Luke Blair: think twice before ditching the freelancers

As the cutbacks begin to bite, the immediate impact on the public sector will be felt in particular among those who rely heavily on agency staff and interim posts, especially in communications departments.

Luke Blair: support temporary staff
Luke Blair: support temporary staff
If comms staff are to be laid off – and for many taxpayer-funded organisations this will be an obvious way to make the size of cuts needed in this area – then it is hardly surprising that those with only temporary or back-filling contracts will be the first to go.

Even those who have just joined PR departments in government will find themselves cushioned from the impact by temporary staff – including those who have been there much longer – if they have a permanent contract.

However, leaving aside questions of fairness or equity, is this organisationally wise?

At times of transition, what you need to manage change in the most effective way is flexibility.  And the most flexible workforce is the one whose scale and skills can be managed up, and down, as swiftly and easily as possible.

You cannot do this with staff on permanent contracts who have consultation rights, termination clauses and redundancy entitlements.

Freelancers and temporary contractors (and of course consultants), understand this. Their safety net is their flexibility to move and adapt, to take their skills to where they are most needed, provide that service, and move on.

Nor is it true that expertise does not then stay in the organisation – a good communications adviser is able to impart knowledge and advice, to permanent effect, to those around them, no matter how long they are in the role.  

Mentoring is not contingent on permanent employment.

And so as we head into another maelstrom, and brace ourselves once again for hard times ahead, it is freelance PR consultants and those on temporary PR contracts, potentially the first to lose their jobs, who may in the long run be best placed to survive, and to adapt and change to new circumstances.  

They may also be the most useful advisers for organisations themselves facing huge change – so long as those organisations adopt sensible policies which balance both permanent and temporary resources.

Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency.

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