Secondments: a cost-effective option

The temporary movement or ‘loan’ of an employee to another part of the organisation (internal secondment, often involving a specific project) or to a separate organisation (external) is increasingly recognised as valuable for both employee and organisational development.

According to the CIPD, the change to flatter management structures and recent difficult economic times have made secondment one of the most commonly used career management practices.

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 secondments depends on individual circumstances, but can range from short-term placements (less than 100 hours), perhaps on a part-time basis, or up to two years for longer-term secondments. 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 secondee’s employer gains new skills, including teamworking and communications; improved employee motivation; benefits from the employee’s wider networks and contacts; and an enhanced reputation as an employer.

However, there can be potential drawbacks: staff who wish to be, but are not selected for secondment may be demotivated; the host organisation may feel the secondee does not fit into their 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, e.g. what happens in the event of long-term or persistent absence or other supervisory and disciplinary matters?

A number of organisations coordinate secondment opportunities, including Business in the Community (www.bitc.org.uk) and the Whitehall and Industry Group (www.wig.co.uk).