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Employee Relations: The International Journal
German temporary agency workers’ SWB: the impact of POS provided by agencies
Susanne Imhof, Maike Andresen,
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To cite this document:
Susanne Imhof, Maike Andresen, "German temporary agency workers’ SWB: the impact of POS provided by agencies",
Employee Relations: The International Journal , https://doi.org/10.1108/ER-08-2016-0162
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https://doi.org/10.1108/ER-08-2016-0162
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German temporary agency workers’ SWB: the impact of POS provided by agencies
ABSTRACT
Purpose: We focus on the specific relationship between temporary agency workers and their
employing temporary work agencies in Germany that is characterized – in contrast to other
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European countries – by agencies’ central role in employment and the prevalence of permanent
contracts. Our study addresses a research gap in understanding the mediating role of perceived
organizational support (POS) provided by temporary work agencies in the relationship between
employment-specific antecedents and temporary agency workers’ subjective well-being (SWB).
Design/methodology/approach: Based on a sample of 350 temporary agency workers in
Germany, the mediating role of POS provided by agencies is analyzed using structural equation
modeling.
Findings: We show that procedural justice, performance feedback and social network availability
positively relate to POS while perceived job insecurity shows the expected negative influence and
distributive justice has no impact on POS. POS, in turn, positively relates to SWB. The partially
mediating effect of POS between employment-specific antecedents and SWB is also confirmed.
Research limitations/implications: Our study is based on cross-sectional data and self-reported
measures; this may limit causal inferences.
Practical implications: The results highlight the importance of agencies creating POS and
reducing perceived job insecurity for improving temporary agency workers’ SWB.
Originality/value: Our study contributes to previous POS research by focusing on the agencies’
role and by showing the mediating effect of POS on temporary agency workers’ SWB in
Germany.
1
Keywords: temporary agency work, perceived organizational support, subjective well-being
Article classification: Research paper
INTRODUCTION
While organizations benefit from employing temporary workers through increased
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workforce flexibility (Jahn, Riphahn, & Schnabel, 2012), temporary workers experience the
precarious consequences of these flexible work arrangements. Besides lower compensation and
limited access to further training opportunities (Mitlacher, 2008), increased job insecurity and an
inadequate use of skills (Kompier, Ybema, Janssen, & Taris, 2009) have also been shown to
negatively influence the well-being of temporary workers. Short assignment durations at different
user companies resulting in frequently changing work environments (Cappelli & Keller, 2013)
lead not only to a lack of social support by supervisors and coworkers (Crozier & Davidson,
2009) but also to reduced social integration into user companies’ workforces and society
(Gundert & Hohendanner, 2014; Viitala & Kantola, 2016) which in turn might be thought likely
to negatively affect the well-being of temporary workers.
However, in contrast to expectations, previous results on temporary workers’ well-being
have been widely inconsistent (De Cuyper et al., 2008). Some studies confirm that temporary
workers have lower levels of well-being in comparison to permanent employees, but others find
no differences between both groups or even show the reverse to be the case (Kompier et al.,
2009). One explanation for these inconsistent findings is the use of mixed samples comprising
dissimilar kinds of temporary work, such as persons temporarily employed by employers directly
and temporary agency workers employed by agencies on fixed-term or permanent contracts.
Unfortunately, former studies have not taken the heterogeneity of temporary work into account
(Petilliot, 2016) and consequently have not considered employment-specific characteristics of
2
different employment forms (Wagenaar et al., 2012). In our view, combining these conceptually
distinct groups contaminates results and poses a threat to the validity of findings. Here, we solely
focus on German temporary agency workers (TAWs) employed in triangular employment
relationships with temporary work agencies and user companies.
The heterogeneity of general and job-related well-being constructs also limits the
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generalizability of previous research findings. In our study, we focus on subjective well-being
(SWB) defined as a person’s subjective evaluation of their life as a whole and of specific life
domains like work or family. In contrast to other conceptualizations of well-being, SWB covers
both affective (happiness) and cognitive (life satisfaction) components (Diener, 2012). We
analyze SWB as a global variable since employment as a TAW does not only affect work but also
other life domains, such as one’s position in society (Kalleberg, 2009). Evaluating SWB across
various life domains – in contrast to evaluating only TAWs’ employment situation and job
satisfaction – allows a broader picture of the well-being of TAWs to be gained.
A considerable and growing body of research on antecedents affecting well-being exists.
Besides socio-demographic factors (e.g. gender, age, educational background and marital status),
personality has also been shown to have an impact on well-being (Diener & Ryan, 2009). In
addition to individual antecedents, the effects of economic antecedents (e.g. income or
unemployment) as well as contextual and situational factors (e.g. health situation, personal
relationships, life and employment conditions) have also been empirically confirmed (Erdogan,
Bauer, Truxillo, & Mansfield, 2012). However, there is a dearth of studies investigating the
influence of specific employment situations, like temporary agency work, in considering
employment-specific antecedents (Dolan, Peasgood, & White, 2008). Previous studies relating to
well-being in the context of temporary work have looked at a narrow range of employmentrelated factors including job insecurity, motives for working as a temporary worker and
3
employability. Our analysis of perceived organizational support by the current employer (POS) as
a further employment-specific antecedent adds a further dimension to this body of well-being
research.
According to organizational support theory (OST), an employer’s support may reduce
negative effects on a person’s well-being (Baran, Shanock, & Miller, 2012). This suggests that
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employment-specific disadvantages of temporary agency work that negatively affect TAWs’
SWB could potentially be offset by organizational support as perceived by TAWs. However, no
study up to now has analyzed the role of POS and its influence on SWB in the temporary agency
work context. Following Baran and colleagues’ (2012) call for more research on POS in the field
of temporary work, our study analyzes POS as reported by German TAWs and its impact on their
SWB.
