What is a secondment?

A secondment is a type of arrangement where an employee is assigned to a new role either internally or externally. The goal of a secondment is to broaden an employee's exposure to different styles of working.

Positive outcomes associated with secondments include learning new skills, developing expertise outside of a singular job role, and an enriched employee experience.

In addition to these benefits, organisations like to offer secondments because it gives them more control over staffing levels across different departments.

Secondment agreement vs. secondment contract

Generally, a secondment agreement includes the following points:

  • Duration: Will the secondment be fixed term, or flexible? Don't forget to include the notice period too.
  • The secondment role: The secondee should always be a staff member of the original employer, regardless of where they are working.
  • Pay: Typically, the original employer pays the secondee's wages. If the secondee can generate wealth for their host, a fee may be included in the secondment agreement. This makes a secondment arrangement profitable.
  • Expenses and overtime: The contract needs to clarify who covers expenses and overtime pay.
  • Confidentiality: If the secondee has access to sensitive information they cannot share it.
  • Restrictive covenant: This protects the original employer from losing their secondee to the host.

A secondment contract on the other hand, explicitly states how the employee's terms of employment have changed in light of their new — albeit temporary, seconded role. Sometimes organisations include a contract within the agreement.

Pros and cons of secondment

Accepting a secondment brings its own rewards and challenges for both employees and employers.


Pros for employees include:

  • Learning new skills
  • Making new friends with colleagues
  • Adding new experiences to CV
  • Low-risk opportunity to work elsewhere

Cons for employees include:

  • Sudden changes to work and personal life
  • Poorly defined secondment role
  • Confusing changes in contracts
  • Fitting back into original role


Pros for employers include:

  • Enriching employee experience
  • Unlocking more control over staff levels
  • Contributing to a cost-effective form of training
  • Benefiting from the experiences of newly returned employees

Cons for employers include:

  • Potential disruption to teams
  • Recruitment
  • Additional administration
  • Hidden costs and expenses

How do secondments work?

Secondments are temporary transfers where employees work in either different departments or outside the company altogether — in some instances, this could mean a totally different organisation.

Internal secondments are less complex as secondees are working for the same company, or within the same group of employers. Consequently, minimal changes to their contracts may only be necessary.

During this transitional period of employment, it's important employee rights are maintained. For example, any rights that are tied to a continued period of service must be upheld.

When employees are on external secondment, it doesn't mean they've stopped working for you. For this reason, you should always reassure secondees that their time away doesn't break their continued employment with your organisation.

When preparing a secondment, you should:

  • Assess the secondee's current employment contract and job description.
  • Send the employee and host a letter to notify them of any changes to the secondee's contract.
  • Create an agreement between the host and your organisation (as the original or primary employer).
  • Create an agreement between the host, secondee, and your organisation.

Employer and employee rights during the secondment

There are several laws you need to keep in mind when arranging a secondment. Certain laws come into effect at different stages of the secondment, these include but are not limited to:

Selecting secondees

When you are choosing secondees, the process must be fair, transparent, and objective. Consequently, you can't exclude an employee from a secondment arrangement, based on their sex, age, and race.

You must also ensure to get the employee's consent. For example, if during the secondment period they need to work in a different location, it's not fair to put them through the selection process to only then reveal the secondment requires a temporary relocation, which they can't commit to.

Drawing up agreements

The most complex agreements are those that involve an external company. When organising these types of secondments, you must ensure your wording is extremely clear to avoid any confusion and unanticipated consequences.

Salary and benefits

If a secondee is joining a new team, but is still working for the same company their salary and benefits would likely be unaffected as they are still bound to their original employer.

However, when a secondee is working for another company, it is important the original employer continues to pay their salary — the same goes for benefits. The reason for this is that a salary is a fundamental part of an employment contract and also proves the secondee's term of employment was not broken.

Regarding expenses, an agreement needs to state whether the host or original employer pays these. The host can pay expenses and then seek reimbursement.

Disciplinary and grievance procedures

A secondee's original employer takes responsibility for any disciplinary sanctions — and also appraisals and grievance procedures. However, this should be made clear in the secondment agreement, so there is no confusion between the host, secondee, and original employer.

The host can be invited to share their experiences when needed and the extent of their contributions should also be outlined in the agreement. Additionally, the existing employer must also do their best to ensure the secondee is not put at a disadvantage when on secondment.

What are the benefits of a secondment program?

You should offer secondments to develop the careers of your employees. This will be done by either developing skills or by simply adding to their CV. The secondment programmes you run should always help your employees improve their abilities in line with their current role, or one they're likely to progress to in your company.

As a manager, investing in your employees typically means investing in the future of your company. This doesn’t mean the skills your employees develop through secondments cannot be novel, new to them or new to the company, but they should be in some way applicable or helpful to the company in the broadest sense. 

It's also worth bearing in mind that secondments are a useful tool for handling tricky situations with employees whose original positions may have become untenable. For instance, you might find that the role a team member has been trained for is no longer needed. Instead of making the employee, who is likely trusted and valued, unemployed you can put them through a secondment in which they're retrained for a role that is more useful to you.

