An HRM Perspective on Douglas Coupland’s “The Temp”

| April 16, 2015

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An HRM Perspective on Douglas Coupland’s “The Temp”


In November 2013, Douglas Coupland published a serialized novelette entitled, “The Temp” that appeared in bite-sized pieces over 20 days in Toronto’s Metro newspaper. Coupland is a renowned Canadian author and artist whose international best selling book, “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture” coined terms such as “Generation X” and “McJob”.


You can get a hard copy of The Temp from the bookstore as a course kit.


“The Temp” tells the story of Shannon, a temporary receptionist at a filter systems company. The story sheds light on the costs and benefits of the present day employment paradigm. In this assignment, you will assume the role of the new Human Resources Director of TWK, the organization where Shannon works. You will identify three issues that should be addressed at TWK, and provide a set of integrated strategies to alleviate the three problems. Although the organization radically changes its purpose (you will see this after reading the story in full), assume that the main human resource management problems remain.


Tips on how you should go about tackling this assignment:

  • As soon as possible, find a comfortable spot…make a cup of coffee…thoroughly enjoy your first read of the story. Then read it at least three more times in the month of


  • As you read the story, perhaps in October, identify as many problematic “human resource management” incidents as possible. How do you know whether it’s a human resource management incident? Think about all of the topics that we will cover in this course…think about problems in the story that deal with “people issues”. Once you’ve identified all of the incidents, put them all together and draw out major “themes”. Organize the incidents under the themes. Choose three themes – these are your “problems”.


  • When reading the textbook and listening to the lectures, consistently think back to the story and the problems that you’ve identified. Perhaps you will identify new problems that you did not see before, or you are better able to “label” the problems that you identified. You will also surely come across some solutions that you will recommend to solve the problems


  • Once you have your solutions, think about how they “fit” together, and whether they will or will not reinforce one another. Imagine what would happen to the culture at the organization if they were implemented. What problems might arise as a consequence? How will you overcome those anticipated problems? Integrate these insights into the implementation plan and prioritization section.


  • Talk to your mother, father, boyfriend, girlfriend, cousin, neighbor, or even talk to the person waiting for the bus with you about the story…the more you talk and think about this assignment, the deeper your ideas will become, and the richer your assignment will be; Start to write early in the semester and revise, revise, revise.


  • Once you have written your assignment, print it out. Ask others to read it for completeness, conciseness, interest, grammar and spelling, etc. Remember to look at the grading rubric!


  • Some common grammatical mistakes:
    • Semi-colons are inappropriately used
    • Tenses are incorrect (e.g., the employee will be motivated so that they will perform better…employees will be motivated so that they will perform better)
    • Uses words/terms that are not fully understood
    • Addresses the reader (do not use the word “you” in any assignment)
    • Uses colloquial terminology


  • Good writers typically write double the amount (e.g., 12 pages) and then edit their work to the appropriate page limit (e.g., 6 pages). One of my favorite quotes is “If I had more time, I would write you a shorter letter” (Mark Twain). Think about it!


Your assignment should contain, in this order, with recommended space limits:

  1. Title page (1 page)
    • Include your first and last name, student ID number, a title, and the date of submission
  2. An introduction (about 1 paragraph)
    • This is a roadmap for your reader such that you provide a clear “line of sight” of the paper
    • Each of the problems should be clearly identified and the solutions succinctly summarized –your reader should be able to gather all of the key points from the introduction
    • There is no need to summarize “The Temp” – your reader has already read The Temp
    • Do not provide a “laundry list” of problems and solutions; instead, engage the reader by telling your own story about the problems and solutions
  3. Problem identification (about 1-2 pages)
    • This step involves the identification of three pressing human resource management concerns. They should not be marketing, finance, or accounting, etc, problems because, quite frankly, this is a course in human resource management!
    • Briefly use examples from the story to illustrate why you believe each problem is particularly relevant to address
    • Problem identification goes beyond picking a specific example in the story. Instead, it involves stepping back and thinking about “big picture” problems. For instance, one problem that you can use (and probably should use!) in your assignment is that employees feel “disposable” (see the above section for hints on how to generate “big picture” problems).
    • This means that the problem is likely not the topic of a given lecture (e.g., Job Analysis or Selection). Instead, it is targeted to the case
  4. Solutions (about 2-3 pages)
    • The strategies should be focused, actionable, and realistic, given the circumstances at TWK.
    • The strategies should be informed by “best practice” principles as detailed in the course lectures and textbook. They should not be solutions that you personally think will be effective; instead, you need to be persuasive by selecting strategies that research has found to be effective (as found in the textbook and in lectures), tailoring them if needed, to suit the needs of TWK.
    • The strategies that you select will likely be drawn from more than one topic area that we cover over the semester
  5. Implementation and prioritization (about 2 paragraphs)
    • This section should discuss how you will implement the strategies, and activities that you will prioritize in order to resolve the pressing HRM issues.
    • It should be clear upon reading this section that you have anticipated problems in implementation and have found a way to put your solutions to practice that have the highest chance of success




