- Determine the criticalness of the assignment. There are various instances where an organization will need to temporarily fill a role, and how they go about compensating the employee assigned to the temporary role should be preset and determined on how critical it is to the business.
- Filling in for an employee on leave. In a scenario in which an employee goes on leave and a person is asked to take over their job responsibilities for a defined time, a compensation bump should be added as a premium in the form of a line item of pay with their typical paycheck.
- Put a formal process in place. Having an established process makes good business sense because when an employee takes on a new role for a period of time, exercising the same responsibilities as the employee on leave, they should have the same pay opportunity.
- Quick-fix scenarios. Some work scenarios are more difficult to formalize a compensation structure for temporary assignments, such as an employee in a call center not showing up for work for an extended period without notice. Employees who fill in when needed should receive other reward items such as free lunches or gift cards that say “thank you” for picking up the additional workload.
Temporary assignments, or the assignment of duties to an employee outside their regular scope on a short-term basis, often come with an increase in direct compensation.
But how should that amount be determined?
It all depends on whether the assignment is for a new project or simply a fill-in for a missing employee, said Julian Pawlowski, senior principal at Mercer.
“[Temporary assignments] are common practice in the context of a major project and typically involve an additional scope of responsibility,” he said.
On the other hand, with constant organizational changes, such as a promotion or other employee transitions such as maternity/medical leave, organizations may need to assign an employee to a temporary role to both support that transition and any gaps in the workflow that a change creates.
“Some roles have less influence on results and pay should be commensurate with that,” he said.
Therefore, leaders must first determine the criticalness of the assignment to the business, Pawlowski said.
“What will be the impact if someone’s not in place?” he said. “There really has to be a discussion about the risk if the project isn’t completed on time. What’s the risk if no one is covering that person’s responsibilities? Risk must be determined up front.”
With core strategic projects, for example, there typically are very defined project plans with dependencies and outcomes so that organizations understand the scope of work that’s occurring and the employee understands the part of the workflow and outcome they are responsible for.
From an administrative perspective, this should include an assignment letter, a plan document explaining the terms and conditions of the program, the award amount, timing and any actions that occur if a person leaves.
“All that should be in place before the project begins so they are clear about what they are eligible for, how they earn it and when they earn it.”
But the extra compensation — paid out at the completion of preset milestones — should not just be based on an individual’s performance, Pawlowski said.
“There’s the participant’s support and input that should be measured individually, but also the team’s outcome,” he said. “So a composite score should determine that temporary assignment’s compensation range.”
In a scenario in which an employee goes on leave and a person is asked to take over their job responsibilities for a defined time, however, the compensation bump should be added as a premium — a line item of pay with their typical paycheck.
“That way the person is recognized immediately for the time and work done, and reinforces the idea that the person is getting the opportunity and extra money immediately,” Pawlowski said. “It really helps with both employee motivation and retention.”
Formalizing the Process
For McKesson Canada and its 4,500 employees, temporary assignments that last a minimum of three months occur often enough that the company has a formal process in place.
Isabelle Brissette, a McKesson Canada compensation consultant, noted the company had 29 temporary assignments for the past fiscal year. “Some of our maternity/parental leaves can last up to 18 months,” she said.
Having a formal process in place makes good business sense, Brisette said, because when an employee takes on a new temporary role, exercising the same responsibilities as the employee on leave, they should have the same pay opportunity.
McKesson Canada employees on temporary assignments receive a compensation package that al teast matches the new career grade’s minimum salary range, Brisette said.
For roles in which the employee will take on new responsibilities for three months or more — sometimes up to 18 months to cover maternity/parental leaves — the employee will be placed in the new job code, with the new grade level and get the new bonus target associated with that role.
Base pay, however, will not be increased.
“We will put in a temporary bi-weekly premium as a percentage of base,” she said. “This bi-weekly premium usually ranges from 5% to 15%.”
However, in light of new pay transparency standards, as well as because the employee will have access to the new salary range, McKesson ensures that the bi-weekly premium added to the base pay comes to at least the minimum of the new range.
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Once the assignment is over, the employee goes back into their regular position and grade level, and the bi-weekly premium stops.
McKesson has another process for a temporary assignment for extra responsibilities, Brisette said.
“This is where an employee would remain in their current role but take on responsibilities from a colleague or a superior who is on leave for an unknown period of time (short-term leave, jury duty, etc.).”
In these cases, she said, compensation is simply made by a lump-sum payment.
Some work scenarios, however, are more difficult to formalize a compensation structure for temporary assignments, Mercer’s Pawlowski noted.
“Maybe there’s an employee in a call center who doesn’t show up or leaves unexpectedly and the remaining team picks up the workload,” he said. “That’s fairly common and there needs to be consideration in other areas beside direct compensation.”
Employees who fill in when needed should receive other reward items such as free lunches or gift cards that say “thank you” for picking up the additional workload.
“That’s a really important detail,” Pawlowski said. “There are many cases where it’s not formalized and there are gaps in the work and workers still need to pick up the slack.”
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