• 224 pages
  • 5.5 x 8.25
  • Price: $27.95
  • EAN: 9781566393867
  • Publication: Jan 1996
  • Price: $79.50
  • EAN: 9781566393850
  • Publication: Jan 1996

Just a Temp

Kevin D. Henson

"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.


"Henson presents a sobering picture of a fast-growing industry that is worthwhile reading for the parties involved, especially, perhaps, for the staffs of the client companies who create the daily working conditions in which the temporary workers operate." Monthly Labor Review

"Henson presents a descriptive study of 'temp' work that highlights the dehumanizing aspects of both clerical work and contingent work. This book adds to the substantial and growing literature on office work with the important focus on employment that is assigned on a temporary basis." Gender and Society

"Given the objective of chronicling the machinations surrounding temporary work, Just a Temp is a constructive contribution to the sociology of work literature." Social Forces

About the Author(s)

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

In the Series

Women in the Political Economy

No longer active. Women in the Political Economy, edited by Ronnie J. Steinberg, includes books on women and issues of work, family, social movements, politics, feminism, and empowerment. It emphasizes women's roles in society and the social construction of gender and also explores current policy issues like comparable worth, international development, job training, and parental leave.