Formatting and Other Requirements

  • The assignment should be no longer than 6 pages, all inclusive
  • You can use subheadings if you feel that it makes your paper easier to follow, but they are not necessary, especially since you will write a very clear roadmap in the introduction!

Use Times New Roman, 12-point font, 2.5cm margins all around, double spaced

You do not need to reference The Temp or the textbook. However, please use at least 5 additional references to support your arguments. Use APA referencing style and be consistent; include a 7th page for references if you use external sources.

  • During the September 23rd class – a representative from the library will demonstrate how to search for references – and how to properly cite them using APA.
  • Do not use any direct quotes at all. You must demonstrate your own thinking in this assignment.
  • Make sure to check the grading rubric (next page), as this will be used to evaluate your assignment.
  • Note that your assignment may be run through



Title page Professional, follows instructions, creative, clear title Professional, follows instructions, clear title Almost follows all instructions Does not follow instructions
Introduction Ignites great interest, concise, gets straight to the point, clearly identifies the three problems and the integrated set of solutions; showcases how it suits the organization Ignites interest, concise, clearly describes the problems, and the solutions; although all of the information is there, feels a bit like a “laundry list” of problems and/or solutions Does not ignite interest, problems are identified, but not clearly, and/or solutions not clear or complete; feels like a “laundry list” Fails utterly to ignite interest; disorganized; unclear; incomplete; the reader does not know what the paper is about
Problem identification Clearly identifies three problems that go beyond the details of the story; problems are supported by details of the case; repercussions of problems identified in the case or with theory Clearly identifies most of the three problems; goes beyond the details of the story for at least two problems; supported by details from the case; repercussions of problems identified in case/or theory Identifies three problems, but does so with insufficient case evidence; does not show why the problems are problematic; uses details of the case, rather than stepping back to identify “big picture” problems Identifies fewer than three problems/problems overlap, does not show why the problems are problematic; does not refer to case, or to theory in this section
Solutions Identifies targeted solutions for each of the problems identified; clear line of sight between the problems and the solutions; solutions are integrated such that the student shows how they reinforce one another; solutions based on textbook/lecture material; incorporates HRM theory Identifies targeted solutions for each of the problems identified; clear line of sight between the problems and the solutions; incorporates HRM theory; solutions based on textbook/lecture material; missing key points or issues; solutions are too general in that they are not tightly tied to the organization at hand Identifies solutions that may alleviate the problems, but does not show the linkage tightly; solutions contain HRM theory, but could be stronger or clearer; solutions not integrated and/or missing key points or issues; solutions are general in that they are not tied to the organization at hand Solutions are identified, but does not clearly show how they relate to the problems identified; not integrated; not based on HRM theory; missing key points or issues; repetitive and no clear value-added; solutions are general in that they are not tied to the organization at hand
Implementation and Prioritization Clearly discusses actionable steps to take to implement the solutions with realistic timeframe for each step; shows how the solutions can effect change in attitudes/behavior; shows how the changes can be evaluated; has clear plans based on HRM theory; realistic given the story and solution mix Clearly discusses actionable steps to take, but implementation plan is incomplete or unrealistic; fails to provide a clear way to identify whether the problems have been solved in future; implementation plans are vague/not based on theory; realistic given the story Steps are included, but not actionable and/or implementation plan is incomplete or unrealistic; plans are not clearly based on HRM theory/too vague; cannot see how the problems will be addressed through this plan or how we will know if they have been addressed in future Utterly fails to provide a clear actionable plan of implementation and does not discuss priorities. Instead, provides a laundry list of “best practice” steps that may or may not be linked to the problems or solutions; unrealistic given the story/context
Professionalism Exemplary with few, if any, grammatical/spelling errors; consistent use of subheadings, fonts; polished Very good, but with some errors in grammar/formatting, however they are not distracting Okay, but errors in grammar, style, formatting etc.; the errors are distracting and make it difficult to follow The errors are distracting such that the reader cannot understand parts and becomes irritated!!




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