Over a quarter of organisations rely on freelancers for core business tasks

26 June 2018

Brussels, 26 June 2018. Over a quarter of organisations rely on freelancers to complete core business tasks. But in more than half of the organisations, HR departments are being cut out of the hiring process. These results come from the latest survey conducted across five European countries by the payroll & HR services provider SD Worx and Antwerp Management School.

The research uncovered how organisations are using freelancers, in which departments, for how long and what kind of tasks they are hired. The survey found that businesses employ freelance workers especially for highly specialised tasks, with just over half (50.5%) of organisations bringing independent workers in to capitalise on their specialist skills.

Flexible staff are at the core of businesses

Organisations understand the need to be agile, but are struggling to achieve this with their internal workforce alone, with only 36% of organisations reporting that the majority of employees has skills that can be used outside of the current job. The research shows that across Europe organisations of all sizes are hiring self-employed workers for a mixture of peripheral and core business tasks. Over a quarter (27.2%) of respondents frequently trust and rely on freelancers to perform core business tasks. Germany is most likely to use independent workers for core tasks (31.4%), whilst companies in Belgium are least likely to (18.8%).

Interestingly the number of businesses using self-employed workers for peripheral tasks is less than core tasks, with only 22.3% of European businesses doing so.

Freelance staff provide short-term benefit

Under half (43.2 %) of European businesses frequently use independent workers for short-term assignments, with firms in France doing so most often (47.4%) and companies in Belgium doing so the least (33.8%).

Fewer European businesses (29.3%) use independent workers for long-term assignments. Firms in Germany do so the most (34.6%), with Belgium closing the list at an adoption rate of 20%.


The Executive Board calls the shots on self-employed workers

Within organisations the Executive Board holds the most influence (34.1%) on making the decision to recruit independent workers. Surprisingly line managers (16.2%) and HR departments (9.7%) hold the least influence. Furthermore, less than half (45.9%) of respondents always inform the HR team when a decision is made to bring in self-employed workers - indicating the HR team is left out of the loop in the majority of decisions.

“European businesses understand the benefits that self-employed workers provide, especially in terms of their specialist skill sets, and are involving them at the very heart of the organisations,” comments Hilde Haems, Chief HR Officer at SD Worx Group. “As organisations are increasingly evolving towards more flexibility in the workforce, HR departments will need to have a constant and accurate view on the skills, unique talents and the knowledge of all workers, both long and short-term, within their organisations. Tools for workforce planning can help with this, for the benefit of the employee and the business alike.”

IT departments come out on top for freelancers

On a European level IT departments are the most likely to employ freelancers (36%). IT teams in the UK are hiring the most self-employed workers (41%), compared to Germany (37%), France (34%), The Netherlands (33%) and Belgium (31%). Other departments also see the benefit of independent workers, with production (33%), sales (28%) and marketing (27%) frequently hiring freelancers. Of all European business departments HR (15%) is least likely to hire independents.

Mobility vs. turnover

 “There is a correlation between employee turnover and the use of freelancers. Organisations with a higher turnover ratio are more frequently working with freelancers than those with a lower turnover rate. The high turnover rate might urge organisations to quickly respond to the need to people when a person leaves the organisation and that working with freelancers allows to fill in this need more easily than when starting a hiring process. However, it might also be the other way around, i.e., when organisations are working more with freelancers this might signal to internal employees a lack of career prospects for them, making them more inclined to search for other career opportunities outside the organisation. It is important for organisations to understand if and how the use of freelancers might affect the commitment and engagement of their payroll employees,” Professor Ans De Vos from Antwerp Management School concludes.

"To improve their response to the rapidly changing context, companies will also have to make their HR more flexible. They can do this by taking a strategic, long-term look at the talents they need and by clearly identifying and documenting the availability on the labour market and employees' wishes in terms of work relations. External staff, such as freelancers, can help achieve this flexibility, but internal employees can also play their part by providing further training and helping to develop new skills. This results in a talent supply chain that allows you to predict the necessary capacity based on HR analytics," SD Worx Managing Consultant Jan Laurijssen says.

About the survey

SD Worx and AMS surveyed a representative sample of 1.074 employers upon flexible talent in the following five countries: Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. It fits within the research agenda set by SD Worx and Antwerp Management School (AMS) for the SD Worx Chair on “Next Generation Work: Creating Sustainable Careers”. Since 2011, as part of this chair research is being conducted on the changing career context, and what this implies for organisations and for the workforce. Through yearly surveys and qualitative studies the chair keeps track of the people challenges the VUCA context brings along, the changing career and talent policies within organisations in response to these challenges, and the ways in which individuals are dealing with their careers.

Potential respondents were contacted using an online panel, with sampling based on size and industry. If you are interested in seeing the full study please go to this page.
For more information, please contact
Nik Jeffries/Ilona Mosejeva/Katie Evans
T: 020 7680 5500
Pieter Goetgebuer
PR & Corporate Communication Manager SD Worx Group
M: +32 497 45 36 73

About SD Worx

As the leading European player in payroll and HR, SD Worx provides worldwide services in the areas of payroll, HR, legal support, training, automation, consultancy and outsourcing. It has a customer-centric approach, focuses on digital leadership and is committed to international growth. Today, more than 65,000 large and small organisations worldwide trust in SD Worx and its over 70 years of experience.
The 4,150 employees at SD Worx operate in ten countries: Belgium (HQ), Germany, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Austria, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. SD Worx calculates the salaries of some 4.4 million employees and achieved a turnover of €443 million in 2017. SD Worx is co-founder of the Payroll Services Alliance, a global strategic network of leading payroll companies that together provide 32 million payroll calculations.
More info on: www.sdworx.com