In the fourth quarter of the year, Adecco's net profit plunged to 35 million euros from 133 million euros in the same period a year earlier, well below an analyst forecast compiled by Dow Jones Newswires of 86 million euros.
Adecco shares slid by 4.20 percent to 52.40 francs (42.50 euros, $55.34) in early trading on a Swiss stock exchange that was down by just 0.36 percent overall.
For all of 2012, Adecco sales were three percent lower at constant currency rates, at 20.5 billion euros, while core operating profit fell by 11 percent to 725 million euros.
"Most of Europe was challenging and we faced double-digit revenue declines in France, Italy and Iberia," said company chief executive Patrick De Maeseneire in a statement.
He said later in a conference call that the weak performance in France stemmed from problems in the auto and industrial manufacturing sectors.
In the fourth quarter of 2012, the Zurich-based company, which is restructuring its French activities, said that sales there fell by 17 percent to 1.2 billion euros.
Britain and Ireland were bright spots in Europe last year, with annual sales rising by six percent, while Adecco gained market share and saw sales rise by one percent in Germany and Austria, De Maeseneire said.
Outside of Europe, Adecco posted a solid performance in North America, where sales grew by eight percent in the final quarter of 2012, and in emerging markets where it posted double-digit growth.
For 2012, the company's board plans to propose a stable dividend of 1.80 francs per share.