Go to top of page

The home organisation


The role of the home organisation

The home organisation should have a strong professional interest and obligation in facilitating successful secondment experiences. Understanding the individual psychological adjustments and potential for negative outcomes for the secondee is crucial, and the level of support provided by home organisation
is a key determinant of a successful secondment. Moreover, secondment needs to be viewed as a means of investment in staff development and expertise, with returned secondees being able to utilise enhanced skills and contacts to the benefit of the home organisation. Key roles of the home organisation
include:

  • Planning: Secondment opportunities should be matched to the appropriate secondee through professional development interviews, expressions of interest and other forms of assessment to ensure individuals can utilise their soon-to-be acquired experiences fully (Black & Martyn, 1999). Prior to secondment,
    clear conditions, arrangements, expectations and obligations of the secondee should be established, including outlining arrangements for eventual return (NZ State Services Commission, 1999).
  • Communication: Not surprisingly, the need for continued communication was reported throughout the literature as one of the most critical factors in maintaining engagement and connection for secondees with the home organisation (McMichael, Draper & Gatherer, 1992; Starr, 2009). Ongoing three-way
    communication between the home/host organisations and individual secondees is essential for monitoring progress and keeping all parties up-to-date on changes and is particularly important in relation to the Exit and Re-entry stages. Effective communication between the home organisation and the secondee
    can also ameliorate potential negative impacts associated with the secondee feeling disconnected and 'invisible' (Hamilton & Wilkie, 2001).
  • Finding replacements: Maintaining workflow and positive outcomes for the secondee's role while they are away is crucial. For its own business needs, the home organisation has an incentive to ensure 'replacement' staff are doing at least as good a job as the secondee was previously. Secondees themselves
    commonly report concerns whilst on secondment regarding their replacement's competency and the maintenance of efficient and effective workflows that are to their own personal standards (Gatherer & Edwards, 1988; NZ State Services Commission, 1999). Communication between the secondee and their replacement
    can assist in transitions, while reassuring secondees that few, if any, issues will need to be resolved following their post-secondment return. Even if the secondee does not return to their pre-secondment position, some initial contact with their replacement is likely to be beneficial in allaying any
    concerns they may have in the Adjustment stage of the secondment.
  • Debriefing: Following secondment, the home organisation should interview / discuss with secondees their experiences, expectations and concerns in relation to re-entry (McMichael, Draper & Gatherer, 1995). This discussion can also address arrangements for effective skill utilisation if it includes
    an appraisal of the secondee's new skills and capabilities and their application in the home organisation (see below). Further, the discussion can demonstrate organisational engagement and commitment in ensuring a smooth and welcoming transition back to the workplace for the secondee.
  • Skill utilisation: The risks to the home organisation of not effectively utilising the professional skills the secondee has developed was a key theme in the literature (McMichael, Draper & Gatherer, 1992; NZ State Services Commission, 1999). As mentioned, secondees may feel unstimulated and disillusioned
    if they perceive that their skills, connections and expertise are being overlooked. This oversight can reduce morale and increase the chances of the secondee leaving without bringing the benefits of their secondment to the home organisation. Identifying opportunities to utilise the benefits through developing
    and enacting relevant work plans and providing managerial encouragement and support to facilitate training transfer helps to make the most of the secondment process for all parties (Lancaster, Di Milia & Cameron, 2012).
  • Promotion in work position and responsibility: Given that individuals may be motivated to undertake secondments to progress their career within or outside the home organisation (Gatherer & Edwards, 1988), there were suggestions in the literature that positions upon return should ideally represent
    a 'promotion' in terms of title, responsibilities and/or remuneration from their previous position (McMichael, Draper & Gatherer, 1992). This recognition may better reflect and acknowledge capabilities and assist in post-secondment staff retention. While opportunities for formal promotion in an APS
    context may be limited, at least assessing the possibility of promotion for the secondee post-return will be important.

Considerations relating to those remaining in the organisation

The effects of secondment often reverberate through the home organisation, impacting the work of staff beyond the secondee alone. On a practical level, having staff come and go, and the necessity of finding replacements creates shifting team dynamics (NZ State Services Commission, 1999). A lack of
stability in team formation and working relationships may detrimentally affect performance at the group level for a period of time. Intra-organisational coordination and management (such as finances, human resources, etc.) are critical to effectively fill absences. Fostering strong team relationships
and ongoing team development is likely to be beneficial to easing the process of departure for the secondee.

The fear expressed by secondees about the impact of their lack of visibility while they are on secondment appears to have some justification. Staff remaining at the home organisation may view the secondment as a 'holiday from the real world' (McMichael, Draper & Gatherer, 1992), invalidating the
experiences and benefits accrued by secondees while away. Prejudices against secondees for having escaped the 'reality' of the workplace during secondment may also diminish the re-establishment of social bonds during re-entry for the secondee (Gatherer & Edwards, 1988). Moreover, the often high career
aspirations of secondees may be perceived as threatening by staff remaining, further complicating the secondee's re-acceptance into the social and professional dynamics of the workplace (Burke & Moore, 2000).

Additionally, Burke & Moore (2000) noted that issues of perceived 'distributive justice' in relation to the availability of secondment opportunities may broadly affect workplace morale. Because secondment opportunities require careful logistical and administrative coordination, effort and resourcing
across at least two separate organisations, opportunities will be limited and more individuals may seek secondments than can be accommodated. If the opportunities provided are perceived as unjust in distribution, suggesting favouritism in relation to 'chosen' staff, others may feel neglected. These perceptions
can lead to increasing resentment toward supervisors and secondees, accompanied by reduced job satisfaction and, even increased job turnover and absenteeism in some instances. Clear policy statements on the use, availability and methods of selection for secondments help support perceptions of fair distribution
and equity in the treatment of staff (NZ State Services Commission, 1999).