What Is Secondment? Meaning, Definition & Advantages
A secondment is a temporary transfer to another role or business area away from your primary job. It allows you to get first-hand experience of another industry, organization or job role, so you can truly understand what it involves.
Secondments can be internal – at a different department within your company, or external – at a sister company, or in a client’s or partner’s company.
Secondments do not usually occur between businesses that are not linked in some way.
External secondments can be more complex to arrange, as the legal details, including payment terms, need to be agreed in writing.
The original employer usually remains the official employer of the secondee, in an acknowledgement that they are ‘lending’ their employee to the other company.
Taking part in a secondment can benefit you as an employee, and both other parties involved.
It allows you to develop skills outside of your usual job role and gives you networking opportunities that may otherwise be difficult to come by.
Secondments are possible in various industries, across the government, private and charity sectors.
If you feel that your skill set is not fully utilized in your current job role, or that you might be better suited to a different department, a secondment is a perfect opportunity to explore other avenues.
It allows you to try out work in a new field without a permanent commitment. A secondment also gives you the chance to learn new skills and increase your exposure to different workplace situations, making you more attractive to employers.
Many large companies and organizations use secondments to manage staff levels. They can move around employees to match them to the right job roles or balance out the workforce if they are overstaffed in one area or understaffed in another.
Companies that are aware of the unique opportunities secondments can present may use them as part of their employee retainment strategy. They also reflect well on both companies who will gain a reputation for being a supportive employer.
If you like the thought of participating in a secondment, this can be something to look out for when job hunting.
In some instances, two employees may decide to swap job roles temporarily. There is no set time limit to a secondment; it is at the discretion of you and your employer. Sometimes, a secondment can lead to an offer of new employment, or you might decide to return to your current job role.
Some global companies even offer international secondments, giving you the chance to travel and explore new locations.
An example of a situation in which a secondment may prove beneficial is in the educational sector. A teacher at a college may have the opportunity to be seconded to a faculty where they will get the chance to manage the student recruitment strategy and carry out long term planning for curriculums.
The teacher gets a broader view of education and an opportunity to stretch their skills and learn new ones. They demonstrate dynamism and a willingness to improve themselves that looks good on their CV in the long term. The hosting department also benefits from the hands-on teaching skills and experience of the teacher secondee.
Learn new skills. One of the significant benefits of taking part in a secondment is the range of new skills you will learn. You have the chance to improve soft skills such as communication, networking and building relationships, as you join a new team and meet new colleagues. Exposure to a new job role will also allow you to learn new practical skills and possibly even gain a new qualification or train in a new system. Once your secondment ends, make sure you reflect on how you’ve developed and update your CV accordingly.
Gain a new perspective. Seeing how other people and teams work can give you a new perspective to take back to your original team. You get the opportunity to compare two different ways of doing things and can improve systems and operations in your current and future roles.
Make new connections. A secondment is an excellent networking opportunity. You have the chance to meet and become friends with a whole new team, and these relationships can prove to be beneficial throughout your career. Make a good impression, and you can draw upon your new connections when needed.
A low risk opportunity. Try out a new career path without the risks of leaving your current job behind. If you have been unsure whether to take the leap into a new role, a secondment can be a low-risk opportunity that allows you to explore a new position and make sure it works for you.
A valuable addition to your CV. The skills and experience you gain from a secondment will stay with you for the rest of your career. Having a secondment on your CV shows employers that you are dynamic and motivated to progress. If you plan a secondment strategically, you can fill in any gaps in your CV to strengthen your position in the job market.
Job satisfaction. A secondment can be the ideal way to keep your work exciting and keep you moving forward in your career. If you are ambitious and love to try new things, a secondment can allow you to move out of your comfort zone and work on your personal and professional growth.
Upheaval to work and personal life. Just as with any new job, a secondment can prove to be very stressful. It might be a temporary arrangement, but it still involves meeting new people, taking on new challenges, and performing well for your host employer. A secondment in a different geographical location to your usual role can bring additional pressures. You may have an extended commute, the stress of settling into a new place, and might be further away from your support network. Employees with young families or caring responsibilities might find this a particular challenge.
