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HUMAN RESOURCES

To Avoid Layoffs, Companies Lend Away Staff
 

As an alternative to handing out pink slips, some companies are choosing instead to lend members of their staff to other companies—including competitors.
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Don't cut staff—lend them away during slow periods.

That's the aim of a British pilot program launched this month from'not-for-profit Work Wise UK. Called'StaffShare , it's'essentially an online swap shop where businesses can offer up'employees for short- and medium-term loan.

"Instead of losing trained, skilled employees during a period of'economic adjustment, businesses can offer these skills to charitable'and other organizations," says Phil Flaxton, Work Wise's chief'executive. StaffShare was launched exclusively for charities six'months ago, and success—90 charities registered, including giants'such as Save the Children and WaterAid—prompted it to open its'doors to everyone.

How it works: On the StaffShare website the "seller" company lists the'employee's skills, daily rate, and availability. The cost is £50 (roughly $81.70) a'year per candidate. The "buyer" company searches the database, uses'the website's message system to vet candidates and iron out'details with the seller, and then a contract is sent'electronically. The buyer company pays a 7.5 percent commission to StaffShare to help cover'its operating costs.

A conversation two-and-a-half years ago—so, pre-recession—with British'Telecom and a handful of banks prompted Work Wise to pioneer its pink'slip alternative, which has been in development since then.

"The companies had these redeployment pools of 1,000 people who needed'to find other work within the company," Flaxton says. "So we thought,''What if there was a service where they could find it at another'company?"

He has high hopes the initiative will benefit small businesses. "One small or'medium enterprise has employees whose skills it doesn't want to lose'permanently, and maybe another business can't afford the salary that some'of these people can command on a fulltime basis, but they can borrow'it for a few weeks or months," Flaxton says. (He admits fear of'fulltime talent-poaching is an issue, with companies saying they will'prevent their staff from working for direct competitors.)

StaffShare isn't alone in the British talent-trade. Tiga, the British trade association for the computer'gaming industry, in September launched a free'program called Industry Sharing, which allows for employers to share talent. (Tiga's rules also attempt to prohibit talent pilfering.) Tiga spokeswoman Eva Field says'Industry Sharing grew out of a grant from the National Endowment for'Science, Technology and the Arts, a British innovation nonprofit, to help'stop brain drain from the country.

In the game development life cycle, there's often a group of artists'sitting idle while a new game is being tested, or a big company suddenly'will get a big project and need to staff it quickly, but only for a'couple of weeks.

"Outsourcing has its own issues and it can be expensive to recruit'staff," Field says. She wouldn't give usage statistics, but said in'December a member company found 20 workers it needed and had'them working—"bums on seats," she says—within two weeks. "They'were amazed with how much money and time they saved," she added.

Last updated: Jan 18, 2010

Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.




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