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Dealing with temporariness: Generational effects on temporary agency workers’ employment relationships

Filipa Sobral (CEDH, Faculdade de Educação e Psicologia, Universidade Católica Portuguesa, Porto, Portugal)
Eddy S. Ng (Freeman College of Management, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, USA) (James Cook University, Singapore)
Filipa Castanheira (Nova School of Business and Economics, Lisbon, Portugal)
Maria José Chambel (Department of Human Resources, Work and Organizational Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal)
Bas Koene (Department of Organisation and Personnel Management, Rotterdam School of Management, Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 15 November 2019

Issue publication date: 6 February 2020




A major trend in the changing nature of work is the increasing use of temporary workers. Although common among students, older employees have joined the ranks of temporary workers as they extend their work lives. Temporary workers tend to report lower affective commitment and consequently poorer work outcomes. However, different generations of workers may conceive temporary work differently from each other. The purpose of this paper is to explore how different generations of temporary workers, respond to human resource practices (HRP), which in turn influences their affective commitment and work performance.


The sample is comprised of 3,876 temporary agency workers (TAWs) from seven temporary employment agencies in Portugal. The authors undertook multiple group SEM analyses to test a moderated mediation model that accounts for TAWs’ affective commitment (toward the agency and the client company) across three generations (Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials) in the relationship between human resources practices and overall perceived performance.


After controlling for gender, age and tenure, the authors find generational differences in the perceptions of HRP and perceived performance. The results support the moderator effect of generations in the direct and indirect relationships – through both affective commitments – between TAWs’ perceived HRP and perceived performance.

Research limitations/implications

The cross-sectional design limits the possibility to make causal inferences.


This study contributes to a better understanding of how different generations respond to temporary employment relationships. The findings suggest important differences in the way in which the same HRP system relates (directly and indirectly thorough affective commitment toward the client) with their perceived performance across different generations.



The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this paper: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (Grant/Award Number: PTDC/MHCPSO/4399/2012; UID/ECO/00124/2013, UID/ECO/00124/2019 and Social Sciences DataLab, LISBOA-01-0145-FEDER-022209); POR Lisboa (Grant/Award Number: LISBOA-01-0145-FEDER-007722, LISBOA-01-0145-FEDER-022209); and POR Norte (Grant/Award Number: LISBOA-01-0145-FEDER-022209). The second author acknowledges support from the James and Elizabeth Freeman Chair in Management, Bucknell University.


Sobral, F., Ng, E.S., Castanheira, F., Chambel, M.J. and Koene, B. (2020), "Dealing with temporariness: Generational effects on temporary agency workers’ employment relationships", Personnel Review, Vol. 49 No. 2, pp. 406-424.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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