Although TAWs may perceive support by both organizations in the triadic relationship,
our focus here is on the role of the employing agency for providing POS for several reasons.
Firstly, despite agencies’ intermediary role, TAWs perceive their respective agencies as the
constant (Druker & Stanworth, 2004) in their continuously changing, atypical employment
situations. Secondly, short assignment durations at user companies increase the centrality of
agencies in the triangular employment relationship (van Breugel, van Olffen, & Olie, 2005).
Thirdly, the agency is the sole legal employer of German TAWs (Mitlacher, 2006). This contrasts
with the US situation, where agencies and user companies act as joint employers, and further
underscores the responsibility of the agencies. Fourthly, fixed-term contracts between TAWs and
their agencies are the predominant contractual form in European countries. In Germany, however,
the percentage of permanent contracts concluded between TAWs and their employing agencies is
among the highest in Europe (OECD, 2014); and this is likely to affect the kind of organizational
support expected from agencies. Data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) shows
4
that 62.9 % of male TAWs and 50.9 % of female TAWs have permanent contracts with their
agency employers (Petilliot, 2016).
The focus of our study is on POS provided to TAWs by agencies in Germany, where
agencies can employ TAWs on permanent contracts while placing them temporarily with various
user companies to work under the supervision of the respective companies (Biggs & Swailes,
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2006). We have consciously chosen to focus on the German context mainly for three reasons.
Firstly, the opportunities to enter into permanent contracts with agencies in Germany represent
an interesting case in the international discussion of TAW’s working conditions. Secondly,
agencies in Germany are the sole legal employer of TAWs and responsible for matching
processes, negotiations with user companies, compensation and all administrative processes. This
suggests an important – indeed central – role of the agency in the triangular employment
relationship between TAW, temporary work agency and user company. However, no prior
studies have investigated the role and impact of the agencies. Thirdly, the use of TAWs has
steadily increased in Germany in recent decades resulting in a total number of 1,006 million
TAWs in June 2016 (German Federal Employment Agency, 2017). While temporary agency
work was initially used mainly to place low-skilled workers with organizations in manufacturing
industry and later on also in the services sector, it is nowadays increasingly used to source highskilled labor in Germany (Mitlacher, Waring, Burgess, & Connell, 2014). In June 2016, 11,300
agencies were offering temporary assignments as their main business in Germany (German
Federal Employment Agency, 2017). Thus, agencies as service providers (Torka & Schyns,
2007) are confronted with increasingly competitive market structures. Caring about employees’
well-being enhances their attractiveness as employers and aids in recruiting and retaining
candidates for their placement pools. Moreover, positive effects of POS and SWB on
organizational outcome variables like productivity or turnover intention have been confirmed
5
(Diener & Ryan, 2009; Kurtessis et al., 2015), so user companies may also benefit from the
assignment of productive employees and this may in turn be reflected in their customer loyalty to
agencies.
This raises the question of whether and how TAWs perceive themselves as being
supported by their employing agencies in Germany. What expectations regarding organizational
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support do TAWs in Germany have? What are the possible antecedents that affect TAWs’
perceptions of agency support? And finally, how does POS provided by agencies influence
TAWs’ SWB in Germany? In our study we strive to analyze POS provided by agencies in
Germany, its employment-specific antecedents and its influence on SWB. Our contribution is
twofold: firstly, this is the first study to analyze these relationships in the TAW context. Hence,
we contribute to previous POS research by analyzing the role of POS provided by agencies as a
possible mediator between employment-specific antecedents and German TAWs’ SWB. TAWs’
perception of supportive organizational activities is important to us because affective and
behavioral employee reactions are driven by individually perceived practices rather than by
actually implemented measures (Alfes, Shantz, & Truss, 2012; Wright & Nishii, 2006).
Secondly, we provide insights into the specific case of German agencies that are able to offer
permanent contracts to their TAWs, which in turn leads to a different constellation of interests in
the triangular employment relationship between TAW, temporary work agency and user
company. By examining effects in this specific case, we seek to derive implications for
organizations and policy makers alike that are of interest within and beyond Germany.
TEMPORARY AGENCY WORK IN GERMANY
The triangular employment relationship of TAWs in Germany results in specifics that
influence TAWs’ perceptions of organizations and well-being. Since TAWs in Germany are
employed with the agency as their sole legal employer but placed with different user companies,
6
they are affected by conditions and measures taken by both. User companies direct and control
TAWs’ work process and outcomes. Agencies in Germany that – in contrast to some other
European countries – are able to employ TAWs on permanent contracts (OECD, 2014; Voss et
al., 2013) are responsible, as service providers, for matching processes, negotiations with user
companies, compensation and all administrative processes (Cappelli & Keller, 2013).
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As of June 2016, 28 % of TAWs in Germany were placed in organizations in
manufacturing industry and another 31 % in organizations in the services sector; these are the two
most important sectors served by temporary agency work in Germany. 27 % of TAWs are lowskilled workers who have completed no vocational training, 64 % have vocational qualifications,
and 9 % have a tertiary qualification (June 2016; German Federal Employment Agency, 2017).
German TAWs’ employment with their agency is on average only of short duration. According to
official statistics for the first half of 2016, 29 % of the employment relationships last less than
one month, 19 % last for between one and three months and 52 % continue for more than 3
months (German Federal Employment Agency, 2017). Higher qualification levels correlate with
increasing employment duration (Haller & Jahn, 2014).
