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The Myth of the Disposable Worker

Bloomberg Businessweek reporters Peter Coy, Michelle Conlin and Moira Herbst this month took an in-depth look into the recent phenomenon in American business of hiring temporary, or contract, workers. The piece, which ran with the headline "The Disposable Worker," touched on many themes that are familiar to us at Allonhill.

Our business model calls for a strong infrastructure that supports all of our business lines, not just due diligence. But in due diligence, we depend heavily on people willing to work on a contract or temporary basis because of the cyclical nature of the work. We employ a large number of skilled temporary workers, trained by us, to perform due diligence work across the country.

Many of the more poignant points in the article are all too familiar to me as an employer. It doesn't take much of an imagination to picture the stress of not knowing if you'll be working next week, or of having no benefits. It would be stressful to me not to know which desk I would sit at from one week to the next, or not to know the names of my co-workers. As someone who usually tells new employees, "If you know where the bathroom is by the end of your first week, consider it a success," I am obviously far too dependent on the security of knowing what to expect to ever lose sight of the raw discomfort that a temporary position brings.

One idea the reporters address that I take issue with: that management isn't motivated to build loyalty among temporary workers, since they have become a fungible good. "The idea of loyalty "I will stick with you and you will reward me 'that is effectively gone," Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, says in the article.

I disagree with that, and I bet other CEOs who employee temporary staff do too. I believe strongly that loyalty among our temporary and contract employees is critical to our success. These are the people who touch every loan that we review. We need them to believe in what we are doing, and to approach their work with real commitment. We need them, we value them tremendously, and we work hard to show that to them every day in the workplace.

The economics of our business dictate that we can't hire all the people we need on a permanent, full-time basis. If we did, we wouldn't be in business for long, and that would be bad for everyone. But we take pride, and pleasure, in cultivating the best possible work environment. We train, we support, we coach, we make it fun, we make it pleasant, and it is all because we believe it is of paramount importance that we be able to count on these people to work for us and to deliver the finest work in the industry.

I read long ago that uncertainty is one of the hardest things a person can face. But I believe that in this tough market, with stunning levels of joblessness, a temporary job at Allonhill is actually a pretty good job. I especially hope that it is a job that brings the rewards of camaraderie, of being part of an effort to change an entire industry, and of feeling good about yourself as someone who is willing to get out and work hard to excel at your profession.