Working for an outsourcing company

When Tracey Shepherd first discovered she would be transferred to the company her employer had just signed an outsourcing deal with, she was distraught. She had been working for Thomson Local, the business directory company, since 1996 and had recently joined its new, in-house recruitment team.

“I’d been there a long time. I didn’t want to work for anyone else,” she remembers. Thomson Local had signed a multi-year recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) contract with Ochre House in 2008, and Shepherd was one of three people in her team who would be transferred over to Ochre House’s payroll.

Managing the transition to HR outsourcing

  • Ensure sufficient leadership remains internally to manage the change.
  • Make sure that there is an open dialogue between provider and client.
  • Accept that staffing changes or transfers will take time to introduce.
  • Open and ongoing communication with staff about the whole process is important.
  • Some staff may require additional training if they are being redeployed.
  • Make sure that there is clarity over who is accountable if something goes wrong.

Source: CIPD.

Her worries were soon assuaged, however, when she discovered that she would still be on site, working alongside her former colleagues as well as her new workmates. Because she was protected by Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (TUPE) legislation, her salary and benefits would remain the same – essentially, there would just be a new name on her payslip.

Shepherd’s concerns about being transferred over to an outsourcing company are not unusual. When organisations choose to outsource aspects of HR – or indeed any other business processes – they often choose to move some of their in-house staff over to work with the outsourcer. How employees cope with this move depends on a number of things: how the move is communicated; whether or not they will physically be working where they used to; and how both sides deal with the inevitable cultural change.

New ways of working

Dr Jill Miller, a research adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), explains: “If you’re working for another employer but still doing a similar role, the new employer will have a new way of working. It’s natural to be worried. The economic situation compounds worries because it’s a big change and people will want to know why it’s happening. They think: ‘Will my role still be here?'”

Robert Ingram, vice-president of HR for application services at the consulting, technology and outsourcing company Capgemini, says that, in order to manage the transition successfully, organisations should treat it as a “human exercise, not a spreadsheet exercise”. Even before a contract has been finalised, Capgemini meets with union representatives or staff councils to gain an insight into how the change will be received and how the company might deal with any concerns. Communicating openly with all parties involved and updating them on any changes can avoid the rumour mill going into overdrive and scepticism building about the deal. If you are being transferred, don’t be afraid to share your concerns with your new employer.

“People could be worried about job security, pensions, terms and conditions, their working hours, their career prospects: we try and build a discussion about all of these into the transition and talk to staff as early as is realistically possible,” says Ingram. “When a workforce is in transition there can be a terrible feeling of having this done to you, rather than with you.”

Consider the opportunities

Dr Miller advises HR professionals who are being transferred over to an outsourcing provider to consider the opportunities that working with a major outsourcing company will bring. “These companies often have access to IT systems and extra resources, not to mention specialist expertise. If you’re looking to move into a highly specialist HR role, this could be a good move for you,” she says.

This was certainly the case for Shepherd. “Having more resources available to us made the job easier,” she says. “We didn’t have much when we initially set up the recruitment team, and the new set up gave us access to technology and people’s expertise.” She has also been given a more senior role due to her intimate knowledge of how Thomson Local works.

There were, of course, teething problems. Ochre House paid people on a different day to Thomson Local, for example, so Shepherd needed to move around her direct debits. But while Ochre House did not provide a company car scheme for staff, it needed to honour this under TUPE, so Shepherd was able to retain this benefit.

Chris Herrmannssen, Ochre House’s CEO, ensures that any staff who are transferred over as part of an outsourcing deal are exposed to career opportunities and advancement from their very first day. “We never attach a time period to someone when they come and work for us. You’re given a chance to become part of Ochre House from day one, as if you’d applied for a job directly with us.” Within the first three or four weeks of joining the company, staff are taken through how their work will contribute towards overall goals, what the company expects of them and what its values are. “All of this helps to make people feel welcome,” adds Herrmannsen.

Degree of change

Ultimately though, the degree of change involved in a major outsourcing transition does not suit everyone. Herrmannsen estimates that around 75% of staff who come to Ochre House as part of a contract are still with the company two or three years down the line, but others have found the experience too different from working in an in-house role. “As a commercial provider, we may have different expectations of them and it can be quite intense,” he says. Ingram at Capgemini agrees: “Some people say: ‘Bring it on’; others take months or even years to accept the change. We try to move at each individual’s pace.”

For some, working for the outsourcing provider becomes a long-term career move. Capgemini has celebrated anniversaries this year with staff who joined the company 20 years ago with the now obsolete National Coal Board and ICI. “We say to people: ‘Your history is important and is part of our history’. It’s not just about them working for us.”

So while the TUPE part of the process should ensure the mechanics of the transition work well, being able to ask questions of your new employer and find out more about them will ease the trickier, emotional side of the deal. “The natural instinct is to idealise the past and demonise the future,” concludes Ingram, “but the past was never quite as good and the future is never quite as bad. The key is to get past that.”

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