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New research released has highlighted that three in four senior and HR managers do not know the rights of agency workers. The news runs alongside insights that suggest temporary work is set to surge, as firms struggle to effectively plan in the wake of a worsening pandemic. Kit Glover, UK MD of digital staffing platform Coople, explains what you need to know about hiring flexible workers, and how they can help you.

Today, just one in six firms (15%) rely on a flexible workforce, with 1.5m temporary employees working in the UK today. This figure is set to rise to deal with constantly shifting priorities. More than a quarter of firms (27%) in the UK are reconsidering the role agency workers have in their business in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The ability to effectively plan for the business long-term is long-gone, market conditions change on an almost daily basis now and we’re all struggling to keep up.

We spoke to businesses across the UK; and on average, half of organisations stated COVID-19 has led to their profits slightly or significantly declining. The figure was even worse for organisations who don’t use temporary workers; they reported losses of almost double their competitors who do use agency workers. It’s time to relieve that financial pressure.  

When demand uncertainty is high, the right staffing strategy can make or break a business. If you staff for low demand, you might miss out on much needed revenue. If you do the opposite and demand is low, costs can quickly become prohibitive.

Responsive staffing can be a solution. It means you can hire flexible staff with very short lead times to meet equally short-term customer demand or cover peaks in seasonality; planned or unplanned absences and headcount restrictions. The benefits are clear. Businesses who have a pool of flexible workers available can react to changes much quicker; avoid hiring too early or committing to fixed numbers of hours; particularly relevant in unpredictable market environments.

Even with these benefits – there are potential pitfalls when implementing responsive staffing.

No business can afford to sacrifice their customers’ experience and finding the right workers and motivating them is crucial. On top of this – admin and payroll can easily get out of hand with a host of flexible workers. Here’s how to avoid those pitfalls:

Don’t take any risks with right-to-work, wages and benefits.

From day one, workers automatically have a legal right to minimum wage, statutory holiday pay and the statutory minimum length of break times. You need to ensure they don’t exceed 48 weekly working hours and they are entitled to protections, including from discrimination. It is important to track their length of service, because after 12 weeks they become entitled to additional benefits. Before hiring, you need to complete all relevant right-to-work checks.

It’s worth spending time deciding whether to hire directly or work with a staffing agency. Using an agency means you can outsource the HR risk. You pay the agency like any other vendor and sign over responsibility for any of the above. You can also avoid the admin cost of running a potentially complicated payroll.

The downside? You need to pay their fee. Working with an agency that charges via a multiplier on each hired hour to avoid flat fees or retainers could work best – it’s worth doing the math because an agency fee can work out cheaper than doing payroll in-house.

Get access to a large enough pool of flexible workers.

Most businesses prefer to have a pool of regular flexible workers who they can rely on and who already understand their business. The key is to find qualified and motivated people who are available when you need them. The conflict is obvious. The people who are usually available are rarely the highest qualified. As a rule of thumb, your pool should be at least three times the number of workers you ever need at the same time.

If you have a strong employer brand and need workers in a central location, you have a high chance of building a meaningful pool.

If you are a small busines, need higher numbers of flexible staff or are based in a less frequented area, you should consider working with a staffing agency. Their screening processes exceed beyond the right-to-work checks and include screenings for experience and qualifications. Digital platforms like Coople also allow you to set up your own favourites pool on their platform, so you can hire the same workers regularly.

Responsive staffing is a powerful tool, provided it is used correctly and organisations behave ethically towards those they hire. A third of the businesses we spoke to have implemented a strategy for hiring agency workers. Can you afford not to?