Journal article

Workplace flexibility and control in temporary agency work


No matching items found.

Research Areas

No matching items found.

Publication Details

Author list: Olofsdotter, Gunilla

Publication year: 2012

ISSN: 2000-8023



This article explores workers’ experiences of flexibility, control, and autonomy in organisations with extensive contracting of staff from temporary work agencies (TWAs). The starting point for this article is in theoretical perspectives on workplace flexibility and organisational control practices I argue that workers’ opportunities to control and have autonomy over their work and accomplish workplace flexibility are interconnected with the controlling practices that are present in their everyday working life. In organisations with extensive hiring of temporary agency workers (TAWs), this is complicated further, as workers from different organisations, with different management strategies, are working together at the same work site. Open-ended, semi-structured interviews were conducted with TAWs and regular employees in three user firms with extensive contracting of TAWs. A questionnaire was also completed by them. The results show that there are few opportunities for either TAWs or regular staff to achieve workplace flexibility in terms of making choices about where, when, and for how long they are going to work. The findings contradict assumptions that formal differences between the employment conditions of regulars and agency workers affect their opportunities for workplace flexibility. Similar technical control systems were used in the user firms despite differences between assembly line production and customer support. Despite these similarities in the opportunities for flexibility for both groups of workers, the findings showed some differences between TAWs’ and regulars’ everyday experiences of flexibility and control. The findings showed how close surveillance by technological systems was intertwined with a normative control, which means the awareness among TAWs of their replaceable position implicates anxiety about the consequences of absence from work. As a consequence of their vulnerable position, TAWs were striving to prove themselves to be competent to both the user firms and the agency. This highlights the dualistic controlling practices that TAWs are subjected to by user firms as well as the agency in their everyday work. This constitutes an effective and powerful system of organisational control.


No matching items found.


No matching items found.


No matching items found.