How to keep your seconded staff engaged with you and not just “them”
From a business standpoint, secondment can be pretty useful. It can enable managers to keep the career progression of their staff moving even if certain stepping stone positions aren't currently available in their normal workplace.
For employees, it's a chance to branch out, diversify their skill set and do some good old-fashioned networking.
But secondments aren't always sunshine and roses.
Like any other working arrangement, they can have their obstacles, and being seconded isn't always a good thing in the long run.
So today, we'll be talking about what secondment can do for your business, why some employees are apprehensive towards it, and a few tips for keeping secondment staff engaged.
What are secondment employees?
Secondment employees are staff members who are temporarily transferred to either a different department or even a separate company altogether. During this time, seconded staff members spend most (if not all) of their working hours at this other workplace for the duration.
The seconded employee (or secondee) is usually paid by their original employer, also referred to as their seconder.
Typically speaking, once the secondment contract has run its course, the secondee leaves the host company and returns to their seconder. The employee also has certain legal rights to consider when placing them on secondment, like their rights to confidentiality and data protection, which mean that a manager must obtain permission from their employee before sharing this information with the host organisation.
The first challenge that organisations face in keeping secondment staff engaged is that of ensuring their introduction to the host company goes smoothly. Effectively, secondees have to go through being the newbie all over again. Onboarding procedures can vary from business to business, and so it helps to familiarise yourself with how potential host organisations integrate new staff so you can make sure they're the right fit for your employees.
Seconded staff can experience conflicting workplace cultures
The differences don't stop at onboarding though.
Every workplace has its own culture, and the shift from one to another can be quite jarring, even within the same sector. This can radically alter the employee experience for better or worse. In the best-case scenario, your employee might come back with a broader set of skills and fresh insight on how to improve the workplace or optimise customer experience.
But on the other hand, a shift in culture isn't always welcome. Whether the host workplace is too uptight or too unprofessional, bureaucratic or metaphorically lawless, these sudden shifts in office attitude can limit an employee's ability to engage as they struggle to adapt.
Keeping seconded employees engaged can be challenging due to the lack of direct interaction you have with them, similarly to remote workers. Then there's the return to think about. If they've been with a host organisation for a long time, you can expect your employee to have to re-acclimate a bit once they get back.
Employees can be apprehensive of secondment
Despite the possible career and personal benefits of secondment work, employees can sometimes be reluctant to do it. Even in normal situations, people aren't always clear on what's required of them, and this can be exacerbated by having to get to grips with a whole new set of responsibilities.
For others, it might be something so simple as the new commute being impractical or the work involved being in an area which that employee struggles to engage with. Getting thrust into the unknown can be difficult, and it's essential that you have the trust of those employees you send out into the world.
The best way to build that trust is to sit down with potential secondment employees to discuss their exact responsibilities and listen to their concerns. Even though someone's skillset might make them perfect for the role, there can be plenty of personal reasons that might make a particular secondment role unsuitable. If you don't take care to match the right candidate to the right host organisation, then keeping secondment employees engaged can prove very difficult.
Keeping secondment staff engaged requires consistent support
It may well be that your seconded employees are being hosted by caring organisations with plenty of support systems in place. But even though someone else is managing them, you still have a duty of care, especially if you want those employees to still feel connected to your business.
Keeping secondment employees engaged means giving them the support they need. If you're not already using a weekly check-in with your employees, it may at least be worth doing so for your secondment staff. Aside from keeping you regular performance updates, these check-ins enable you to keep an eye on their wellbeing, and follow up with one-to-one meetings in Microsoft Teams or a similar application.
If they're missing their regular team, it might be worth organising video stand-ups to ensure they still have that sense of social connection. This also has the added benefit of helping seconded staff stay in the loop, so that when they come back, they actually have some idea of what's going on.
Maintaining consistent communication is very important. As their actual employer, you'll be required to deal with any issues that arise, and secondment employees may end up in a position where you're required to advocate for them. This is much easier to do if you have a regular history of check-ins with effective documentation.
And remember, if the host organisation supports your employees more than you do, they might not be yours for much longer. If you would like to learn more about how to engage your staff no matter where they are, or you want to learn more about a myriad of workplace issues, be sure to go take a look at the Weekly10 blog.