HR 25 October 2016

The benefits of a flexible employment strategy

flexible employment
There are an estimated 1.91m contracted and freelance workers in the UK

In light of new research showing that short-term, contracted employment is highly valued by Britain’s freelance workforce, Richard Abelson, director at recruitment consultancy MERJE, considers the benefits to a small business owner of adopting a flexible employment strategy.

An uncertain economic climate has resulted in a shift in the marketplace, with company owners increasingly turning towards contracting to recruit candidates – accessing the skill set without the need to add permanent staff to the payroll.

There are several reasons why owners of small companies lean towards this model, not least because of the flexibility it offers. We are often approached by clients looking for candidates for specific projects or to meet extraordinary business deadlines, as well as more “typical” scenarios such as covering maternity, annual and sick leave.

And we’re not alone. This model is proving more popular than ever, with contractors and freelancers now making up a huge proportion of the UK workforce – an estimated 1.91m, according to the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

Clearly, the workforce is shifting. But how do you know which model is right for you? Should flexible employment methods only be a solution during turbulent times, or are there advantages to using this model even during times of economic growth?

The benefits of flexible employment

Budgeting pressures around recruiting permanent staff – and even freezes on hiring – make contractors a very attractive prospect. Crucially, businesses can scale up and down as required, without the expenses associated with hiring and firing.

Seasoned contractors are usually quick to adapt to new working environments, and are incentivised to go the extra mile, as the quality of their performance determines whether they win repeat work – as well as helping to build their reputation in the industry.

Hiring contractors is also a low-risk way of assessing whether potential new employees are able to operate at a high level, fit the corporate culture and work well within the existing team.

Of course, flexible employment is not always an appropriate solution for every business need. However, it can work well as part of a long-term recruitment strategy. As the number of freelancers increases, this will become a viable option for more organisations – in times of prosperity as well as difficulty.

Four things to consider for a flexible employment strategy

There are a number of issues to consider when trying to decide whether hiring a contractor is more appropriate than recruiting a permanent member of staff.

(1) Urgency

If the business requirement is time-sensitive, then a contractor is nearly always the best option. An experienced individual can be placed within a week or two, whereas recruiting a permanent member of staff can take up to three months – and in some cases, longer.

One of our clients was recently acquired by another company and there was an urgent need for extra resources. We were able to get a temporary candidate placed within only four days. There have also been cases where our clients have had to respond to requests by regulatory bodies and within seven days of being instructed, a candidate has started work.

(2) Cost

A permanent hire is generally a more cost-effective solution, as continually paying a high day-rate can be a difficult model to maintain in the long-term.

However, although the initial cost may be higher in the short-term, this is only for the duration of the contract, meaning the company isn’t stuck paying a high salary for an employee it no longer needs.

(3) Nature of the work

If there is a specific project that needs to be completed, it is often better to bring in an experienced contractor to handle a complex task and then recruit a permanent employee to handle the day-to-day business.

(4) Nature of the situation

A contractor could help improve an under-performing team and get them up to speed, providing a quick-fix to a problem.

Another common situation is when a company loses a key member of staff and wants to bring in a contractor to cover that position before a permanent hire can be made.

Essentially, the decision between hiring a contractor or a permanent employee comes down to your individual needs as a business owner. If you’re looking for someone to join your team, fit in with company culture and work on projects across the board, then it’s probably worth investing time in recruiting permanent staff.

If, however, what you’re looking for is someone to fly in, get the job done and then drop off your payroll, then a flexible employment strategy may well be the best way to go. And, if you build a bank of good, reliable freelancers, they’ll always be there should you need another pair of hands.

Richard Abelson is director at recruitment consultancy MERJE.

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