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Why It’s Important to Furlough Temps

04 May 2020 |

By Nick Coleridge-Watts


It’s a source of considerable pride for me to be able to announce that Victoria Wall Associates has successfully furloughed those temps who were eligible and who gave consent. It wasn’t an easy process, especially since this was the first application and so was completely new territory for us all. There were a great many concerns, from definitions of eligibility, the usability of the software, the amount of time between application and receipt of funds, consequent implications for cashflow, and caution around any language employed which might stoke false expectations. These, coupled with the laboriousness of calculation and implementation, punctuated by the avoidance of any mistakes which might cause rejection or delay, did trigger a few sleepless nights. But we got there in the end and I couldn’t be prouder.

The recruitment industry enjoys a mixed reputation, with frequent criticisms being that recruiters are better at pushing than listening, and that a keenness to make placements eclipses more human concerns like what’s best for the candidate or client. It is for this reason that I have always been particularly happy at VWA because the natural commercial drive which comes with the territory is offset by a preference for doing things correctly. We’re happy when we find work for our temps, just as we’re happy when our clients are impressed by our candidates. And it’s a happiness which comes from looking after the interests of those concerned as much as it does from chipping away at monthly targets.

It’s a feeling I’ve had about VWA ever since I was a candidate. I’d spilled out of higher education without a clue what to do next, and they found me successive temp assignments before an amazing permanent job in HR. They could have easily left me languishing in basic admin roles, but I got the impression they really wanted to look after me and develop my potential. Whenever they had occasion to give me bad news it was done without any hint of a dispassionate or transactional mindset. It’s an approach I’ve tried to maintain ever since.

I’m sure there have been times when things haven’t quite gone according to plan in this respect. Whenever I hear a client or candidate critique another recruiter’s performance my mind always turns to mitigating factors, because I know how genuinely difficult it can be to keep everyone happy in this game. Every so often something does fall by the wayside. But if the intention is there, that’s half the battle.

In that spirit, temps need to understand that they are more than just short-term solutions to a client’s problem, or an opportunity for a recruiter to spin a quick buck. They are human beings who are making their way, just like everyone else. More often than not they are highly accomplished individuals who are temping from some quirk of circumstance, or to subsidise a passion which doesn’t necessarily pay that well. If it weren’t for such environmental and vocational factors influencing their trajectory, they would likely be high-performing participants in the same permanent job structures we ourselves follow.

Such understanding is essential both to their wellbeing and their performance; the two are indivisible. Unfortunately, they can only really know their true value if it is reinforced by their agents and clients, and that’s not as easy as it sounds. Communicating such sentiment is about more than just telling someone you value them; it’s about making them believe it, and that means the words have to go hand in hand with intentions, actions and perceptions. They have to believe you want to help them, and that when you can’t it’s almost as hard for you as it is for them. They have to see that quality in their agency as frequently in normal times as they do in an emergency situation like this, when their earning potential has evaporated overnight. I don’t think it’s possible to manufacture that faith; it can only be genuine.

It’s not unusual to hear more dismissive voices weigh into the recruitment dialogue, arguing that temps are making a conscious decision to lead insecure lives, and that the cruelties of the market are something they should factor in. At face value this is true, however like all short-term perspectives, it’s an excuse to forgo the inconvenience of empathy. Empathy can be difficult in business, since what’s right for a company can run contrary to what’s right for an individual. But equally, those employers who manage without it aren’t necessarily maintaining the hard-headed, pragmatic operation they think they are…

There are two ways to not get the best out of someone: make them do something unrewarding or make them feel unappreciated; if the former is unavoidable then the latter is all the more foolish. Every day, we advise clients that to ensure they hire and maintain a top workforce, they should ensure competitive compensation as well as a positive, supportive environment. Regardless of how many clients hear us, there are sometimes reasons, often beyond their control, which prevent them from doing everything they’d like in this regard. That’s nobody’s fault, but the formula remains the same. We must follow it ourselves because it is right. And happily, what’s right is usually good strategy.

We need our temps. Without them there is no VWA. They should understand that because it’s the truth. When we can’t help them, it should never be because we didn’t do everything in our power to do so. And when their labours are the reason we have a business, it’s our duty to pursue whatever avenues are available to support them until the present crisis eases. We cannot, in good conscience, do any less.

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