Short employment durations and TAWs’ interest in enhancing their chances of gaining
permanent positions at user companies (De Cuyper et al., 2008) raise the question as to whether
agencies’ investments in POS-creating activities pay off. However, despite short employment
durations and infrequent personal contact between TAW and agency (Camerman, Cropanzano, &
Vandenberghe, 2007) both hindering the development of social exchange relations, TAWs
establish psychological contracts with their employing agencies (Morf, Arnold, & Staffelbach,
2014). The exchange of economic resources has been shown to dominate the exchange of
socioemotional resources (Chambel, Lorente, Carvalho, & Martinez, 2015), but supportive
exchange relations are also present. Previous studies in other countries confirm that TAWs
7
perceive organizational support in the temporary agency work context (Connelly, Gallagher, &
Gilley, 2007; Coyle-Shapiro, Morrow, & Kessler, 2006; Liden, Wayne, Kraimer, & Sparrowe,
2003).
THE MEDIATING ROLE OF POS
According to OST, a person’s POS depends on the extent to which an employee believes
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that their current employer values their contributions and cares about their well-being
(Eisenberger, Huntington, Hutchison, & Sowa, 1986). In general, POS is mainly determined by
fairness and supervisor support as well as by organizational rewards and job conditions (Rhoades
& Eisenberger, 2002). The effects of these factors on individuals’ POS vary, however, with fair
treatment exerting the strongest influence on POS and rewards and job conditions the weakest
(Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002). Moreover, it must be considered that only favorable treatment
that is voluntarily realized by organizations and that is in the sphere of organizational influence
can affect POS. Beneficial organizational behaviors due to external regulations, like changing
legal requirements, can be predicted not to impact on POS at all (Eisenberger, Jones, Aselage, &
Sucharski, 2004).
Based on the norm of reciprocity (Gouldner, 1960), POS evokes a feeling of obligation in
employees to care about the employing organization and a desire to help to achieve
organizational goals (Eisenberger et al., 1986; Shore & Shore, 1995). Consequently, positive
effects of POS on commitment, productivity and organizational citizenship behavior as well as
negative effects on withdrawal behavior, absenteeism and turnover intention are confirmed
(Kurtessis et al., 2015; Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002). These relationships show that investments
in measures for enhancing employees’ POS can be expected to pay off (Riggle, Edmondson, &
Hansen, 2009).
8
THE MEDIATING EFFECT OF POS BETWEEN EMPLOYMENT-SPECIFIC
ANTECEDENTS AND SWB
While OST is useful for classifying antecedents, a simple transferability of this general
theoretical approach to the specific context of temporary agency work is limited (Torka &
Schyns, 2007). Consequently, our research model only considers antecedents that could be
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affected by agencies’ activities.
Justice and POS
The effect of fairness as one of the main influences on POS is also confirmed for the
temporary work context (Baran et al., 2012; Camerman et al., 2007; Liden et al., 2003). However,
results from various empirical studies indicate that a differentiated investigation of fairness in
terms of distributive and procedural justice is advisable. This is because procedural justice has
been shown to have stronger impact on POS than distributive justice (Eisenberger et al., 2004).
For this reason, TAWs’ perceptions of distributive and procedural justice and the effects of both
on POS are analyzed separately.
Distributive justice is given if the allocation of resources, like compensation, is considered
fair. To judge this, individuals compare their own ratio of outcomes and inputs with the ratio of a
chosen reference person (Adams, 1965). An observed inequity leads to distributive injustice,
which in turn could induce negative effects on a person’s POS (Greenberg, 1990). Due to lower
wages and benefits earned by TAWs vis-à-vis employees in equivalent working positions outside
agency work (Mitlacher, 2008), it can be assumed that TAWs might feel treated unfairly with
regard to income distribution. Although remuneration is affected by country-specific legal
regulations and collective agreements, agencies can opt to take additional steps towards creating
equal pay which in turn helps with perceived distributive justice. If TAWs have the feeling that
9
additional activities by their agency contribute to them receiving a fair reward for their work, a
positive influence on POS can be expected.
Hypothesis 1: TAWs’ perceived distributive justice is positively related to POS provided by
agencies.
Individuals do not only evaluate the final distribution of resources like compensation,
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tasks or responsibilities but also the fairness of the underlying decision-making processes.
Developing procedural justice is closely linked to a transparent exchange of information and
close communication between involved parties, e.g. supervisor and employee (Konovsky, 2000).
Individuals who evaluate procedures directly affecting them as fair tend to feel supported by their
organizations. The positive effect of procedural justice on POS is confirmed by studies (Rhoades
& Eisenberger, 2002), including some dealing with the specific context of temporary work
(Camerman et al., 2007; Liden et al., 2003; Torka, 2011). Procedural justice is given when TAWs
feel treated fairly by their supervisors through being actively informed about assignments to user
companies, further training opportunities (Liden et al., 2003) and future employment prospects.
However, the necessary transparent exchange of information between agency supervisors and
TAWs for creating procedural justice is potentially limited due to infrequent and limited
communication after placements to user companies have been made (Camerman et al., 2007) and
due to assignments changing at short notice (Cappelli & Keller, 2013). Nevertheless, if TAWs
perceive fair treatment by their supervisors thanks to transparent information policies, this sense
of procedural justice can positively affect their POS.
Hypothesis 2: TAWs’ perceived procedural justice is positively related to POS provided by
agencies.
