Strategic HRM theory argues that organisations should distinguish different types of employees according to their value and availability. We argue that this has resulted in an underestimation of the importance of specific HRM practices in relation to temporary employees. Building on theoretical work that discusses the employment relationship for temporary employees, the process of identification with the organisation and different ways of managing diversity, we distinguish three approaches to the operational management of temporary employees. We explore two cases that reflect opposite ends of the scale. They illustrate the value of the theoretical framework and substantiate the claim that, even after the strategic choice for a lean, distanced and uninvolved temporary 'employment mode' is made, different operational HRM practices lead to differences in performance.