Contingent workers more likely to suffer mental illness and be harassed

I was reading an article this morning on Science Daily (HT @punkrockHR) which says that according to research by to be presented at the American Sociological Association, employees who are hired as temps, casuals, on contract or even fixed term positions (so jobs that aren’t secure or stable) are at risk for increased mental health problems.

Amélie Quesnel-Vallée, a medical sociologist at McGill University and the study’s primary investigator says that “This research shows that temporary work strains employee mental health, as contingent workers report more symptoms of depression and psychological distress than similarly employed workers who are not in these fixed-term positions.”

This is an important factor for employers in Australia to consider as we rely on the contingent workforce to meet the needs of the business.


According to the ABS there were 8.3 million employees in 2007, and one in four (2.1 million) were casuals. Women accounted for over half (56%) of all casuals. Casuals also tended to be young. Two-fifths of casuals were aged 15-24 years compared with 14% of other employees.

Additionally, in October 1997 in NSW, an estimated 685,000 persons were employed in their main job on a part-time, casual or temporary basis, this being 25% of all employed persons in NSW. Of the 685,000 persons, 33% were employed on a regular casual basis, followed by 23% employed as permanent part-time workers and 22% employed on a casual full-time basis.

Since 1991 there has been a 50% increase in the number of persons employed in their main job on a part-time, casual or temporary basis, from 455,200 persons in 1991 to 685,000 in 1997. While the numbers employed in this type of work have risen in all categories, most of the rise has been in casual full-time employment, from 14,400 in 1991 to 147,900 in 1997.

Even worse still, a Melbourne University study has found that women employed in casual and contract jobs are up to ten times more likely to experience unwanted sexual advances than those in permanent full time positions.

“Our study shows that 79 per cent of those who experience unwanted sexual advances at work are women,” Associate Professor LaMontagne says.

“People who are employed in casual jobs are about five times more likely to be subjected to unwanted sexual advances.”

“The research also shows that people in contract positions are about ten times more likely to be sexually harassed at work,” Associate Professor LaMontagne says.

Victorian Health Promotion Foundation CEO Todd Harper says: “Not only are women more likely to experience sexual harassment but females make up bigger proportions of industries which use more casual and contract labour.”

Sounds like these issues are real for our contingent workforce, and something that I don’t think we place as much focus on in Australia. Is this an issue for your workforce and what are you doing about it?


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Filed under Diversity/Bullying and Harassment, Employee Engagement

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