Secondment roles are not always clearly defined. A secondment needs to be carefully managed, with clear expectations for all parties. If this doesn’t happen, secondees can find themselves in a role that they don’t quite understand or don’t feel confident in carrying out. Ask your colleagues for recommendations of secondments that have worked well for them to get an idea of how successful they can be. See our Top Tips below for advice on how to avoid this pitfall.
The legalities can be confusing. Your permanent employer usually retains responsibility for you even while you are at the host company. That means you remain a legal employee of theirs and they offer you the same legal workplace protections that they would if you were still in your original role. You will probably be offered a temporary contract related to your secondment. Be sure to read it carefully and raise any issues with your manager before your secondment starts. Look out for details such as absence policy, payment terms, disciplinary and grievance procedures, and appraisals processes. You will typically continue to receive payment from your permanent employer, who will then be reimbursed by your host employer.
Getting long term value from it. Upon your return, get to work applying your new skills to your current role. It can be easy to slide back into your old routine and ways of doing things, but don’t let your new skills go to waste. You could write up a case study of your secondment experience or produce a guide for future secondees. Show your employer how they benefit from sending you on a secondment.
Fitting back into your permanent role. When you’ve been away from your existing employer, job role and team for some time, you may find it hard to settle back in. Things can move very quickly, and you might notice changes to work processes or even new colleagues that have started while you’ve been away. Open communication with your employer throughout your secondment can minimize the impact of changes.
Before you ask your manager about a secondment, do your research about what is available in your company. If one sparks your interest, look further into what the role entails. You need to be clear on how you can benefit both in the short term and long term. What is the workload like? Will it progress your career? Will you have the chance to develop your skillset? This knowledge will help you find the most suitable placement and help convince your manager that you are motivated and committed to a secondment.
Ask for a contract from your permanent employer and read through it carefully. The content of your agreement might depend on the labor laws in your state. Ensure that everything explained to you is reflected in the contract, including a written definition of precisely what is expected of you in your new role. You might also want to clarify details like who to report to if you are sick, or who to request vacation.
As with most career decisions, good preparation and clear plan can improve your chances of success. Check whether there are any new skills you could learn before you start your secondment that will help you hit the ground running. If you get the chance to speak to your new manager, ask them what you can do to prepare for the role. You might need login details, equipment or access to programmes so you can hit the ground running.
If you have mutual connections, ask them to introduce you to some of your new teammates. Starting your secondment with a friendly face will help settle those first day nerves. LinkedIn is another easy way to find new colleagues and make connections before you start.
Ask to be included in email communications and staff bulletins from your original company while you are away. Keep in touch with friends and attend work events if you can. You want to stay relevant and visible, so you don’t have too much catching up to do when you return.
Consider the reasons you want the secondment and the skills you wish to develop while you are there. Make sure your host manager knows what you want to achieve from your role so they can support you accordingly.
Keep open communication with your host manager and ask for feedback regularly to help you get acclimated and up to speed with the rest of the team.
A secondment is a valuable networking opportunity. Reach out to people in your host company, attend events, and try to build relationships. It can help take your new contacts online by connecting with them on LinkedIn, so it’s easier to stay in touch with them after your secondment ends.
When your secondment comes to an end, take all the learning you can from it. Reflect on what went well and what could be improved. List the new skills you gained and what you learned from the experience. Don’t forget to update your CV.
When you look back at all you learned on your secondment, you will probably have plenty of new ways of working and new skills that you can bring back to your original workplace. Apply them where relevant and if you have an idea that could help your department, pitch it to your boss.
The key to requesting a secondment is making it clear to your employer that they will benefit from the new skills and experience that you will bring back to your role. A good employer will also want you to be happy and fulfilled in your work.
Before proposing a secondment, think about the following:
- What skills will you develop to bring back to your role?
- How does it support your company’s strategy?
- What are your career aspirations, and how does a secondment support them?
- Are there any gaps in your organization that you can fill by gaining knowledge from a secondment?
Never approach a host before you have discussed your idea with your original employer.
If they are open to the suggestion, they may ask you to put together a formal written proposal.
A secondment can be an incredible opportunity to explore new career possibilities, gain experience while remaining in secure employment, learn new skills and boost your confidence.
The key to a successful secondment is clear communication between all parties and a mutual agreement of what the role will entail.
When done well, a secondment can provide benefits for all parties involved.