Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Don’t make staff redundant – lend them out to society

March 2009

Secondment programmes can be a useful corporate tool in a recession, say Matthew Farmer and Ed Williams

At a time when major companies are announcing redundancies and the jobless toll is rising, can corporate social responsibility continue to demonstrate its value?

While some job losses are inevitable and arguably prudent, redundancies drain morale and can also be expensive. Moreover, the costs of re-hiring talent during any upturn are not insubstantial. Research from Accenture suggests the price of re-recruitment is three and a half times monthly salary, and there are no guarantees that firms will be able to replace the previous knowledge and experience.

Some companies are looking at more imaginative and responsible ways of approaching this problem – Honda, for example, has shut down production at its Swindon plant in the UK for four months and asked people to take some of that time at 60 per cent pay, while KPMG has offered staff extended leave of three months on reduced pay.

However, human resources and corporate responsibility departments are missing an opportunity to go further and develop more structured schemes that will bring the company, its employees and wider society considerably greater value.

If, for example, employers were to offer selected staff a secondment of, say, six to 12 months with an organization driving social value in the developing world, the company could not only save money on the salaries of the staff involved but also develop the leadership skills of participants and enhance their awareness of emerging economies.  Being supported on such a programme sends the employee a clear signal of their value, while their contribution to the partner organization in the developing world can be captured as part of their employer’s CSR activity – at a time when corporate reputations count more strongly than ever.

Clearly this solution is not for everyone. The employer should choose high value performers that it does not want to lose but who may not be fully utilised in the coming months. The offer is also unlikely to appeal to those employees with hefty mortgages and young families.  

The people who undertake such a programme should not kid themselves that the work will be easy, and they may still face an uncertain future once they return. However, they will have had the opportunity to undertake an inspiring and socially beneficial experience and will have been able to develop highly transferable skills and qualities that will be of value to them and their employer in the future.

Best of all, the numbers stack up. Proposals taken forward for adopting schemes such as this can show substantial cost-savings. If they are taken forward by a CSR department, then that’s a real demonstration of value.

Matthew Farmer is founder of Adopt a Business
Ed Williams is a freelance CSR and leadership consultant

Global | Employee relations

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