Workplace Culture

Mental Health Issues Affecting Large Number of Temporary Workers

By Staff Report

Aug. 14, 2009


In this economy many HR executives have worried about the mental health of their full-time employees, but they should actually be more concerned about their temporary workers, according to research published by McGill University.


Workers hired for temporary or contract work face a higher risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, according to the research authored by Amelie Quesnel-Vallee, a medical sociologist at Montreal-based McGill.


Today there’s a belief among many employers that having a workforce that is flexible—filled with many temporary and contract workers—leads to greater productivity, says Quesnel-Vallee.


“But if we factor in this increased risk for mental health problems, which we know is a leading reason for absenteeism, that theory might not be correct,” she says.


The study, based on records collected biennially between 1992 and 2002 from the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, focuses on workers who don’t expect to be with their current jobs for more than one year. It was presented for the first time Sunday, August 9, in San Francisco at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting.


Employers need to be mindful of the fact that obviously they have economic imperatives and there is temptation to go with a more flexible workforce, but the bottom line is that it may not be as obvious as they might predict,” Quesnel-Vallee says.


As of 2005, about 4 percent of the U.S. workforce—or 5.7 million American workers—held temporary positions, according to the most recent data available from the Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of about 50,000 households conducted by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are currently 1.8 million workers employed by temporary agencies, according to the BLS.


It would make sense that the paper’s findings are more acute today given the economic environment, says Janice Dragotta, senior consultant, health and productivity, in the San Francisco office of Watson Wyatt Worldwide.


Other than the instability of their jobs, another contributing factor to temporary workers’ inclination to mental health issues could be that they often lack social ties to the rest of the workforce, she says.


“They may not have the opportunity to develop relationships with others or have a sense of work-family that others do in their work lives,” she says.


Also, many times temporary workers don’t have access to health care benefits, so if they are suffering from depression or other issues, they can’t see a doctor without paying out of pocket, she says.


“If they are beginning to feel some anxiety or depression, they may have less access to potential health care,” Dragotta says.


—Jessica Marquez


Stay informed and connected. Get human resources news and HR features via Workforce Management’s Twitter feed or RSS feeds for mobile devices and news readers

About Workforce.com

blog workforce

We build robust scheduling & attendance software for businesses with 500+ frontline workers. With custom BI reporting and demand-driven scheduling, we help our customers reduce labor spend and increase profitability across their business. It's as simple as that.

Book a call
See the software

Related Articles

workforce blog

Workplace Culture

5 lunch break statistics that shed light on American work culture

Summary Research shows how taking lunch breaks enhances employee engagement and productivity. Despite t...

lunch breaks, scheduling, statistics

workforce blog

Workplace Culture

6 Things Leadership can do to Prevent Nurse Burnout

Summary Nurse burnout is a serious issue in the healthcare business and has several negative consequenc...

burnout, Healthcare, hospitals, nurses

workforce blog

Workplace Culture

5 tips to reduce employee no call, no shows

Summary No call, no shows are damaging to businesses. High no call, no show rates could suggest problem...

absence, attendance, no call, no shows, time