The great debate: are locums worth it?

Focusing on wages in the debate over using locums is short sighted, says Bethany Trenbath, marketing executive for accounting firm Quantic UK

Male mechanic writing on clipboardWith full-time employment no longer being able to offer the security it once did, more and more people are turning to self-employment or contracting work, with the Office for National Statistics reporting in 2014 that the UK workforce has 4.6 million self-employed workers. As people make the decision to work on a locum/contract basis, we take a look at the motivation behind their decisions, and why employers can benefit from hiring temporary staff.

Job security or higher wages?

To find out more about how people prefer to work, we conducted a survey which asked more than 700 people the question ‘would you prefer to have job security or higher earnings?’ We found 30.9% of women would would prefer higher wages, and 69.1% would prefer job security, compared to 41.9% of men who would rather have higher wages than the 58.1% who would rather have job security.

The results appeared to highlight a generational difference of opinion, as the percentage of people who would take higher wages over job security dropped as the age of the respondents increased. Of the lowest age category, 18 to 24-year-olds, 41% would prefer higher earnings, whereas 70% of the 55 to 64-year-old category would take a cut in pay to gain job security. An explanation for this change could be that young people are more willing to take risks when it comes to their careers, perhaps taking newer jobs that promise higher wages and more experience but may not be that secure, such as locum work.

What are the benefits of hiring locums?

The headlines frequently cover the negatives of hiring locum professionals, particularly in the healthcare sector, but focusing on their wages alone ignores the numerous benefits that come from hiring locums. The very nature of working on a locum basis; working on demand and for unpredictable hours, allows for higher wages to be paid as compensation.

During tough economic times when companies may be forced to cut staff but are left to do the same amount of work, locum professionals can fill in the gaps as and when they are needed; a somewhat better alternative to hiring full-time staff. By spreading the workload between your full-time staff and locums, you will be ensuring that the standard and quality of work doesn’t drop across your business as well as taking the pressure off your full-time workers. Looking elsewhere for your staff, even on a temporary basis, means you could find yourself being more flexible, able to take on new clients or work on new projects.

Working with locums also means less pressure on employers to file paperwork and taxes. As locums are considered to be self-employed workers, they will be responsible for dealing with HMRC and filing a tax return each year, leaving the employer free to focus on more important tasks. The amount of expense required to hire a permanent employee and then provide them with the requisite training can be eye-watering. By drafting in experienced locums, employers can rest assured that they will hit the ground running. They’ll probably be paying them more in wages, but the overall cost of a temporary hire could be much lower than a permanent one.

In recent years, the number of people registering as contractors in the UK has risen sharply, and this trend is likely to continue. As such, it’s important that employers embrace this shift in culture and adapt their hiring policies accordingly.

Bethany Trenbath

Quantic UK is an accounting firm that provides advice and services to contractors and freelance workers.

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