Social support and POS
10
In previous studies, social support has mainly been operationalized in terms of perceived
supervisor support (PSS). This approach is problematic because of the risk of perceived support
by an organizational agent being conflated with overall POS (Eisenberger et al., 2004) and
because PSS can be affected by the same antecedents as POS (Torka, 2011). Moreover,
organizational social networks and social support by coworkers as antecedents of POS have often
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been omitted in previous studies (Hayton, Carnabuci, & Eisenberger, 2012), although they are an
important additional source of POS (Eisenberger & Stinglhamber, 2011). Considering these facts
and the agency context, our analysis encompasses both performance feedback by the agency
supervisor as a supportive tool and the availability of a supportive social network fostered by
agency activities.
Although social support from agency supervisors might generally be limited due to TAWs
not being physically present at agencies, providing information on TAWs performance at work
during or after assignments has potential as a tool for promoting the supportive exchange of
information. TAWs who see feedback as an appropriate instrument for their personal and
professional development could appreciate being supported by their supervisors in this fashion.
Since the positive effects of feedback on POS are confirmed (Eisenberger & Stinglhamber,
2011), we can assume that performance feedback from agency supervisors impacts positively on
TAWs’ POS.
Hypothesis 3: TAWs’ perceived performance feedback is positively related to POS
provided by agencies.
TAWs face a lack of social integration into user companies’ workforces and limited
contact with other TAWs from their own agencies (Mitlacher, 2008). However, TAWs given
opportunities to meet and stay in touch with other employees from their respective agencies could
possibly derive benefit from the support of their organization’s social network in terms of advice
11
and shared information. Social networks created through agencies’ supportive measures
additionally compensate for a lack of support from other work-related parties (Viitala & Kantola,
2016). TAWs again see it as the agencies’ responsibility to offer activities for keeping in touch
with other TAWs (Torka, 2011) and to promote social network support. Where TAWs recognize
that the availability of agency-related networks and the provision of support through these
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networks are fostered by an agencies’ activities, it can be assumed that this influences POS
positively.
Hypothesis 4: TAWs’ perceived social network availability is positively related to POS
provided by agencies.
Job insecurity and POS
Employees tend to see job security as beyond their own control and falling within the
ambit of responsibility of the organization employing them. In consequence, employees blame
the organization for their insecure situation when they sense that organizations do not care about
their insecure employment conditions and the resulting perceived job insecurity, and negative
effects on POS are likely to occur as a result (Eisenberger & Stinglhamber, 2011). However, it is
crucial to note that attitudinal and behavioral reactions here depend on subjective rather than
objective perceptions of job insecurity (Jahn, 2013).
Although German TAWs are often employed on permanent contracts with their agencies,
they still face insecure employment conditions which in turn lead to perceived job insecurity. The
risk of being dismissed if demand by the user company falls, uncertainty about follow-up
assignments, experiences of high labor turnover (Mitlacher, 2008) and short employment
durations at agencies (Haller & Jahn, 2014) are all contributing factors which increase TAWs’
subjective job insecurity. POS could, in this context, depend more on how agencies cope with
insecure employment conditions and on TAWs’ resulting perception of job insecurity than on the
12
formal employment protection afforded to TAWs in terms of their contract situations. When
agencies do not find follow-up assignments or offer further training opportunities during periods
without assignments (Jahn, 2013), TAWs may perceive job insecurity concerning their
employment with agencies and POS can be negatively affected as a result.
Hypothesis 5: TAWs’ perceived job insecurity is negatively related to POS provided by
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agencies.
POS and SWB
The influence of POS provided by the employing organization on SWB is empirically
confirmed (Baran et al., 2012; Eisenberger & Stinglhamber, 2011). The positive effect can be
explained by the fulfillment of socio-emotional needs like self-esteem, appreciation, a sense of
belonging and emotional support (Eisenberger & Stinglhamber, 2011). This fulfillment, which
affects affective and cognitive elements of SWB with varying intensity, is expected to be the
most important underlying mechanism in the investigated relationship between POS and SWB.
Although effect sizes depend on the degree of fulfillment as well as on the existing socioemotional needs of individuals (Baran et al., 2012; Eisenberger & Stinglhamber, 2011), positive
effects of POS on TAWs’ SWB are likely to be induced.
Hypothesis 6: POS provided by agencies is positively related to TAWs’ SWB.
Mediating effect of POS
As positive direct effects of justice and social support on SWB and the negative influence
of job insecurity on SWB are empirically confirmed (Diener & Ryan, 2009), the preconditions
for testing mediation are met. A mediating role of POS can be assumed thanks to the fulfillment
of socio-emotional needs being an underlying mechanism (Baran et al., 2012). Given the negative
consequences of temporary agency work for individuals, it can be expected that TAWs show
enhanced needs for affiliation and appreciation. When TAWs perceive distributive and
13
procedural justice by their agency, receive performance feedback and have supportive social
networks to draw on, their POS should increase. In contrast, when TAWs perceive job insecurity,
their POS should decrease. Based on the degree of POS’s emotional support function, influences
on TAWs’ SWB are likely to occur (Eisenberger & Stinglhamber, 2011). Considering this
mechanism, we assume that POS mediates the relations between employment-specific
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antecedents and SWB.
Hypothesis 7: The effect of employment-specific antecedents ([a] distributive justice, [b]
procedural justice, [c] performance feedback, [d] social network
availability, [e] job insecurity) on TAWs’ SWB is mediated by POS provided
by agencies.
The research model in Figure 1 summarizes the hypothesized mediating role of POS
between employment-specific antecedents and TAWs’ SWB.
