A  June 2010 Hays survey found that 30% of employers in the private sector report the greatest motivation for using temporary, contract or interim workers is to avoid permanent headcount. Employers in the public sector, however, reported a more positive outlook on temporary workers, with 44% citing them as essential to the success of their organisation.

Given the unprecedented public sector job losses since the survey was published, I wonder how those perceptions will have changed?

It’s apparent that one of the impacts of the recession is that interim or locum working is on the rise. I know it’s hard to convince permanent employees who are staring the haunting specter of redundancy in the face but this isn’t always a bad thing. It does allow organisations to adapt rapidly to changing economic fortunes; enables finance directors to re-direct precious budget lines; transfers risk to the employee; frees the business from the most of its training and development and certainly career development responsibilities for the individuals concerned; caps wage demands; facilitates management by objectives and it can be used to buy in expertise and objectivity at relatively short notice.

But there’s always a flipside. Relationship development and stakeholder management is linked to tenure; accountability for medium to long term decision making is virtually absent; there’s very little motivation for temporary or contracted staff  to deliver over and above the basics; it takes time to get up to speed and when the contract ends much of the organisations’ intellectual property will walk out the door. Claims about objectivity and innovation are questionable too. Just how many risks is someone going to take and how much challenge are they going to offer when they have no security in an insecure market? This is bound to adversely affect medium to long term decision making.

To cap it all – employers are placing the fate of important workstreams or even whole functions in the hands of contactors repeatedly sourced, screened and supplied in turn by third party recruitment firms. That’s quite a long and potentially fragile value chain.

Temp agencies are increasingly becoming key custodians of the brands of their clients. They need to understand the challenges, values and culture inside out if they’re to place successful interims and help both parties accentuate the positives.And that isn’t easy.

I wonder how many agencies are attempting to address the unique challenges interim candidates are likely to face? And as the interim market, like it or loathe it, seems set to continue to grow, I wonder how many HR directors are examining the interface between their internal recruiters, their agencies and their brand and considering the long term effects of short term expediency as they attempt to restore and maintain their reputation.