Bringing in temporary help is becoming a common staffing solution for many accounting and finance departments, especially in larger organizations.
According to the latest Benchmarking the Accounting & Finance Function, a joint study released by Robert Half and Financial Executives Research Foundation, 62 percent of firms with $5 billion or more in annual revenue regularly use temporary help, as do 41 percent of firms with $500 million to $999 million in annual revenue and 22 percent of companies with less than $25 million.
Smaller companies may rank the lowest in temporary or project professionals, but the percentage of their workforce represented by temps is highest.
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The study also shows that businesses across North America typically need the most interim support in accounts payable (24 percent), general accounting (18 percent) and accounts receivable (14 percent). Many businesses also tap temporary help to assist with payroll (8 percent) and tax (7 percent).
Firms aren’t using temporary help for just peak periods. Here are four ways employers rely on temps in accounting and finance:
1. To try out a potential new hire
Executives interviewed for the Benchmarking report said they like to bring potential hires in on a temporary basis for what becomes, in essence, a tryout period. If the person is a good fit for the job and the organization, they extend a full-time offer at the end of the contract. Certainly, these types of arrangements can be hiring strategies to help companies avoid a bad hire. But one executive also reported discovering valuable skills and qualities in interim staff that made them even more attractive as potential new hires.
2. To determine their workload
With the global economy improving, many companies are growing and adding jobs. Companies surveyed for the report said they use temporary-to-hire arrangements to assess whether the workload can sustain a full-time hire. They bring in a project professional, and if the person stays busy for an extended period of time, they transition the job into a permanent one.
3. To fill in for an employee on long-term leave
Firms surveyed for the report stated that they often use temporary professionals to fill in while employees are on leave. When an employee takes extended time off — whether to take care of a newborn baby or aging parent or because of an illness — the remaining staff that has to take on the person’s workload can quickly get overwhelmed. The help of project staff can alleviate the burden and lower the chance of burnout. Canadian companies have taken particular advantage of this strategy for employees on maternity/paternity leave, as Canada allows parents to take 18 months off following the birth of a child.
4. To fill an expertise gap or provide help for a project
Some executives interviewed for the Benchmarking report also said they used temporary help for specific projects that required certain expertise. One reported that a consultant was leading the firm’s enterprise resource planning system upgrade, and another had hired an interim accountant to help with the financial aspects of a large-scale project. Another executive experienced this on the flip side: He was brought in on an interim basis to help a public company complete either a sale of the business or a transition into a private company.
Yes, bringing in temporary help can save your sanity during peak periods, but it can also make sure you meet your goals in other ways, too.
More than a quarter (28 percent) of U.S. firms use temporary or project professionals to assist with their accounting and finance function. Here's an infographic from the Benchmarking report that shows what specific functions they fill.
Editor's note: This post was recently updated with new survey information.