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By Robert Whalen

You don't have to look too far into your brand new 1998 desk calendar to see that the hectic days and nights of tax season loom directly ahead. So now is the time to consider how a temporary staffing service could help you deal with this seasonal workload crunch as well as with everyday staffing needs.

When considering how a temporary staffing service may help meet your staffing needs, keep the following 10 questions in mind:

1. Whom and what do I need? It's important to clearly define the role or roles you need filled. Think about the specific skills a temporary employee should possess to provide the optimum contribution. A good way to get these answers is to ask those who will be working closest with the temporary employee what needs to be done and what kind of skills are required to do it. Once you've defined the qualities you need, make sure to communicate these goals to the staffing provider.

2. Is the staffing firm reputable? The firm you select as your provider should be a member of the National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services (NATSS) and/or the National Technical Staffing Association (NTSA). It should have policies and procedures in place for its temporary employees, including confidentiality and proprietary information policies.

3. Does the staffing firm know my business? There are hundreds of temporary staffing firms, but they're not all equal. A particular staffing service may have an exceptional network of temporary employees for jobs requiring manual labor, but have little or no experience providing staff to financial institutions or accounting firms. If you need a quick staff-up during tax season, make sure the staffing firm you use is experienced at providing flexible staff for the task at hand.

4. Are you ready to put the temporary employee to work? A common mistake is to hire a temporary employee, then have him or her sitting around while the hiring firm's managers try to decide what to do next. Be prepared by drawing up a list of activities the temporary employee can dig into right away. Allow time for any required training or orientation. Set up a fully operational workstation and provide all necessary tools for the temporary employee to do the job. A little preparation will go a long way toward getting the
most from a temporary employee.

5. Are you providing enough support? Another common mistake made by firms that hire temporary employees is, after they provide a warm initial welcome and detailed instructions, they leave them completely on their own. Questions are inevitably going to arise and temporary employees need to have someone available to them for answers. Ensuring that the temporary employee has someone to go to with questions can optimize their effectiveness.

6. Are your expectations realistic? Set realistic goals for temporary employees. Don't hold them to standards set by the best employee you ever had during his or her most productive week ever. Set challenging but practical goals, and you will be pleasantly surprised if they're exceeded.

7. Are your expectations too low? Many temporary professionals--particularly those provided by reputable, well-established staffing firms--are experienced, talented, and creative professionals with a wide range of skills. Don't contract for someone with an advanced degree and have him or her stuffing envelopes. Make sure you maximize their potential.

8. Is there a problem you need to address? If, after a reasonable amount of orientation, things aren't working out with a temporary employee, address the problem immediately. Either voice your concerns directly to the temporary employee, remembering to provide examples and solutions that would rectify the problem, or talk to the staffing service. Whatever you do, don't wait too long. Put yourself in the temporary employee's shoes--if you worked at a job for a couple of weeks without receiving any negative feedback, wouldn't you conclude that you must be doing it right?

9. Are you getting the most for your money? Once you've contracted with a staffing service, keep in contact with them to ensure that you're using your temporary employees to your best advantage. The staffing service may be able to recommend ways for you to get the most out of the relationship within your budget. For example, hiring another temporary employee may be preferable to paying overtime to one already in house, or the temporary you are using may have skills you may not be aware of.

10.Does using temporary employees work for you? After you've worked with staffing services and temporary employees, assess the effect it had on your business. Was it worth it? How can you do it better next time? Did the staffing service provide what it said it would? Were the temporary employees they provided well-trained, professional, and suited to your business? Were any worthy of an offer of full-time employment? Answering these and any other questions that arise can help you determine how temporary staffing services can help you get through when crunch time inevitably hits. *

Robert Whalen, CPA, is the president of Office Specialists, Inc., a regional provider of strategic staffing services headquartered in Peabody, Massachusetts. Whalen recently held the position of president for the National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services.


Michael Goldstein, CPA
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