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“The Good Temp” by Vicki Smith Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Apr 1st, 2020


The rise of temporary help service industry and its effects on the society has become a major concern to sociologists and other social scientists. A number of scholars have conducted studies on this topic. In their book The Good Temp, Vicki Smith and Esther Neuwirth try to tackle the subject of temporary labor market. The major reason why they wrote the book is to help people gain a better understanding on ‘temp’ work and employment relations.

They gathered their information from an observation practice conducted in an agency in Silicon Valley. In addition, the book contains 263 articles on temporary employment. The articles are drawn from business journals published between 1960 and 1968. Smith and Neuwirth’s study is a significant addition to the literature on temporary employment. However, the study has its unique limitations. Different scholars also express their views on the study. In the current paper, the author analyzes the topics covered in the book and provides a summary of some of the sources of data used.

A Critical Review of The Good Temp by Vicki Smith and Esther B. Neuwirth

For the longest time, sociologists have been concerned with the rise of the temporary help industry (Cao & Leung, 2010). They have raised questions on its consequences in relation to managerial dynamics, insecurity in the job market, and employees’ outcomes. A number of studies on temporary employment have been conducted by different scholars over time.

They address the issues of the levels of salaries paid to the workers, the benefits provided by employers, and the prevailing job structure. However, less is known about how the temporary help industry has re-devised impermanent employment over the past five decades (Cao & Leung, 2010).

In addition, there is no clear explanation on how the industry continues to grow in contemporary society. The Good Temp is an effort by Smith and Neuwirth (2008) to address these less known issues. The book makes an important contribution to the understanding of contingent work and employment dynamics.

The Good Temp is sociologically relevant. The reason is because the analysis conducted by Smith and Neuwirth is based on the social constructivist perspective of sociology. As a result, it brings about a vital review of the literature at hand on the temporary aid industry. Smith and Neuwirth do not agree with the fact that ‘temps’ are historical entities (Fasenfest, 2009).

In their book, they fully explain how temporary employment has evolved over the years. They also explain the consequences of changes in work and employment affiliations. The changes bring about different forms of inequality and destabilization of the workforce.

The book lacks technical information. As a result, it makes an interesting read for the common individual. It is also full of core ideas capable of captivating a large audience. The audience includes academic students, people interested in work relationships, and human resource managers.

A Review of The Good Temp: Background Research

Temporary employees are also referred to as contractual or interim staff. The workers are expected to leave their occupation within a certain period of time. In some cases, temporary professional workers refer to themselves as consultants (Cao & Leung, 2010). The professionals include lawyers, accountants, and engineers. Temp employees can also work on a full or part-time basis. However, the arrangement varies on individual cases.

In the United States, most people opt to enter the labor market through temporary help agencies. They include those who long for permanent jobs. As a result, about 2.5 million people are set up for jobs every day through the help firms (Cao & Leung, 2010). The staffing business emerged after World War Two. It started with small agencies situated in urban areas. At the time, temps were mostly middle-aged women (Smith & Neuwirth, 2008). They were employed to fill the gaps left by absent employees.

Over the years, there has been a slow but extensive increase in the employment of temps. By 2000, there were over 3.5 million impermanent employees in the United States (Smith & Neuwirth, 2008). In 2008, there were 13,722 temporary aid firms (Cao & Leung, 2010).

Despite the huge number, revenues for each firm totaled to over 7.4 million dollars. The biggest help firms extend across more than sixty nations. However, the most profitable are those situated in emerging economies or those that have been liberalized. The business is worth over € 157 billion annually. The industry’s main driving force is the yearning for temps that are flexible and adaptable to the market (Smith & Neuwirth, 2008).

The Views of other Scholars on The Good Temp

The book adds important information into the literature on temporary employment. It has received both positive and negative reviews from different scholars.

Positive reviews

The text provides a convincing study of the relationship between temporary help industries and temp employees. The contractual interactions are social processes that are used by both parties to maintain the image of the good temp (Fasenfest, 2010). Smith and Neuwirth (2008) provide an interesting historical and ethnographic study of the topic.

They provide a convincing explanation of the role of temporary help industry in creating and promoting impermanent employment. They also present new ideas on how to improve the economic status of the rapidly growing temp labor force. In addition, the book is full of originality. To this end, it blends the industry’s social economic dynamics with political developments.

Smith and Neuwirth shed more light on issues that were poorly understood in the past. The authors reveal how temporary help agencies shape the demand for their employees and improve the quality of jobs offered (Pedulla, 2010). In addition they explain measures adopted by the firms to attract and retain their labor force. Smith and Neuwirth (2008) provide an extensive analysis of the shortcomings associated with temp employment. Their description of the industry is helpful. That is in comparison to previous studies conducted in the field.

Negative reviews

The book relies on information from 1,400 hours of Neuwirths observation (Pedulla, 2010). She acted as an observer in two different temporary help firms. Much of the text in the book lacks important details from the observations. Smith and Neuwirth (2008) present very positive conclusions from their research.