-------------------------------------------Insert Figure 1 about here
-------------------------------------------METHOD
Sample and procedure
German agencies of all sizes were initially contacted via phone to promote our survey and
offered the opportunity to participate. Agencies showing interest received further written
information on the survey procedure. In the end, 27 small and medium-sized German temporary
work agencies placing both low-skilled and qualified employees as their main business opted to
participate in our survey. It turned out that the participating agencies were relatively typical for
German agencies with less than 100 employees (German Federal Employment Agency, 2017).
Agencies forwarded a paper-based or online questionnaire in German to their TAWs. In order to
14
reduce the risk of sample biases due to the participating agencies, calls on various social media
platforms (e.g. forums for TAWs) were additionally posted to encourage further TAWs to
participate in the online survey. In order to ensure the confidentiality of TAWs’ responses,
surveys were sent back to the researchers directly (in prepaid envelopes) or registered
automatically in an online system agencies had no access to. In total, 350 questionnaires were
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returned by TAWs. 84.3 % of this sample were contacted by agencies and 15.7 % followed calls
on social media platforms.
57.5 % of the sample were male and the average age of respondents was 36.7 years
(SD = 11.1). 41.2 % of the participants were married and 49.0 % were single. Before taking up
employment as TAWs, 53.8 % of the participants had been unemployed, 29.9 % had worked fulltime in permanent positions and a further 6.5 % had had permanent positions in part-time.
Respondents had, on average, been employed as TAW for 3.48 years. 48.0 % of the TAWs had
completed vocational training and 29.9 % had a tertiary qualification. 36.9 % were employed in
organizations in manufacturing industry and another 24.8 % worked in the services sector, the
two most important sectors for temporary agency work in Germany (German Federal
Employment Agency, 2017). TAWs’ average duration of employment with their current agency
stood at 22.3 months. Compared to official statistics, it has to be noted that our sample is not
representative in terms of the relatively high educational level of the TAWs and their long
periods of employment with agencies. The above-average organizational tenure of the TAWs in
our sample can be considered as an indicator of a relatively high proportion of the TAWs having
permanent contracts with their employing agencies. But participants were not specifically asked
if they are employed on permanent or fixed-term contracts.
Measures
15
All survey variables were measured on 5-point Likert-type scales (1 = strongly disagree to
5 = strongly agree) except where otherwise indicated. A complete list of all items is presented in
the appendix. In our survey, we adapted the introductory sentences of the scales in order to
clarify whether the items referred to the agency employer or the user company. ‘To what extent
are you supported by your current agency?’ is an example for the introductory wording used for
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evaluating POS by the employing agency. In addition, we adapted some items by replacing
‘organization’ with ‘temporary work agency.’ For calculating the scale value of each variable, we
added all of its single items’ values and divided the sum score by the number of items.
Justice Justice (α = .86) was measured with four items adopted from Guest and Conway (2002).
Example items for variables are ‘Overall, do you feel that you are rewarded fairly for the amount
of effort you put into your job?’ and ‘Do you feel treated fairly by managers and supervisors?’
Social support Social network availability was measured by using two items from the Work
Design Questionnaire (Morgeson & Humphrey, 2006). A sample item reads ‘At my temporary
work agency, I have the opportunity to meet with other TAWs.’ Performance feedback was
measured with the item ‘My supervisor at my current employing temporary work agency gives
me frequent feedback on my performance.’
Job insecurity Perceived job insecurity (α = .92) was measured with four items from the Job
Insecurity Inventory (De Witte, 2000), for example: ‘I feel insecure about the future of my
employment.’
POS by agency The 8-item survey of POS by Eisenberger et al. (1986) was used (α = .94).
Example items are ‘The temporary work agency really cares about my well-being’ and ‘The
temporary work agency would ignore any complaint from me.’
SWB In order to capture both the affective (happiness) and cognitive (life satisfaction) elements
of SWB, we relied on two different scales. For measuring the affective component, we used the
16
20-item Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PA: α = .86; NA: α = .85) created by Watson,
Clark and Tellegen (1988). The cognitive component was measured with the 5-item Satisfaction
with Life Scale (SWLS; α = .88) by Diener, Emmons, Larsen and Griffin (1985). Adjectives of
PANAS like ‘upset’ were evaluated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = slightly or not at all to 5 = very
much). One example item of SWLS is ‘I am satisfied with my life’. POS might affect cognitive
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and affective components of SWB in varying intensity (Eisenberger & Stinglhamber, 2011).
However, since analyzing differences in the effects of POS on the components of SWB is not an
objective of this study, we followed the composite approach and calculated a single indicator for
SWB by adding the difference between positive and negative affect to the SWLS score (Busseri
& Sadava, 2011).
Control variables
In order to either account for alternative explanations for our findings or help eliminate
contamination introduced by our methods (Spector & Brannick, 2011), we included TAWs’ age,
gender, marital status and educational level as socio-demographic control variables. Their
relevance for the temporary work context has been demonstrated by previous studies (de Cuyper
et al., 2014) and well-being studies confirm their relationship to SWB (Diener & Ryan, 2009). In
addition, we controlled for organizational tenure in the current agency, employment status before
working as a TAW and the number of years of TAW employment.
