Abstract: WITHDRAWN Necessary but Not Ideal: Human Service Administrators Consider the Costs and Benefits of Contingency Staffing (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

WITHDRAWN Necessary but Not Ideal: Human Service Administrators Consider the Costs and Benefits of Contingency Staffing

Friday, January 14, 2022
Liberty Ballroom I, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Cheryl Hyde, PhD, Associate Professor, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
Purpose: Estimated at 30 to 40% of the paid workforce (Newman & Winston, 2016), contingent workers are “... persons who do not expect their jobs to last or who reported that their jobs are temporary. They do not have an implicit or explicit contract for ongoing employment” (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017). Promoted as a means of increasing flexibility and innovation, contingency work impacts income and benefit security, work engagement and stability, career development, and work-life balance (Cummings & Kreiss, 2008; Holm, et al, 2016; Lambert, 2008). Increasingly, jobs with higher skill and educational requirements are being filled through contingency arrangements, including positions in the human service sector. Emerging research on human service contingency work underscores its precarious nature manifested through financial instability, work fragmentation, and lack of professional development opportunities (Abramovitz & Zelnick, 2018; author, 2020). To understand reasons for and implications of hiring staff on contingency, this paper focuses on administrators’ views of using contingent workers to deliver human service offerings.

Methods: Data are from an exploratory study on contingency work in the human services (author, 2020). Reported here are findings from in-depth interviews with 20 human service administrators. Unstructured scheduled interviews (Denzin, 2009) covered the reasons for using contingency workers, the benefits and costs of such arrangements with focus on service delivery, staff development, organizational climate and culture, and fiscal considerations. Interviews (taped/transcribed) probed these key decision points and especially the need to obtain and remain with contingency work arrangements. Data coding proceeded in stages that moved from the descriptive to the analytic themes (Saldaña, 2016).

Results: Interviewees were mostly in their early 40s; 14 identified as female, 6 as male; 12 were white, 8 were African American. All have graduate degrees (mostly in social work), hold program or mid-level management positions in mental health, health, or counseling organizations, and supervise contingent staff. Virtually all mentioned the need for increasing staff to serve clients as the primary reason for hiring contingent workers. Respondents indicated that staff expansion only was possible through the cost savings provided by contingency labor. Several respondents indicated that high turnover among contingency staff was a significant problem. Administrators noted that the concerns raised by contingency workers (e.g., lack of supervision, irregular hours, poor pay, and disconnection from other staff) were not specific to contingency status but rather endemic to human service organizations. Few respondents connected agency conditions with broader policy mandates, articulated ethical concerns arising from using contingency workers; or provided examples of innovation from contingency arrangements.

Conclusions: Human service administrators collectively argued that contingency staffing was necessary, even with drawbacks, to meet increasing client demands. Though sympathetic to concerns raised by contingent staff, they suggested that these conditions reflected the current reality of human service agencies and were not specific to contingency status. While lamenting the fiscal constraints placed on human services, few linked these circumstances to neoliberal policies, especially austerity measures. Discussion focusses on the importance of understanding organizational and policy contexts in determining the use of contingent labor.