Companies are extensively employing lean manufacturing practices and temporary work, which at face value are in stark contrast to each other. While lean manufacturing emphasises the value of workers, temporary work refers to precarious work arrangements that, based on social exchange theory, may harm workers’ commitment. The objective of this paper is to unveil the role of temporary work on the lean manufacturing–operational performance (i.e. cost, quality, delivery, flexibility) relationship. To answer our research question and test our hypotheses we utilise cross-country data collected through the sixth iteration of the International Manufacturing Strategy Survey and conduct multilevel regression analysis. Our results indicate that while lean manufacturing improves operational performance, the use of temporary work positively influences the relationship between lean manufacturing and mix and volume flexibility performance.