Data Analysis
Our hypotheses were tested with structural equation modeling (SEM) using AMOS 23. In
contrast to regression analyses, SEM allows simultaneous analysis of multivariate relations by
dealing with both observed and unobserved (latent) variables. SEM provides possibilities for
directly modeling mediating effects, calculating the direct, indirect and total effects of complex
models and evaluating the fit between model and data (Nachtigall et al., 2003). In the first step,
17
we conducted a confirmatory factor analysis in order to verify the factor structure of the included
variables. The analyzed measurement model (χ²/df = 1.97; CFI = .97; TLI = .96; RMSE = .053)
showed a satisfactory fit to the data as the recommended fit indexes χ²/df < 2 (Byrne, 1989), CFI,
TLI ≥ .95 and RMSEA ≤ .06 (Hu & Bentler, 1999) were met. The structural model was analyzed
in a second analysis step with all variables except SWB and performance feedback included as
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latent variables.
The mediating role of POS concerning the relationship between employment-specific
antecedents and TAWs’ SWB was tested using a bias-corrected bootstrapped mediation test. It
has been recommended as a more accurate test of mediation than, say, the Sobel test, particularly
in the case of smaller sample sizes (Shrout & Bolger, 2002). We requested 5,000 bootstrapped
resamples from the data obtained and derived the 95 % bias-corrected confidence intervals (CIs).
When the upper and lower bounds of the corrected CIs do not contain zero, the mediation effect
is considered statistically significant.
RESULTS
The means, standard deviations and intercorrelations of the main variables are shown in Table 1.
-------------------------------------------Insert Table 1 about here
-------------------------------------------POS showed a mean of 3.29 (SD = 1.15) indicating that TAWs indeed perceive their
employing agencies as providing POS. POS was positively correlated with SWB (r = 0.49,
p<0.01), distributive justice (r = 0.47, p<0.01), procedural justice (r = 0.66, p<0.01), performance
feedback (r = 0.65, p<0.01), social network availability (r = 0.44, p<0.01) and job insecurity (r =
-0.49, p<0.01).
Hypotheses 1 to 5 proposed that several employment-specific antecedents would account
for variance in POS. Against hypothesis 1, we found no significant positive relation between
18
distributive justice and POS (β = .02, n.s.). As expected, procedural justice, performance
feedback and social network availability were positively related to POS (β = .47, p<.001; β = .35,
p<.001; β = .10, p<.001) and job insecurity was negatively related to POS (β = -.14, p<.05),
supporting hypotheses 2, 3, 4 and 5. The hypothesized positive relationship between POS and
SWB (hypothesis 6) was also confirmed (β = .47, p<.001).
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Fit for the fully mediated model was good, χ²/df = 1.83; CFI = .96; TLI = .94; RMSEA =
.049. As recommended by Kelloway (1998), we tested the fully mediated model and a partially
mediated model. The results show that the partially mediated model, χ²/df = 1.64; CFI = .97; TLI
= .96; RMSEA = .043, fits better than the fully mediated model.
The bias-corrected bootstrapped mediation test was used for testing the mediating role of
POS (hypothesis 7). In a first step, the direct effects between all employment-specific antecedents
and SWB were analyzed since significant direct relations are preconditions for testing mediation.
All antecedents were shown to have significant direct relations to SWB. Following this, the
indirect effects of POS as a mediator were tested. As seen in Table 2, the indirect effects of
procedural justice, social network availability, performance feedback and job insecurity via POS
on SWB are significant since the upper and lower bounds of the corrected CIs do not contain
zero, whereas the indirect effect of distributive justice is insignificant (no mediation effect). As
the direct effects between procedural justice, social network availability, performance feedback
and job insecurity on SWB are still significant after including POS, relations are partially
mediated by POS. Therefore, the mediation test provided support for hypotheses 7b, 7c, 7d and
7e.
-------------------------------------------Insert Table 2 about here
-------------------------------------------DISCUSSION
19
Despite agencies’ temporary intermediary role, TAWs in Germany perceive
organizational support by agencies which in turn affects their SWB positively. Our study, which
is the first to apply OST to the specific context of temporary agency work, confirmed the
mediating role of POS by agencies that TAWs see as their service providers (Torka & Schyns,
2007). Except for distributive justice, POS acts as a partial mediator between the antecedents and
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TAWs’ SWB. The relevance of antecedents on POS as well as the sequence of their effect sizes
corresponded to the results of the meta-analysis by Rhoades and Eisenberger (2002). Moreover,
our study also showed that a differentiated consideration of justice creates added value, since the
distinct effects of different types of justice on POS were confirmed. While procedural justice was
strongly and positively related to POS, TAWs’ perceptions of distributive justice were not related
to POS at all. This finding is consistent with empirical studies showing that procedural justice is
one of the strongest antecedents of POS and that the influence of procedural fairness is greater
than the impact of distributive justice (Kurtessis et al., 2015). The missing effect of distributive
justice on POS can be explained by the fact that perceived distributive injustice may be
counterbalanced by an individual’s perception of procedural justice (Shore & Shore, 1995).
Consequently, it may be the case that the effects of distributive justice on POS are superimposed
due to the strong influence of procedural justice. Therefore, if TAWs perceive procedural justice
due to their agencies’ activities, distributive injustice caused by wage gaps and a lack of benefits
in Germany might not influence POS and in turn SWB negatively.
Performance feedback from agency supervisors and TAWs’ perceived social network
availability were positively related to POS. This corresponds to findings of studies confirming
that social support provided by organizational agents like supervisors, colleagues or an
organizational social network positively affects POS (Eisenberger & Stinglhamper, 2011). The
effect of feedback on POS is stronger than the effect of social network availability; this is in line
20
with other studies showing that social support by supervisors has the strongest impact on POS
compared to the impact of other organizational actors (Kurtessis et al., 2015).
