Maybe you are wondering, what the heck is warm body syndrome? Or, maybe you aren’t because, if you are in HR, then you’ve dealt with it or deal with it all the time. For those of you who may not know what it is, you have undoubtedly heard someone say, “Just get me some bodies in here who can do the job.” That’s warm body syndrome in a nutshell, but how does it happen? Is it avoidable?

Why Would You Hire Warm Bodies?

First, let’s discuss how warm body hiring happens. Sometimes it is intentional, meaning, you simply just need a person or people to get the job done as soon as possible. At other times, warm body syndrome recruitment is the result of a failed staffing and talent management plan. Warm body syndrome can also be caused by lack of branding and poor company culture. However, to simply suggest that only bad companies resort to warm body hiring is an oversimplification of the issue. Warm body hiring practices can be found in any company.

For instance, let’s say your company has a great product and you launch an online marketing campaign to sell this outstanding product. It just so happens, one customer tells another, and another, and then, all of a sudden, your product goes viral, and the orders come rushing in. Now you need to package and ship your orders as soon as possible–so quickly that you don’t have time to launch a strategic recruitment process. What do you do? You call the local temporary staffing agency, and you hire some warm bodies to package and ship your product!

Another time you may have to resort to a warm body workforce is during a strike! Yes, let’s say you have an unionized workforce, and a conflict between the union and the employer results in a strike. The company would need an alternate workforce to come in and perform the job until the strike is resolved.

And finally, what if you work for a recruiting company that has to find hundreds of workers for the Supply Chain and Distribution industry? Just imagine having to find 200 to 300 hundred workers per month for 10 to 20 different clients who need those warm bodies to pick, pull, package, ship, load and unload trucks, railroad carts, or boats. Take it from me folks, I live in a region known as the distribution center of the South and I know warm body hiring in mass numbers exists!

The Problems with Warm Body Hiring Syndrome

Although most companies will probably hire warm bodies at some point, there are drawbacks to using this hiring philosophy, most notably, quality. Warm body hires usually aren’t adequately trained because companies hire them during “a crunch” to relieve a backlog or to fill-in during talent shortages. Warm bodies rarely receive full-time employment status or benefits, which we all know are engagement killers. In addition, warm bodies are often become part of a company’s skills gap, meaning they have deficiencies in skill or talent that have been overlooked because of the situation. Normally most warm body hires would not pass the minimum job requirements or background checks, nor are they a great culture fit.

Unfortunately, many warm body hires do not last very long. In fact, most will be replaced by better talent who have been vetted, screened, and selected through a better process. Since most warm bodies are not brought in on a full-time basis and are not under contracts, letting them go is fairly easy. However, sometimes someone is hired full-time to fill a position, and it just doesn’t work out. In that case, if you are in an “At-Will” employment state, meaning you are protected by a state law that says you can terminate employment at your will, then you can just let the person go. My advice, when firing anyone for an at-will reason, is to soften the blow by offering a small severance package. You may be surprised at how many people will accept a month or two of salary and happily go away. And that is a far less costly option than keeping them around.

How to Avoid Warm Body Hiring Syndrome

As you may have gathered by now, the best way to avoid warm body hiring is not having to hire warm bodies in the first place. As human resource professionals, we must develop recruitment strategies and succession plans to avoid (or at least minimize) the need to hire warm bodies. We must use data to proactively forecast staffing needs instead of hiring reactively. By forecasting staffing needs, we give ourselves time to perform background checks, reference checks, pre-employment assessments, and onboarding to ensure a proper culture fit.  Through these successful recruiting strategies, we can select the best talent possible.

Have you ever hired warm bodies? Was it a nightmare or did it end well? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

Chris Fields

Chris Fields is an HR professional and expert resume writer with more than 13 years of experience as a former practitioner and current HR consultant. He is the curator of two websites: CostofWork.com and ResumeCrusade.com , and contributes HR-focused content to many others, including PerformanceICreate.com and SmartRecruiters.com . He has been listed by the Huffington Post as one of the “Top 100 Most Social Human Resources Experts to Follow on Twitter”, one of the “Top 40 under 40” by the HR Blogger Network, one of the “25 Must-Read HR Blogs in 2013”, and also featured on Oprah.com. He is very active with the Society of Human Resource Management, working closely with conference directors, communication chairs, and social media teams from Illinois, Oklahoma, and Tennessee to develop social strategies to engage attendees and enhance their conference experience. Chris earned his master’s degree in Labor and Human Resources from Ohio State University. In 2005, he moved back to his hometown of Memphis, TN, where he has developed a reputation for helping his clients create HR strategies, and individuals master the tough economic challenges of the South.

3 Comments

  • Avatar Kelly says:

    As an employer, you have a responsibility to all of your current and future employees, customers and stakeholders to provide the best possible service. Conducting background checks is an effective way to accomplish part of this goal and avoid warm body hiring.

  • Avatar Casey says:

    Many staffing firms fall victim to “warm-body syndrome,” making poor hiring decisions just to fill a position. One way to treat this syndrome is to target people who might want to work for you or start an employee referral program.

  • Avatar Tom S. says:

    Thank you for your article. This hiring mistake, indeed, can lead to many problems in the workplace, most of all, increased costs.

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