Casuals 'happier than full-timers'

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Contrary to popular belief, temporary workers are happier than their full-time counterparts, according to a study by occupational psychologists, writes Barrie Clement.

Surprisingly, casual employees were more committed to the organisation, reported higher job satisfaction and better mental health, the University of Sheffield found.

In a survey of a circuit-board components manufacturer in the Midlands, full-time staff were found to feel "threatened and vulnerable" as the labour market became increasingly flexible in response to economic change.

The authors, Catriona Russell Gardner and Paul Jackson of the university's Institute of Work Psychology, conceded that the positive attitudes of casual personnel might not last if they believed they would always be on short-term contracts. Most wanted to secure full-time employment with the company.

The researchers concluded, however, that "short-term contracts undoubtedly suit some people".

The relative depression of full-timers could be explained by their feeling that their input into the organisation in terms of skill and experience was not fully rewarded compared with the earnings of temporary staff, the authors said.

Management generally assumed that permanent workers would see casual staff as a "buffer" against redundancy. Thus the "peripheral" personnel could be laid off when product demand slowed, rather than the full-timers.

But the study found that the idea of the buffer failed to make full-timers feel more secure, especially as the company had been going through a period of uncertainty.

The authors told the conference there had been a considerable rise in part-time and short-term contracts. In the UK nearly 50 per cent of employers had increased employment of part-timers between 1990 and 1992. Nearly 40 per cent of organisations reported that their use of temporary or casual work had increased over the previous three years.