In Full Swing

Historically, field marketing has been a part-time occupation, attracting a large number of working mothers and others who only want a few hours work a day. But this may soon become a thing of the past.

Following changes in European employment legislation late last year, which gave part-timers rights on a par with their full-time counterparts, some field marketing companies are questioning whether it still pays to maintain a large part-time workforce. But up until now, employers have benefited from the flexibility of a no-strings working relationship.

Aspen Field Marketing opted to phase out completely part-time work three years ago. The process took two years to complete, says Aspen joint managing director Gary MacManus.

He says the decision was taken for commercial and legal reasons. “The client benefits because there are lower attrition rates with full-time people, and a higher commitment because the profile of person has changed. We now employ younger, technically-able people. The mix is 50/50 male/female, whereas with part-time it’s predominantly female and second generation sales people,” he explains. “With full-time, we get career-oriented, graduate-calibre people to whom we can promise careers with us or with our clients.”

Clients can also reap the rewards, as they have a ready stream of recruits, adds MacManus. “They’re recruiting from our ranks, people who have worked for them through a third party and have gained significant knowledge. They don’t have to advertise.”

Training needs have also changed with the shift away from part-time work. As there is a high attrition rate with part-time workers, there is a continuous need for basic training, explains MacManus. “With full-time, because people stay with you longer, the knowledge they have is compounded, so you end up with staff who are very experienced.”

MacManus contends that some of Aspen’s competitors are also being forced down the full-time route. But not all of them would see the matter in such uncompromising terms.

Eddie Phillips, managing director of CPM UK, admits there is strong demand for full-time positions. However, he is critical of accepted notions about part-timers.

“The term part-time has this connotation that somehow people are less committed. We prefer to call it short-time.” He says if a part-time worker wants to go full-time a job can be found for them. “There are people who are working fewer hours than a full-time schedule but proportionately are earning a higher rate. The important thing is to get the right person for the job.”

Phillips does not believe that distinctions based on the number of working hours have much relevance any more, as jobs have changed and responsibilities widened in the labour market. “You do whatever is appropriate for the job. The key is to understand what skills are required to fulfil the function.”

David Ovrington, client services director for FDS, doesn’t believe part-time workers will be adversely affected by changes in the law. “On contract work, I can’t imagine a shift towards taking people on full-time, otherwise we would simply be taking over the payroll of our clients, which defeats the purpose.”

Ovrington says FDS field workers are put on the same terms as the client’s contract. “If we have a contract job with a client for a year, we put the field people on the same terms. We’ll put them on a rolling project contract, and should the contract terminate, the same will apply to the personnel. Should it be renewed, we issue a new contract for the field people.” He says this system gives them the same rights as permanent employees.

If a worker is in continual employment with one client for two years, then redundancy packages are negotiated if the contract subsequently ceases, says Ovrington. Freelances are also entitled to holiday time or payment in lieu.

“With tactical projects, if someone is working for three or four days on a promotion, it’s not practical to give them any holiday, so we give them payment in lieu and build in six to eight per cent within their pay packet.”

Part-timers will enjoy false increases in earnings this year, says Ovrington. “The rise this year will come because of last year’s working time directive, but that’s not really a rise, it’s payment in lieu of holidays.”

Richard Thomson, chairman of EMS, does not expect to see a big increase in the costs associated with keeping a part-time component in the workforce.

Of EMS’ 500 staff, 30 per cent are part-time. The key to managing a mix of part- and full-time workers, according to Thomson, is an inclusive culture.

He says part-time work is regarded as a stepping stone to full-time employment. “We don’t have a them-and-us culture. Ninety per cent of all our full-time jobs are filled by our former part-timers. We’ve always ensured there is minimum discrimination with regard to pay, benefits and holidays.”

However, many employers prefer full-time staff because they can demand more of them, claims Gail Tunesi, PMI managing director.

“Part-timers are more challenging. It’s not that they’re juggling two or three jobs to make up a full-time component; they’re part-time because they have other commitments.” She says employers which rely on part-timers have to be understanding of their other time constraints.

In contrast, Tunesi admits full-timers are easier to exploit. “A lot of people wouldn’t admit to that, and I wouldn’t either, but you can push full-timers a lot more than part-timers. Part-timers have a cut-off point. Employers have to recognise that and get the most out of the resource within those boundaries. To my mind, that is the way the employment market is going.”

Tunesi says working mothers – ex-career women and workers of high calibre – are coming back into the market for specific reasons, something employers need to be aware of.

However, these built-in limitations make it more difficult to motivate part-timers, in Tunesi’s experience. “If they’ve only got so much time to dedicate to their professional role, it’s difficult to switch them on and get the most out of them,” she adds.

Full-timers on bonus incentive schemes with key targets to meet within any month or quarter, are highly motivated to meet their objectives. But if part-timers believe their targets can’t be achieved within the time they have, it can be demotivating, according to Tunesi.

For Steve McQuillan, chief operating officer of the FMCG Group, whose staff is 80 per cent part-time, the new employment rights are not an issue.

“Whether they’re part-time or full-time people, everyone’s got a full-time brain. We try to harness that to an appropriate commitment. In some cases part-timers’ skills are on a higher level than those of full-time staff, particularly when they have been working on a contract for a long time.” But he says this is a training and management issue rather than one about working hours.

McQuillan claims FMCG has always treated its staff the same way, whether they were part- or full-time. “We don’t acknowledge the divide between the two. We take the view that they’re joining us for life, so they’ll have contractual rights from day one. Even on part-time contracts, on a pro rata basis, we would give people the right to paid leave.”

A welcome aspect of the new legislation will be its effect on unscrupulous operators, predicts Phillips. Large, well-respected companies have always treated their short-time employees pro rata, with the same benefits as full-timers, he says. “The legislation will take some of the backstreet people out of the market, and that can only be good.”

Ovrington sees the increased protection for part-timers as a sign that the field marketing industry is growing up. “Although some people view it as negative, because staff are now becoming more expensive, I think it’s a positive step. The more rights you have, the more longer-term contracts come into play and the higher the wages become. People can start to think about field marketing as a career.”

In spite of these good omens, Thomson at EMS warns that the new legislation poses a contradiction for the labour market. “The Government wants flexibility at work; this does not create flexibility.

“What we do will always involve a combination of full- and part-time staff, but it would certainly make some employers think twice about employing people on a part-time basis.”

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