Loaned employees step up for Winter Games

Secondments provide employees with once-in-a-lifetime experience

Over the last four-and-a-half years, the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) has had to recruit about 50,000 paid and volunteer workers. With the Winter Games fast approaching, the quest to secure final positions is reaching a critical point.

And with the economic downturn, a new employee loan program is being called a “creative solution” to keep the budget low and commitment high. The program is meant to fill 2,240 paid, full-time positions that will range from eight weeks to four-and-a-half months for events in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

“One of the ways we felt we could be creative is, rather than go to the market for all these positions we needed to hire and pay, that we would really ramp up our employee loan program and go to companies and organizations and say, ‘Hey, could you loan us an employee? And we will give them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and give them lots of excitement and you’ll get an engaged person back.’ But we wouldn’t be paying them,” said Donna Wilson, executive vice-president of people and sustainability at VANOC in Vancouver.

In taking on employees, the committee is trying to match both skills and availability, said Wilson, and many of the jobs are supervisory in nature.

“Across every job, regardless of technical skill, we need people with dexterity on their feet, in that they can wing it if they have to, they know how to recover if things shift on them, (have the) ability to deal with ambiguity — all of those sorts of characteristics are part of every job, so we also have to make sure people are up for that.”

As part of the program, VANOC will provide the companies with performance feedback for the loaned workers.

“The employers are seeing it as an investment in the development of their employees,” said Wilson. “They expect their employees to come back absolutely jazzed and full of a different perspective.”

A loaned employee is also given a uniform, meals and transportation to work locations. They are fully immersed in team-building and training, and follow the working terms and conditions of VANOC.

“The scheduling is extremely complex and that is where some of our limitation comes,” said Wilson. “What we need is a confirmed availability, full time, of 13 shifts, eight hours a day out of the 17 days of the games.”

If employers provide a certain level of engagement, they can become a “Friend of the Games” and receive non-monetary compensation such as participation in the torch relay or access to tickets. For example, an organization that provides 30 people months (worth $150,000) attains the bronze level.

“It’s really a recognition of a financial contribution to the Games,” said Wilson.

VANOC is trying to keep loaned employees together but in some venues, it’s not possible. However, some companies, such as Accenture and Pharmasave, are planning to “own” certain facilities and put a team there.

Accenture steps up

Accenture is involved in the Vancouver Olympics on two fronts, with volunteers and loaned employees. It’s an opportunity to rise to the occasion and give back to communities where employees live and work, said Blake Hanna, managing director of human capital and diversity at Accenture. The company is hoping to provide 100 person months of employees’ time to achieve the gold level of corporate secondment.

But it’s still early days, said Hanna, which means finding out how many of the 2,000 employees worldwide can meet client requirements but also take time to participate. Accenture will probably have a team handling parking and permit management downtown.

“We’re in a privileged position. Some would say, ‘It’s parking’ but what you’re going to do is send off the Olympians,” said Hanna.

Accenture has been working closely with unionized employees to make sure the collective agreement conditions are recognized and honoured as part of the employee loan program. And the company is vying to ensure payroll issues are handled properly.

“Our HR team is intimately involved in this. In fact, we have somebody (from another office) who’s been loaned to us to make sure we get it right. There’s nothing worse than doing a good deed and something like this and not getting the payroll part of it right,” he said.

Detailed documents provided by VANOC mean “the ambiguity is all driven out, you know if it’s pay and benefits accrual, you know if there’s time off being taken, you know if there’s leave of absence or vacation. All of that’s spelled out and agreed to with the employee,” said Hanna. “There’s a very low-hassle factor.”

And, of course, Accenture’s involvement will hopefully help with employer branding.

“Having your name in press releases, having people talk about you, it’s all part of what you do to manage your brand and make sure your core values really are the underpinning of that. So that’s a huge, positive spinoff.”

Pharmasave loans workers

Having contributed about two years of her life as a lawyer during Expo 86 in Vancouver — handling employment plans, recruitment, training, onboarding and retention — Sue Paish admitted she has a personal bias to her company’s involvement in the employee loan program.

Pharmasave, which has 6,000 employees, is asking staff at the various independent stores to loan workers for a project or assignment at the Games.

“For this period of time, rather than being a cashier at the store or a pharmacy technician, you’re actually going to be working on the Olympic Games,” said Paish, CEO of Pharmasave. “We’re hoping it will gain momentum as we get more of the logistical elements worked out, like transportation, accommodation.”

The company’s involvement is a combination of training and team-building, said Paish, while also building a sense of pride among workers. And by potentially going outside their comfort zone and gaining a positive experience, employees will build a stronger connection with the employer.

“It gives an employee an appreciation of issues, processes, relationships that you can’t get in other settings,” said Paish. “Giving employees an opportunity to expand their horizons and be challenged and contribute in ways they don’t normally do in their day-to-day work is good for the employee and good for the organization.”

Thus far, about 400 employees have been loaned from the public sector and 200 from the private sector, said VANOC’s Wilson. Some 30 employers are also looking into a student sponsorship program, in which an employer pays for a student to work at the Games.

“When we launched this program, we really weren’t sure how successful it would be and right now we’re feeling really pleased with the response,” said Wilson.

The legal side

Legal issues in secondment

Organizations interested in the employee loan program offered by the Vancouver organizing committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games should bear a few things in mind, according to Pratibha Sharma, an associate specializing in labour and employment law at Clark Wilson in Vancouver.

Constructive dismissal: When an employer makes a unilateral change to the terms of the employment contract, such as duties or hours, without giving proper notice or gaining employee input, there is a potential claim for constructive dismissal.

Documentation: The duties — such as a worker taking on a managerial role — with VANOC may be different from regular employment, so it’s advisable to document details around compensation, benefits, hours of work and workers’ compensation.

Undue hardship: Employers should take care to not cause undue hardship, such as overtime, among employees who are not involved in the Games but expected to cover for absent employees. And employers should decide which employees can participate based on certain qualifications, not arbitrary reasons, she said.

Payroll: Employers should ensure there is no gap or reduction in a seconded employee’s wages, benefits and workers’ compensation coverage.

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