Tempreneur: A New Breed of Free Agent

Whatever pundits say about the economic recovery prospects, one thing is clear: this recession will leave a few changes in its wake in the way companies organize their workforce.

The last decade saw a series of turbulent employment times and produced a gradual sea change on both the employer and employee front, sped up by the current recession. This year seems to underscore the shift: a need for more flexible or contingent workers as a permanent business solution.

Forced by economic uncertainty and trying to avoid rounds of layoffs, employers are making contingent workers integral to their strategic workforce planning. All the usual elements are there: temporary workers, from agencies, independent contractors or freelancers; outsourced employees; part-timers; and consultants. But a new phenomenon is coming into play, different from all those: the free agent with a new mindset and career goal; what I call the tempreneur.

How is it new and different? Because it is not driven by a necessity to make ends meet between full-time jobs; rather, it’s a personal career choice. Temporary workers go from project to project, usually onsite. Entrepreneurs have made a career decision to work for themselves, usually off-site. Tempreneurs constitute a sort of hybrid between the two.

Similar, Yet Different

While they are unique by comparison to most workers of prior decades, there is still some overlap. For example, tempreneurs must collaborate and work on a mutual agreeable schedule with the client, much as consultants do, but there are important differences:

  • Tempreneurs are more senior than the average temporary
  • Most temporaries require much more supervision than tempreneurs
  • On the flip side, oftentimes consultants are more senior than tempreneurs, and they leave much of the execution to the client
  • Since tempreneurs are not as senior as consultants, they fill much of the massive middle ground in meeting workload demands

A New Breed of Free Agent

Many high level employees have lost faith in “job security” as they once knew it. For tempreneurs, independence is more important than that old mirage, and mid- to high-level stints allow them to keep their freedom. They may even have a sole proprietorship of their own and/or even be a high level temporary at an agency at times during the year. They may work in such widely ranging fields as marketing, accounting, information technology, health care or legal.

A tempreneur has real talent, experience and professionalism — and choices. They are not seeking full-time positions. In the coming decade, they are more likely to be more wooed by employers to join their full-time ranks – with all the associated “perks.” But those bennies now come with a heavy price, such as lack of freedom and job insecurity, for many. Employers unfamiliar with the potential contributions of tempreneurs will have to realize that they are a force to reckon with in the decade ahead and beyond; a new brand of employee – not a “temp.”

Of course, regular, full time employees will never vanish. Companies need the stability and consistency of a core staff. But entrepreneurship is on the rise (as this Entrepreneur article) and at the same time, many realize the start up costs involved with a full-fledged business – which nudges a lot of talented and motivated people towards joining the tempreneur ranks.

A Longer Road from Temp to Perm

A recent Associated Press article talks about the boost in temporary hiring as usually signaling a recovery – yet this period has been protracted, with no rebound. It’s clear that for 2010 and beyond employers are adopting a variety of strategies to organize and manage contingent workers and have them work into existing system.

Staffing Industry Review Magazine reported in January 2010 that Bill Yoh, Chairman of staffing agency Yoh, believes many companies will use 2010 as an opportunity to begin projects they had put on the back burner for the past couple of years. He said, “As this happens, there will be an increase in the demand for contingent workers.” He added, “Most HR executives are now charged with a responsibility for comprehensive workforce strategies, and contingent labor will be a key part of this going forward.”

HR also needs to be aware of the liabilities and legal concerns:

  • Training and retraining is required: Regardless of the level of seniority or experience, tempreneurs must be trained or retrained if they are to be most effective.
  • Legal concerns: Every contingent employee should be made aware of their status is, especially what benefits
are available to them in relation to full-time employees. Also be clear that there is no guarantee they will be hired full-time.
  • Full-time versus part-time perceptions: Part-time employees may be working alongside full-timers for longer than anticipated, without the same benefits. Prevent sinking of tempreneurs’ morale by treating them with the same respect as you would your permanent staff.

Know the differences; understand the benefits and pitfalls of “co-employment,” as explained in the February 2010 issue of HR Magazine.

Building a Smarter, Agile Workforce

A varied, flexible workforce of highly skilled professionals will help with cost-containment and competitiveness. You should become well-honed in your strategic use of every type of contingent worker and combine a team from top to bottom with your full-time workers. In that context, the tempreneur phenonmenon is one that cannot be overlooked in the years ahead.