignments:

"You're not paid to think."

"Temps don't have names; they are just 'the temp.'"

"They always harass me...because I just wear a sweater and slacks."

"The worst part is telling people what you do. They always ask 'When are you going to get a real job?'"

Where the temporary service industry is quick to extol the virtues of temp work—mainly its flexibility—Henson and his cast of temps reveal the tacit pressure to persevere through an unpleasant assignment, to accept every assignment offered, and to readjust personal lives to do so. Outsiders to the established office culture and hierarchy, most temps are asked to do low-skill work and leave more detailed or complicated tasks for the return of the permanent employee.

Whether temp life is a preferred choice or grudgingly accepted as the last option when "real" or permanent work is unavailable, all temps must confront issues of gender, identity, and self-esteem. Henson examines these issues, documenting the concerns and interpretations of temp workers about their own work lives.

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About the author (1996)

Kevin D. Henson is a visiting assistant professor of sociology at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

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