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Reducing agency worker reliance & risk

Agency staff used to be the easy option…the ‘go to’ workforce solution for organisations needing to boost labour supply during peak demand and reduce it in quieter periods.

The flexibility and low administrative overheads afforded by employing temporary workers saw this form of resourcing become embedded in the models of many organisations that employ shift workers.

However, since the economic downturn and the introduction of the Agency Worker Regulations in 2011, these benefits have been severely curtailed.

Many of our clients recognise that if they want to achieve their productivity, service, recruitment and reputational goals, they must reduce their reliance on temporary labour by further optimising their full-time workforce.

This blog provides a brief overview of the key issues we see on a regular basis.

If you would like to know more, feel free to contact us to confidentially discuss your own situation with our highly experienced team.


In many instances agency staff were initially brought in to rapidly increase capacity during a seasonal spike in demand.

However, this ‘quick fix’ can easily become engrained over time. If the underlying imbalance between supply and demand that caused the shortfall goes unresolved, an unnecessary reliance on this expensive form of labour can be created.

Much of the capacity needed to meet peaks can be generated by adopting a demand-led approach to shift pattern design and management which unlocks the maximum potential of full-time employees’ contracted hours.

Ensuring resource can be flexed-up to meet high demand using full time employees’ hours that were ‘saved’ during quieter periods is proven to deliver huge efficiency and productivity gains as well as mitigate risk around supply.
Removing over-reliance in this way is vital in locations where clusters of large employers have created fierce competition for temporary labour, limiting availability and further driving up costs.

Admin overhead:

Everyone in HR and Operations knows that there is significant effort involved in recruiting, training and managing a temporary ‘peak’ workforce.

The Agency Worker Regulations provide rights to the same basic employment and working conditions as if an individual had been recruited directly.

This means that all working time-related management tasks and liabilities reside with the employer – ranging from monitoring working hours to administering breaks, accrued leave and shift swaps.

Ensuring all variances are handled effectively across full-time and agency workers can create serious admin headaches. It can also put you at risk of breaching regulations if your ERP or T&A system lacks the capability to handle exceptions easily and accurately.

Performance issues:

Many agency workers clearly take great pride in what they do…but not all agency workers are the same.

We’ve seen numerous instances of customer service issues created by the below par performance of temporary employees. In industries where speed and customer service levels are critical to success, any errors or inefficiencies can be highly damaging.

It’s natural for some agency workers to have a short-term attitude…what’s the point in going above and beyond if they are working somewhere else next week?

By reducing reliance on agency workers, employers can create more full-time roles for individuals who have a shared interest in the long-term success of the organisation.

The certainty and personal development opportunities this creates can boost performance and help attract and retain experienced and motivated workers.

Risk issues:

Employment law experts argue that agency workers can present a particular health and safety risk to employers. There has been a significant increase in fines relating to breaches over recent years, many of which are linked to:

• Inadequate checks on qualifications and competence by agencies.
• Lower levels of site/task induction and training.
• Lower quality provision of information, instruction, monitoring, supervision.
• Unsuitability for the role they’re being asked to perform.
• Poor communication between employer and agency at outset as to the profile/role.

Therefore, key to mitigating risk created by employing agency workers is to ensure adequate competency checks are performed, sufficient training and instruction is received and that performance is closely monitored.

All this carries additional administrative overheads that form part of the hidden cost of using temporary labour.

Deeper discussion:

Agency workers no longer offer the clear benefits they once did, whilst new workforce planning approaches and tools are helping to increase flexibility within the core full-time workforce.

It’s a significant and sensitive subject which will be a key theme at Working Time Solutions’ Masterclass events on 1st November in Manchester and 3rd of November in Loughborough.

The Masterclasses will feature a number of expert speakers including Stephen Mutch, an employment lawyer from Pannone Corporate, who will look in more detail at the risks around temporary labour.

The event will provide guidance around developing flexible and optimised shift patterns and feature case studies from organisations that have implemented new workforce planning and management systems to reduce their reliance on overtime and agency workers.

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