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The Impact of (some) Interims on the Food and FMCG Sector

July 3, 2024
Lukas Vanterpool

Let’s stop and think. Why would a company hire an interim employee?

Historically, and not to mention logically, it would be to draw on the knowledge and expertise of an individual who boasts an impressive career that spans 20-30 years. Especially a career that is underpinned by a proven track record for achieving significant and measurable results. These individuals are brought in to make immediate and impactful decisions that drive positive outcomes.

Experts in their field, they naturally command day-rates that reflect the level of knowledge and skill they have amassed in their chosen sector and positions. The legacy of an Interim worker is to enter a business, manage a project or fix a known issue. They’ll then leave the ongoing management in the capable hands of a team who would have drawn on the experience on offer.

Further Reading:

Interim employees are the elephant in the room

However, it’s clear that the FMCG and food sectors have encountered an issue when it comes to employing interim workers. The state of interim has become the elephant in the room that no-one wants to address, until now.

The fact that modern Interim workers with as little as three years’ experience behind them, are failing these sectors has been widely acknowledged for several years. There are an increasing number of workers operating under the guise of an ‘interim’. But they aren’t fit to be in that role, and they don’t deserve the day-rates they’re commanding either.

Further Reading:

And who is on the side-lines, cheering on the movement? Other Interims who stand to benefit, hand-in-hand with unethical recruiters. These recruiters are incapable of thinking beyond the short-term placement that will line their pockets, rather than considering if this is truly the right person for the business in question. It seems that the notion of ‘long-term’ has been forgotten.

This new wave of interim employees has successfully manipulated the industry, and now we are becoming reliant on them.

Businesses must accept their role in the issue

Simple supply and demand logic can be applied here; if businesses are increasingly demanding interim workers to fill vacancies, the volume of Interims will increase. In turn, the pool of talent to be employed as permanent staff could shrink.

In some instances, those businesses relying on Interims should first stop and consider all of the options.  Often the use of these fluid employees come from a knee-jerk reaction to fill a vacancy, whether that is due to business requirements or staff absence. Instead, giving your current team the opportunity to step up would be a more profitable, long-term strategy.

Further Reading:

This allows members of the internal team to manage the absence, if this is what has caused the vacancy, providing them with an insight into operating at a higher level. This approach improves employee engagement and retention as the employer is demonstrating trust in their team’s ability and giving them the opportunity to progress.

Don’t get me wrong, we all know this can’t and won’t happen every time, but it is surely worth some consideration?!

Creating internal Interims

Some larger businesses are beginning to plan ahead and create pools of internal Interims. These team members will work across numerous sites in a capacity that is usually taken by an external Interim.

This initiative tends to work very well, the individuals are given exposure to different environments, keeping their role fresh and exciting.  The internal teams are also aware of them and will have built relationships and understand each other.  Not to mention, very cost effective.

You will always have the risk factor, there are a lot of sacrifices that come with being an Interim, at some point these individuals will question whether it’d be more fruitful going down the Ltd company route.

Let this sink in slowly 

Individuals who are currently carving long and successful careers, are acknowledging that, instead of continuing to climb the career ladder, there are short-cuts to be taken when it comes to achieving the financials that come with interim positions.

The issue with doing this is that in chasing the money, they risk stagnating their learning potential. If they ever needed to return to a permanent position (IR35 looming), they would be unable to command the salary they’ve become accustomed to as they will not have progressed in other skill sets, such as management and leadership.

What value are they bringing to a business that is looking for the capability and comprehension of an Interim worker? If we think back to the aim of using an Interim, it is for them to impart their years of specialist skills. Can someone who has amassed just three to five years of experience be considered to have the same ability, and knowledge, as someone with more than 20 years of experience?

The right interim returns on investment

Let us be very VERY clear, there will always be a degree of reliance on Interims with the required level of experience for the right reasons, and as a business that works with reputable interim workers, we support this.

Further Reading:

The right Interim can and will make an incredibly positive impact, and those businesses in need of an immediate and flexible resource, will be pleased with the investment they have made.

The wrong Interim will waste time and money

The reliance on interim employees has a far wider impact on businesses than is currently being considered. They can be a drain on monetary resources, budgets are being swallowed up quickly in sky-high day-rates and expenses, which ultimately leads to cutbacks and in extreme scenarios, redundancies.

Businesses aren’t receiving the wealth of knowledge that an interim employee should impart, because, in many cases it simply isn’t there.  We speak with businesses that are taking on an Interim for 6 months, getting rid due to failure then bringing in someone else…Surely, if you are taking on an Interim there should be no question about delivery, right?

The problem with interim recruitment

Businesses and HR managers must become more diligent when hiring interim employees. They’ll spend inexcusable amounts of time having rigorous, long-winded processes in place when recruiting permanent members of staff – yet they’ll decide to hire an interim employee on the merit of a 30-minute phone call.  Why is this?  In some occasions it isn’t uncommon for these Interims to be in a post for up to 2 years, sometimes even longer.

In our eyes that is a permanent employee, regardless of the classic “I don’t get involved in the politics”…

Once any member of staff, including Interims, have been in a position for more than 6 months, they have become part of the business and will shape the culture of their immediate colleagues.

However, passively shaping the culture, while actively avoiding ‘office politics’ could negatively impact the permanent members of staff that have demonstrated loyalty and commitment to the business.

Businesses must become more realistic about the talent they want to attract. They must be prepared to invest more of the budget into the training of new and existing employees, instead of looking to bring in the ‘finished article’ in the shape of an Interim. We have previously worked with businesses where it has taken nine months to fill a role, and in that time, they have taken on an Interim.

They would have interviewed candidates with the right expertise and attitude for the business and role, but because the individual may have lacked certain skills, the hiring manager won’t take the gamble. However, it’s commonly known that it would’ve been more cost effective and efficient to hire the individual and train them, instead of turning to an Interim.

So, what is the solution?

How can the FMCG and food sectors break their reliance on interim workers that aren’t returning on the investment?

As previously mentioned, they must acknowledge their role in the wider issue. Would these ambitious individuals be turning to interim roles in order to achieve success, if they could see a promising path of career progression as an established employee?

There is a requirement to re-evaluate in-house training programmes and career progression opportunities. With a focus on retaining staff and empowering them to up-skill and progress, businesses can implement long-term strategies that will have a positive impact on costs and as a result, employer brand, which in turn will continue to attract high quality candidates. This way the reliance on interim workers can return to their intended use.

The new wave of interim employees have successfully diluted the true value of the original Interim and it’s the businesses and wider industry that are suffering.  What will be interesting to see, is how the introduction of IR35 will impact the sectors with regards to the volume of self-appointed Interims. Will it weed out the frauds? We wait with bated breath.

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About The Author

Lukas Vanterpool

I started The Sterling Choice with Gareth Whyatt back in August 2013. We’ve always remained true to ourselves and what it is we’re trying to achieve – A great company with great people and great results! This journey never stops, we are always finding ways to support our colleagues and make sure they leave every day feeling fulfilled.

Over the years I’ve always been asked “what’s your USP??, what makes you different from all the other agencies??”. That’s an easy one for me to answer – “Our culture makes our business and our people make our culture”

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