Is a secondment actually a transfer?

A secondment is usually considered a time-limited stint with a different department, or in some cases, with another company. In many cases, however, a secondment ends up becoming a permanent arrangement, which can cause stress for workers who thought they’d be able to return to their original positions.

Secondment is a term most often used in the U.K. and Australia. Many multinational corporations use it to describe the temporary placement of an executive in a foreign country to oversee international operations. In the U.S., it’s now often being used to describe the transition of an employee to another department or division on a temporary basis. presents a cutting (yet humorous) look at secondments.

Employees transferred temporarily to another department or division almost always acquire new skills, and can quickly become vital assets for their new team. This can cause a secondment to unwittingly become a permanent arrangement, even when employees were originally told that it would not.

Further, secondments are frequently the result of a shifting need for an individual’s specific skills across departments. A transfer of talent to another division (or another company) can easily establish the utlity of a particular skill set for that department; a return to the original position may not best utilize those valuable skills.

Conflicts arising from secondments

Secondments may seem like an excellent solution, but be cautious. The arrangement often precedes job dissatisfaction. Issues can arise quickly when employees offered secondments in foreign countries or divisions based far from home have to leave their families for extended periods.

In addition, secondments can require the use of skills not ordinarily utilized by an employee. In some cases, it’s a development opportunity, but in others, employees are called upon to use expertise they’d rather leave in their pasts. This situation can encourage a staff member to seek alternative employment, so that they can pursue the skills and abilities the individual enjoys and is interested in pursuing as a permanent career. 

Secondments as a visa tactic

Secondments can be useful for global workers who are striving for U.S. citizenship. Global companies are often a viable avenue for obtaining this status through secondments. The U.S. Department of State offers comprehensive information on obtaining a temporary work visa, which can frequently be transitioned to landed permanent residency, and even citizenship, when an employer opts to make the work arrangement permanent

In some cases, the same applies to U.S. citizens seeking to obtain citizenship in a foreign country. Individuals working for a global corporation can often use a secondment as a temporary means to establish residency and eventually obtain permanent citizenship.

Employee satisfaction is best achieved when a secondment is both in the interests of the employee, and in the interests of  the company. Extreme care should be taken to make sure that the likelihood of a secondment becoming a transfer is made perfectly clear. If reality fails to match expectations, problems will result.


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