More and more organizations are enabling a mobile workforce by increasing temporary and short-term job assignments, according to a recent survey by Worldwide ERC and Cartus. Budgetary pressures, an ever-shrinking labor pool and more demand for flexibility in the workplace are the motivators for this, said U.S.-based human resources practitioners.
Of the 80 percent of respondents who use short-term assignments, 62 percent said that during the past three years, their use has increased. Fifty-seven percent of the 208 people polled expect this trend to persist in the future.
“It’s a reaction to the real-estate market in one sense and then also a cost savings in another sense,” said Lina Paskevicius, consulting manager at Cartus, a provider of global mobility management and workforce development solutions. “People are finding that they may not be in a position where they can move, [as] the real-estate market has taken some of the equity out of their homes. They’re also not willing to move to the new location either, [for the] same reason. And companies are realizing that they don’t need to relocate someone; they can send them on an assignment and have them back in nine months.”
Of the 40 percent of respondents who have rotational assignments, 43 percent expect an increase in this type of job assignment in the future. As defined by the survey, a domestic, short-term assignment is a single, short-duration relocation in which the employee moves from home to the destination location and back again, whereas a rotational assignment is a series of short-duration assignments.
These posts can provide employees with a bevy of development opportunities. Organizations are using them for career development, knowledge or skills transfer and project work.
“The learning capabilities are huge, depending upon how open I am to other people’s ideas, styles and methodologies,” said Lynette Wagner, vice president of global learning and development with Cartus. “What the organization is doing is making an investment in this individual, and, ‘Yes, we have specific outcomes that we want you to achieve while you’re there.’ The secondary goal oftentimes is that we want you to develop in a specific area or enhance your current skill set, and that skill set can range from relationship management to communication to financial acumen.”
If organizations are going to increase their short-term assignments, they need to have conversations with employees about their expectations to ensure those employees are taking full advantage of developmental opportunities.
“Oftentimes, I don’t think there are those conversations [where] people say, ‘Here’s what we’re looking for you to develop in addition to the outcome,’” Wagner said. “If I know up-front what I can get out of this assignment, then I’m going to look for those opportunities during those three months or six months to ensure that I’m leveraging those opportunities. If my direct manager has said to me: ‘This is a great opportunity for you to continue to build your relationship skills,’ then during the course of this implementation, I’m going to look for those opportunities that perhaps I might not have been focused on.”
While short-term assignments started as a reaction to the real-estate market, the trend will only grow as companies realize these posts save money, provide opportunities to keep employees who aren’t willing to move and meet the demands for flexibility.
This is illustrated by the survey results that list flexibility for employees, the need to offset recruiting difficulties and cost control as the top reasons for using short-term assignments.
“Companies are realizing that they’re working, so why not have an employee go on a short-term assignment and still accomplish the business need rather than disrupt family life and spend the money to relocate them?” Paskevicius said.