Ask HR: Is Short-Term Work a Good Alternative to Full-Time Employment?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP September 16, 2021
Ask HR: Is Short-Term Work a Good Alternative to Full-Time Employment?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

I have been a full-time employee for a marketing agency for over 12 years. I am looking for another position but not finding a ton of full-time positions that fit my background. I am considering contract and temp work. Can they be more lucrative? Can they be stable? —Bernard

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: There are marked differences between full-time and short-term employment. Each has unique facets to consider as you look to transition your career.

Contract and temporary positions can be more lucrative, as they tend to pay a higher hourly rate than a full-time position. However, stability isn't a guarantee for these short-term options. It requires greater effort to maintain consistent work opportunities. Minimizing downtime between assignments so you are continually working is vital to the success of short-term work.

Cost of benefits is another consideration. If you decide to work directly for your clients, you may need to provide your own benefits. Alternatively, you can work with a staffing agency specializing in your field that would in turn place you with its clients. The hourly rate is likely a bit lower, but many offer group health insurance after 90 days. In addition, the firm's portfolio of clients is available to help find work when your assignment ends.

Besides financial considerations, being a contractor or temp employee can be a good strategy while hunting for a full-time direct role. Contracting can offer great flexibility as well. You can choose which assignments you want to work on and take time off for job interviews, while also developing your skill set. The robust career movement can also enrich your professional network, increasing the number of referral opportunities available to you. Contracting or temp opportunities can themselves lead to full-time employment if you perform well in the position and are a good fit with the company culture.

Overall, you may stand a better chance landing a short-term assignment that fits your background over a full-time position with a company. Going forward, if you are aware of the differences in work opportunities, you can better tailor your approach to enhance your career path. Best of luck to you.


My company is being acquired by another company, and we've been notified that our department will face layoffs in eight months. However, we can take a buyout of four months' severance. If I decide to stay, is it reasonable to believe they will honor the eight-month commitment? Is the new company obligated to honor the agreement? —Stephen

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: You will want to enter this decision very carefully. Odds are the acquiring company has been through or has people on staff who have been through this process before. They will be well-measured in protecting their interest. In order to come to an equitable agreement, you should be focused on protecting your interests. Understand unless there are agreements in place to do so, there are no guarantees. The new company isn't automatically held to the same obligations as your current company unless expressly outlined in writing.

Start with finding out from your manager or HR if there is an agreement between the two companies to continue your employment for eight months, should you remain. If you have a collective bargaining agreement, which usually exists in a union environment, or an employment contract, issued at hiring, you will want to review it to determine if there is any stipulation to continue your employment for a specific period of time before, during or after an acquisition.

Retention agreements are a common practice when companies want to encourage employees to stay during a critical period of transition. Such agreements generally include a retention bonus as an incentive to stay during a layoff period. If an agreement is in place, it may provide some job protection.

Additionally, you should review the language of the four-month severance agreement. In most cases, a severance package is a written agreement honored by both the current and acquiring company. It requires a commitment from you as well, so before signing any agreement, strongly consider consulting with legal counsel.

As you move forward, it is critical to review all agreements carefully. Discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your current employer. Prior to signing the agreement, clarify your understanding with your employer and, if you choose, with an attorney. You should also verify the agreement would be binding to the new company as well, before making a decision.

Periods of corporate transitions and layoffs are stressful. Arm yourself with detailed information and thoroughly explore your available options to find the best one for you. 



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