However, most readers have very little knowledge on the work force and organizations addressed. The strength and weaknesses of the book’s claims cannot be fully acknowledged by the readers (Pedulla, 2010). The reason is that the agencies to be investigated are limited. The research on the study was also carried out in a stretched labor market. Additional theorizing should have been done during the cause of the study.

The book puts more emphasis on positive features of temporary help firms. The authors discuss how temporary aid agencies personnel try to secure higher pay and safer work places for temps. Smith and Neuwirth (2008) only present their views on the negative side of impermanent work in the last chapter (Fasenfest, 2010). They opt not to present the temp industry as the solely benevolent performer in the market.

However, the books makeup separates its main analysis from the criticism on temp labor put up by other researchers. The criticisms include lack employee benefits and low pay. The authors should have integrated both negative and positive aspects of their study throughout the book (Pedulla, 2010). From the integration, a more vibrant depiction of impermanent work force would have been produced

The book does not provide any clue on the how prevalent the good temp policy is among the temporary help firms (Fasenfest, 2010). The arguments in the entire book are expressed in general terms. For example, the authors say that firms today do their best to protect temporary employees from mismanagement. However, no convincing explanation is given to support that fact. They also mention in general terms the factor that sells in the world of temporary service.

Smith and Neuwirth fail to put their contribution within the bigger prose of temporary employment. The study lacks a methodical assessment of the literature review (Pedulla, 2010). There is minimal attempt to draw out the hypothetical lessons and to relate them to bigger perspectives of existing capitalism.

One example is the lesson presented by post-Fordism theories. The two authors do not methodically tackle any of the arguments presented in Robert E. Parker’s Flesh Peddlers and Warm Bodies (Fasenfest, 2010). That is despite them rejecting the book. In addition, the fail to explain in greater extents the operations of temporary help firms. That is despite them admitting the agencies exist and operate on the edges of the labor market.

The Good Temp: Sources of Information

Smith and Neuwirth (2008) get their information from an insider’s outlook. That was on the interior structure of a temporary help firm situated in Silicon Valley. Neuwirth assumed the role of a participant-observer in the agency for 4 months (Smith & Neuwirth, 2008).

Their analysis integrates a historical perception. That is on the emergence of temporary help agencies. The two authors discuss how the temp industry has played a major role in the establishment of a new market for temporary work. They also explain its part in the wearing down of stable employment model.

In addition, Smith and Neuwirth (2008) use content evaluation method to analyze the development of the temporary employment firms (Pedulla, 2010). That is towards the end of the 20th century. They also draw their information from 263 articles. They are from personnel and business magazines published between 1960 and 1990.

Vicki and Esther use them to argue on how the help agency attempted to shape the temps labor market. Their study offers a strong experimental support for the hypothetical insight on temporary aid industry. The insight shows that The Good Temp is a social and historical structure of the temp industry.

Link with Course Topics

The book is linked to sociology. Its authors central analysis is from the social constructivist viewpoint in sociology. That levies an imperative evaluation of the current works on the temporary help agencies. Vicki and Esther fail to acknowledge the fact that temps are historical entities (Fasenfest, 2010). The books main point of focus is on changes in work and employment affiliations. It seeks to explain how the transformations bring about different forms of inequality and destabilization in the work force.

Sociology helps people to understand themselves better (Volti, 2008). That is because it looks at how the social world dictates the manner in which populace act, think and feel. In addition, its plays vital role in influencing decision making. That is an individuals own choices and organizations.

Sociologists use a methodical way of gathering information (Volti, 2008). Smith and Neuwirth (2008) try to gather their information in the same systematic manner. Their study also helps people to better understand temp labor world and temps. That clearly shows the link between their study and sociology.


A great deal of research on temporary employment has been conducted by different social scientists. In their book, Smith and Neuwirth (2008) present examples of future studies that will develop a better understanding of temporary workforce (Pedulla, 2010). They encourage researchers to embark on relative studies across temporary help industries. That is to increase the credibility of their findings.

They also emphasize on the need for research on temps themselves. That is to understand their take on the help industry’s efforts to establish The Good Temp. In addition, the authors stress the importance of future content scrutiny’s on literatures about self-assistance and occupation search (Pedulla, 2010). That is to examine ways used to lure people towards the temporary job market. The book is a valuable addition to the prose on dependent work. It also lays a platform for more sociological studies on employment relations.


Cao, S., & Leung, D. (2010). .

Fasenfest, D. (2009). Book review: Smith, V., & Neuwirth, E. B. (2008). The Good Temp. Work and Occupations, 36(1), 66-68.

Pedulla, D. (2010). The Good Temp by Vicki Smith and Esther B. Neuwirth. Social Forces, 89(1), 35-40.

Smith, V., & Neuwirth, E. (2008). The good temp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Volti, R. (2008). An introduction to the sociology of work and occupations. Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press.

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