Per Diem Employment: What Does Per Diem Mean?

The motto of many professionals is “carpe diem,” or “seize the day” in Latin. You’ve likely encountered a similar-sounding term in “per diem” as you conducted your job search. What does per diem mean? Simply translated, per diem meaning is “for each day” or “per day.”

So, what does per diem mean for your career? The career context of this term applies to per diem employment for jobs and internships. Per diem can apply to many types of positions, and it’s easy to confuse. Here are a few typical uses of per diem you’ll come across as applied to employment.


Pay Per Diem Meaning in Employment

When you work per diem, you have a job opportunity on the clock for a given number of hours for specific pay, as opposed to committing to a full-time, long-term position. Advertisements list per diem roles that pay by the day or by the shift, which is often the case when industries need workers on short notice or typically rely on temporary workers. The roles may also be on an as-needed basis.

A few per diem positions include substitute teachers and contract workers. Substitute teachers work as per diem employees, since they fill their roles on an as-needed basis and with urgency. Contract workers operate per diem, and the difficulty and pace of their job vary by the day — though they get paid by the shift.

Per diem employment affords you opportunity if you prefer flexibility or need a way to make extra money. It’s also a solid option for explorers if you’re looking for a new place to move and can’t yet commit to a full-time job. Per diem employment offers variety in some good-paying industries like health care, and you’ll never get bored.

Don’t think of per diem employment as temporary work. Per diem employment can provide a way to learn new skills quickly and get your foot in the door of a certain company. Stand out by asking for a new project to test the skills you’re growing and broaden your existing skill set. That shows the company you’re willing to take initiative.

Per diem work is not a stable option if you seek job growth, paid time off and benefits, but it doesn’t mean it can’t lead to an opportunity.


Per Diem Meaning for Full-Time Employees

Full-time employees don’t escape the term “per diem” in the course of their careers. Per diem may also reference employee expenses or the receipt of an allowance. If you’re a full-time employee who travels for business, you’ll see “per diem” applied to mileage or travel reimbursement or an allowance for meals and lodging.

For travel, that means travel expenses are typically “travel per diem.” It kicks in when your supervisor tells you to save all receipts for business expenses you incur, so your company can reimburse you per its policy. You would send in an expense report for specific costs like transportation and meals.

Flight attendants often get an allowance for meals and having to stay overnight if they have a long layover in another city. You would find meals and a place to stay that fit within your allowance as outlined by company policy and submit an expense report promptly.

Your travel per diem allowance can also shift if you travel for business frequently. Your lodging allowance for one city may be higher than another, based on reasonable cost of living.

Some employers extend allowances to full-time employees who work longer hours than usual or in general. These allowances may include part of an employee’s mileage and meals. If your boss doesn’t currently offer per diem allowances, it’s worth bringing up to optimize your productivity and assist with work-life balance.

If you ever get a per diem allowance, always save receipts and submit expense reports on time to get reimbursed. Managing all that paper gets difficult, so back up receipts electronically via Evernote or Google Drive. Some apps let you also generate expense reports for free or a small cost, but your company may already have a required template for you to fill out and submit.


Deciding If Per Diem Work Is for You

Per diem employment comes with many pros and cons. Some make per diem employment into a lifestyle the way digital nomads roam the world.

In many instances, per diem pay is better than part-time or full-time pay in high demand industries, like health care. Many shifts need filled at the last minute. One day, you fill in at the ICU, and the next day you fill in psychiatric care. You get an opportunity to work when you want and where you want. You pick extra shifts when you need them and set your own hours, otherwise.

Per diem work provides an opportunity to discover more about which part of an industry you may want to pursue. You can also test-drive a company and let them get to know you more.
While you have flexibility, per diem work also comes with downsides. Some industries offer more per diem work than others, especially if you’re a nurse. Per diem employees typically don’t receive health insurance, vacation time or paid days off, so it requires you to stay on top of your finances and budget.

You can work directly for a company on a per diem basis, but some staffing agencies also hire talented per diem workers and may offer some increased incentives and benefits.

Understanding what per diem means in a business context can get confusing, whether you prefer a per diem work lifestyle or want to know more about per diem allowances. There are many benefits to per diem work, but it works best for those who prefer flexibility and work well with finances and budgeting. Carpe diem — especially those receipts!


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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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