Loaning an employee to another department or organisation can have a lot going for it, including reducing the risk of losing them altogether.
Internal and external secondment is increasingly recognised as a valuable part of employee and organisational development. It can also play an effective role in retention by giving talented employees access to development and learning opportunities they can’t get in other ways. This is especially the case for small-to-medium enterprises that have less internal flexibility and/or a limited range of job roles.
According to the international Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the change to flatter management structures and recent difficult economic times have made secondments one of the most commonly used career management practices.
Internal secondment is the temporary ‘loan’ of an employee to another part of the organisation, often for a specific project. External secondment involves temporary transfer to another organisation.
As a way of learning, secondment very much falls into the ‘experiential’ rather than the ‘theoretical’ category. It’s hands-on and practical, and it inherently allows employees to make comparisons between organisations, ranging from day to day work practices to organisational policies, structures and strategies.
Secondments can be effective in fostering leadership development, whether they are for a short period (often part-time) or to the voluntary sector – a particularly useful option for SMEs. Length of secondment depends on individual circumstances, but it can range from less than 100 hours on a part-time basis, to up to two years full-time.
Depending on organisational policies, such opportunities may be open to all or restricted to managers, technical or professional staff.
There should be a clear business case for secondment, with specific outcomes identified, resulting in benefits for all. The secondee gains wider career and personal development (including potential project management experience), new skills and experiences, and the chance to apply their skills in a different environment. The host employer gains from new skills, including team working and communications; improved employee motivation; the employee’s wider networks and contacts; and an enhanced reputation as an employer.
However, there can be potential drawbacks. Staff who want to be selected for secondment, but aren’t, may be demotivated. The host organisation may feel the secondee doesn’t fit into its culture, or secondees may have difficulty settling back into their previous role or home organisation.
External secondment arrangements (e.g. pay, holidays) must be properly planned and clear from the start, and other ground rules established. For example, what happens in the event of long-term or persistent absence, or other supervisory or disciplinary matters?
External secondment can also be used as an alternative to redundancy. With economic uncertainty and the multispeed economy, some industries in Australia face the need to consolidate and realign their workforces. But many have found other ways to keep their skilled workers ready for the economic upturn, such as a recruitment freeze, stopping overtime, offering early retirement, retraining or redeployment, pay freezes or cuts, short-term or flexible working, unpaid leave, sabbaticals… and secondments to other organisations.
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