Over the last several decades, employers have increasingly replaced permanent employees with temporary workers and independent contractors to cut labor costs and enhance flexibility. Although commentators have focused largely on low-wage temporary work, the use of skilled contractors has also grown exponentially, especially in high-technology areas. Yet almost nothing is known about contracting or about the people who do it. This book seeks to break the silence. Gurus, Hired Guns, and Warm Bodies tells the story of how the market for temporary professionals operates from the perspective of the contractors who do the work, the managers who employ them, the permanent employees who work beside them, and the staffing agencies who broker deals. Based on a year of field work in three staffing agencies, life histories with over seventy contractors and studies of workers in some of America's best known firms, the book dismantles the myths of temporary employment and offers instead a grounded description of how contracting works. Engagingly written, it goes beyond rhetoric to examine why contractors leave permanent employment, why managers hire them, and how staffing agencies operate.
Barley and Kunda paint a richly layered portrait of contract professionals. Readers learn how contractors find jobs, how agents negotiate, and what it is like to shoulder the risks of managing one's own "employability." The authors illustrate how the reality of flexibility often differs substantially from its promise. Viewing the knowledge economy in terms of organizations and markets is not enough, Barley and Kunda conclude. Rather, occupational communities and networks of skilled experts are what grease the skids of the high-tech, "matrix economy" where firms become way stations in the flow of expertise.
Stephen R. Barley is Charles M. Pigott Professor of Management Science and Engineering and Co-Director of the Center for Work, Technology and Organization at Stanford's School of Engineering. Gideon Kunda is Associate Professor in the Department of Labor Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Preface ix Chapter 1: Unlikely Rebels 1 Itinerant Experts 1 The Unraveling of Permanent Employment 9 The Legal Context of Contingent Work 12 Estimating the Size of the Contingent Workforce 16 Making Sense of Contingent Work 18 The Study 26 Organization of the Book 30 Part I: Setting the Stage Chapter 2: Clients 37 Why Do Clients Hire Contractors? 38 How Do Clients Hire Contractors? 49 Conclusion 51 Chapter 3: Contractors 53 Why Do Contractors Become Contractors? 55 What Kinds of Contractors Are There? 64 The Roles Contractors Play for Clients 67 Conclusion 72 Chapter 4: Agencies 73 Sales Culture and Technical Culture 74 What Types of Staffing Agencies Are There? 84 Conclusion 91 Part II: Life in the Market Chapter 5: The Information Game: Finding Deals 98 What Contractors Do 99 What Clients Do 108 What Staffing Agencies Do 114 Conclusion 133 Chapter 6: Making the Deal 136 Hiring Manager Evaluations 138 Negotiating the Terms of Employment 144 Closing Deals 161 Conclusion 166 Part III: Life on the Job Chapter 7: Contractors as Commodities 177 Maintaining a Task Orientation 177 Delegating Management Responsibilities 180 Creating Outsiders 183 Conclusion 187 Chapter 8: Contractors as Experts 188 Integration: Creating Team Members 188 Dependence 193 Conclusion 198 Chapter 9: Navigating between Respect and Resentment 199 Tales of Respect 199 Tales of Resentment 204 Forming an Identity 214 Part IV: Living the Cycle Chapter 10: Temporal Capital 223 The Temporal Patterns of Contracting 225 The Rhetoric and Reality of Flexibility 241 Chapter 11: Building and Maintaining Human Capital 244 The Danger of Obsolescence 244 The Risks of Learning 248 Strategies for Remaining Current 251 Conclusion 263 Chapter 12: Building and Maintaining Social Capital 264 Reach 266 Reputation and Occupational Circles 269 Reciprocity and Referral Cliques 273 Networking: Building and Maintaining Networks 276 Chapter 13: Itinerant Professionals in a Knowledge Economy 285 Itinerant Experts: The Contracting Life 286 The Ambiguities of Self-Reliance 289 Itinerant Experts and the Social Order 292 The Occupational Dimension 302 Supporting Itinerant Professionalism 311 Epilogue 317 References 321 Appendix: Cast of Characters 333 Index 337