Although the above-average organizational tenure of TAWs in our sample with agencies
points to a high proportion of TAWs with permanent employment contracts, TAWs may
nevertheless perceive job insecurity. Subjective perceptions of one’s own insecure employment
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conditions appear more likely than employees’ objective contractual situation to triggers TAWs’
job insecurity (Jahn, 2013). In line with empirical findings in other research contexts (Rhoades &
Eisenberger, 2002), our study also confirmed the negative effect of perceived job insecurity on
POS. However, the small effect size could be the product of TAWs’ low expectations concerning
job stability in their non-standard work arrangements. TAWs may be willing to accept their
current employment situation in order to avoid unemployment and to enhance their chances of
obtaining permanent positions in user companies (Petilliot, 2016).
Finally, the confirmed mediating effect shows that the socio-emotional support function
of POS might be a mechanism for inducing effects on SWB. Whereas procedural justice,
performance feedback and social network availability enhance POS’s socio-emotional support
function, perceived job insecurity limits the degree of the emotional support function. In the end,
a positive effect of POS on TAWs’ SWB is induced. Thus, our study suggests that the bottom
line is that agencies’ investments in POS-creating activities are ultimately justified by the payoff:
POS positively influences TAWs’ SWB, and this in turn likely triggers positive effects on various
organizational outcome variables like productivity. It appears that all parties in the triangular
employment relationship profit from POS provided by agencies. TAWs benefit when agencies
care about their well-being, user companies benefit from productive TAWs and agencies boost
the customer loyalty of user companies and increase their attractiveness as employers. In
Germany, the ability of agencies to offer permanent contracts to TAWs is a specific feature that
21
may foster agencies’ willingness to invest in measures for enhancing TAWs’ POS. However, due
to new legal regulations in Germany, the maximum duration of TAWs assignments will now be
limited to 18 months. This pre-defined assignment duration may persuade agencies to change
their employment strategy and offer fewer permanent and more fixed-term contracts. In
consequence, the number of permanent contracts is expected to decrease. The time-limited nature
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of contracts may in turn reduce agencies’ interest in their TAWs’ POS. Changes in countryspecific legal frameworks may well have effects for TAWs’ POS which would be deserving
investigation in future studies.
Limitations
In addition to the limited number of antecedents affecting POS, our study has some
further limitations. Comparing our sample with official statistics shows that the sample is biased,
probably because most questionnaires came from respondents contacted via their current agency
employers. First of all, it can be assumed that the agencies who agreed to participate in our
survey were likely convinced that they care about their TAWs and take appropriate HR measures
(self-selection bias). Secondly, TAWs that were more committed to their respective agencies
were likely to be more willing to participate in the survey; TAWs’ over-average employment
duration with their current employers may reflect this. Thirdly, TAWs with tertiary education
being overrepresented in our sample is explicable in terms of most of the participating agencies
being involved in placing TAWs with relatively high qualifications. Consequently, the
generalizability of our findings may be restricted due to TAWs’ comparatively high educational
level and above-average organizational tenure with their agencies. Nevertheless, although more
highly qualified people tend to have a higher SWB (Diener & Ryan, 2009), our study could still
confirm a strong positive influence of POS on SWB.
22
Moreover, our study is based on cross-sectional data, so that causal relations cannot be
inferred. The collection of longitudinal data at several subsequent points in time was hampered
by TAWs’ short assignments with user companies, their frequently-changing work environments
and agencies’ reluctance to forward questionnaires to TAWs more than once (increased
organizational workload, fear of annoying employees). Although we have included several socio-
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demographic and work-related control variables, future studies could incorporate further control
variables that might affect the analyzed relations. Besides agency-related variables, like agency
size or supervisors’ span of control, consideration of the household situation of TAWs might also
make a difference to the results.
Finally, due to the use of standardized self-reporting measures for all included variables,
the risk of common method bias (CMB) exists. Given our interest in analyzing TAWs’
perceptions and their individual evaluations of SWB, collecting data from other sources was,
however, not an appropriate solution (Conway & Lance, 2010). In order to test for CMB, we
conducted Harman’s one-factor test by including the study variables in an unrotated factor
analysis (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003). The results broke into several factors,
providing some evidence against CMB problems in our data.
Research implications
The portfolio of antecedents included in the analysis of TAWs’ POS could be expanded,
e.g. by factors like further training opportunities, the person-job-fit attained and agencies’ service
quality. TAWs’ personality could also be considered in future studies since personality affects
POS (Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002) and SWB (Diener & Ryan, 2009). Integrating more
individual circumstances of TAWs, like the nature of their contractual situation with the agency,
their motives for working as TAW or their previous experiences with other agencies can
contribute to learning more about the heterogeneity of TAWs.
23
Although POS provided by agencies is in the focus of our study, the role of user
companies for TAWs’ POS cannot simply be ignored due to possible spillover effects within the
triangular employment relationship (Connelly, Gallagher, & Wilkin, 2014). POS by agencies
seems likely to also influence TAWs’ attitudes and behaviors towards user companies. Since this
effect also works in the opposite direction, it can be expected that organizations stand to benefit
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from any TAWs’ POS created by the other organization in a given triangular employment
relationship. In order to avoid negative organizational consequences caused by reduced or
missing TAWs’ POS, agencies and user companies should cooperate to ensure a common
minimum level of POS. Consequently, analyzing TAWs’ main partner of interest in terms of POS
and the influence of the same employment-specific antecedents on POS exerted by both
organizations in a comparative research design would be interesting. Organization-specific
measures could be developed for cooperatively enhancing TAWs’ POS through portfolios of
complementary activities based on identified influencing effects on POS differentiated by
organization.