There are also additional uses for secondments such as preserving pensions schemes with previous employers whilst an employee works for a new organisation.

Secondment agreements

So far we have considered the reasons why you might need or want to run a secondment programme. To implement the secondment, you will need an effective secondment agreement. This needs to clearly outline the agreement of the secondment including the timescale of the transfer and the role of the employee who is ‘second-ing’. Usually this process will involve an adaptation of the current employment contract. 

You need to make sure that, in outlining the role of the secondee, you're broad enough in outlining the employee’s duties so that anything that they may be asked to do on secondment for their host employer is covered in the contract. Getting the host organisation as involved as possible within setting  up the secondment will be useful for this reason.

The agreement will need to be signed by all three parties: your organisation, the employ taking part in the secondment and the host organisation. Obviously this will be different for more complex arrangements or if the secondment is internal within the same organisation. Setting up internal secondments can vary significantly in the formalisation of the process depending on the size of the organisation. 

Given that the role performed on a secondment might be very different to the role that the employee was in originally, the salary and compensation that is offered can be different to what the employee has come from. Generally, the employer who is letting their employee go on secondment is the one that continues to pay the wages but there needs to be additional consideration of bonuses, expenses, overtime and training costs. A thorough secondment agreement should cover every eventuality so that everyone is clear and there is no room for disagreement.

two people looking at a secondment plan on a computer

Read next: The 2020 UK workplace stress survey

Organising a secondment can be a significant administrative exercise with substantial legal consideration and therefore a costly process to organise. This is one of the downsides of a secondment programme and it's only really possible to outweigh this cost with positives rather than totally negate it. 

Agreeing the management of your secondee 

In the secondment agreement it's essential that you and the host organisation or department agree about responsibilities of the day to day management of your employee while they're on secondment. You as the original employer will want to retain overall control. 

This will ensure the programme runs as smoothly as possible. It's especially important that you agree in advance on absence and what sort of absences are acceptable. This means you and the host employer can be as consistent as possible with your employee and the employee knows where they stand.

The challenges of secondments (and how to overcome them)

There are pitfalls to which a poorly managed programme can fall victim. There's obviously a high risk of considerable personal upheaval for any employee undertaking a secondment. As a manager you should consider each employee on a personal level before encouraging them to undergo a transfer. For employees with family or other responsibilities a secondment that is far from where they currently work is likely to be very costly to them emotionally.

If they were to accept then you might find they're unable to make the most of the opportunity or that stress and anxiety damage their performance or even cause them significant mental health issues. A good manager should consider these issues, and if necessary create a performance improvement plan to help overcome them.

man stressed at work due to a poor secondment programme

Another pitfall for secondments is a lack of clarity concerning the role of the employee in the host organisation. This is easily avoided with an extensive explanation of the employee’s role in the secondment agreement but in addition effective management and appraisal within the host organisation or department is essential for ensuring this clarity is maintained. Again, this will not be an issue with effective organisation and planning prior to any secondment programme.

Finally, there's the problem of your returning secondee and ensuring they fit back in at the end of the placement. This can be best controlled by regular contact between you and your secondee while they're with the host organisation. This will allow you to discuss and make sure your employee is comfortable about the role they will return to at the end of the programme. Regular contact will also allow you to guide them in what to focus on developing whilst they're away.

This means they will come back with the skills and experience that are most useful for you and them. This is especially important if the role they're coming back to is different to the one they left to go on secondment. If they have never done the job they come back to and don’t have relevant experience, then they're unlikely to be effective in this role and you're unlikely to reap any benefit from sending them on secondment in the first place.

What happens at the end of a secondment?

At the end of the secondment it's essential that you make the transition of the employee back to your organisation as smooth as possible. The way to manage this successfully is with preparation (and maybe a few fringe benefits, too.) As already mentioned communicating with the employee throughout their placement is a really effective means of ensuring clarity with them on what they should be focussing on for the future and what their role will be when they return.

man on a holiday wearing a white shirt

On this issue clarity in communication is essential. Everything agreed at the start needs to be in the agreement. If there is no guarantee of a position for the employee at the end of the secondment then it's essential that this is clear. If you're fair with your employee and this was clear in the agreement then there's little risk to you of an unfair dismissal claim. 

With this information and following this advice, you should be able to implement a successful secondment programme that offers development to your employees and can bring real returns to your business. Secondments offer you the opportunity to develop your employees experience, skills and perspectives in ways that you might not be able to offer within your own organisation or department and this is where their real value lies.

It's important to remember that running a secondment is as important as organising it, you need to be as clear and thorough as possible when setting it up and maintain good communication with your employee throughout the process. If you do all this then you should be able to successfully add secondments to your arsenal of learning and development tools.

Secondment: your FAQs answered

What does secondment mean in a job?

Secondment is a term that describes a temporary arrangement, where an employee works in a different department or company for a specific amount of time. Their new position should aim to broaden their perspective of working, while also enriching their experiences. Most organisations use secondments as a form of training or career development. Though, there is another benefit, such as having better control over headcount.

Is a secondment a good thing?

What are the disadvantages of secondment?

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