Practical implications
In order to enhance TAWs’ POS, agencies could ensure active communication processes
and regular information exchange with their TAWs in order to share feedback in both directions
and to discuss TAWs’ current employment situations, follow-up assignments and opportunities
for permanent positions. The implementation of transparent and easy-to-understand agency
processes in terms of future assignments or participation in training are additional options for
creating and reinforcing a sense of procedural justice. Agencies could also establish opportunities
for promoting social exchanges between their employed TAWs. Regular social events like sports
events could potentially enhance social interactions between agencies’ TAWs and intensify the
bond between agencies and their employees. Additionally, TAWs’ reduced social integration and
24
exclusion from user companies’ social activities could possibly be compensated through social
events organized by agencies. Moving beyond this, the provision of internal communication
channels via agency-owned online platforms might enhance TAWs’ supportive social exchange
opportunities. The sense of job insecurity felt by TAWs could be decreased by long-term
planning of TAWs’ assignments and coordinated placement processes in cooperation with user
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companies.
CONCLUSION
Our study shows that TAWs in Germany experience organizational support from their current
agency employers. The partially mediating role of POS by agencies between employmentspecific antecedents and TAWs’ SWB is also confirmed. POS mediates the influences of
procedural justice, performance feedback, social network availability and job insecurity on
TAWs’ SWB. Thus, due to the socio-emotional support function of POS, positive effects on
TAWs’ SWB are triggered. The creation of POS through appropriate measures by agencies can
be considered as one approach to positively influence TAWs’ SWB. In addition, our study shows
that TAWs in Germany perceive job insecurity. Agencies’ opportunities to employ TAWs on
permanent contracts in Germany appear not to be a sufficient instrument for preventing feelings
of job insecurity. Against this background, further supportive measures geared to decreasing
perceptions of job insecurity should be explored in order to create additional value for improving
TAWs’ SWB.
25
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FIGURE 1: Mediating role of POS provided by agency
1
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TABLE 1: Inter-correlations, means and standard deviations of the main variables
1. Distributive justice
M
2.50
SD
1.23
2. Procedural justice
3.18
1.11
3. Performance feedback
2.42
1.36
4. Social network
availability
5. Job insecurity
3.37
1.36
3.01
1.31
6. POS
3.29
1.15
7. SWB
24.24
16.0
1
-
2
.58**
3
.29**
4
.32**
5
-.37**
6
.47**
7
.43**
-
.45**
.32**
-.43**
.66**
.44**
-
.38**
-.28**
.65**
.25**
-
-.32**
.44**
.29**
-
-.49**
-.50**
-
.49**
-
Notes: N = 350; M, mean; SD, standard deviation; Pearson’s correlation coefficients, two-tailed; *p<.05, **p<.01
1
Downloaded by California State University Fresno At 15:52 26 October 2017 (PT)
TABLE 2: Results of mediation analysis
Direct effects
without POS
Direct effects
with POS
Indirect
effects
Distributive justice POS SWB
0.149***
0.147***
0.003 n.s.
Procedural justice POS SWB
0.208***
0.109***
0.097***
Performance feedback POS SWB
-0.060 ***
-0.128***
0.069 ***
Social network support POS SWB
0.079***
0.060***
0.020***
Job insecurity POS SWB
-0.325***
-0.299***
-0.026***
95% Confidence Interval
Indirect effect
Est.
SE
Lower
Upper
Distributive justice POS SWB
0.003
0.004
-0.004
0.011
Procedural justice POS SWB
0.097
0.016
0.067
0.130
Performance feedback POS SWB
0.069
0.012
0.046
0.095
Social network support POS SWB
0.020
0.004
0.012
0.030
Job insecurity POS SWB
-0.026
0.005
-0.037
-0.017
Note: Est. = bootstrapped estimate; 5,000 bootstrap samples
2
List of items
POS
The temporary work agency values my contribution to its company’s success.
The temporary work agency fails to appreciate any extra effort from me.
The temporary work agency would ignore any complaint from me.
The temporary work agency really cares about my well-being.
Even if I did the best job possible, my temporary work agency would fail to notice.
The temporary work agency cares about my general satisfaction.
The temporary work agency shows very little concern for me.
The temporary work agency takes pride in my accomplishments at work.
Downloaded by California State University Fresno At 15:52 26 October 2017 (PT)
SWB
Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS)
In most ways my life is close to my ideal.
The conditions of my life are excellent.
I am satisfied with my life.
So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.
If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.
Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS)
Interested
Distressed
Excited
Upset
Strong
Guilty
Scared
Hostile
Enthusiastic
Proud
Irritable
Alert
Ashamed
Inspired
Nervous
Determined
Attentive
Jittery
Active
Afraid
Justice
Do you feel that you are paid fairly for the work you do?
Overall, do you feel that you are rewarded fairly for the amount of effort you put into your job?
Do you feel that organizational changes are implemented fairly in your organization?
Do you feel fairly treated by managers and supervisors?
Social support
At my temporary work agency, I have the opportunity to meet with other TAWs.
At my temporary work agency, I have the chance to get to know other people.
My supervisor at the temporary work agency where I am currently employed gives me frequent feedback on
my performance.
Job insecurity
Chances are, I will soon lose my employment.
I am sure I can keep my employment.
I feel insecure about the future of my employment.
I think I might lose my employment in the near future.
1
Downloaded by California State University Fresno At 15:52 26 October 2017 (PT)
Note: The items have been translated for the purposes of this article; the actual survey was conducted in German.
2
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