Outsourcing could reduce the workforce by half

An increasing number of companies are relying on external providers. Efficiency is the key driver of this development. Experts agree that outsourcing will take off in a big way in the years to come, although some have a number of reservations about this development.

Keep in-house or outsource? That is the question for today's HR executives. A growing number of companies are refocusing on their core activities, a strategic exercise that began some time ago. An economy on the mend and the shortage on the job market, however, are accelerating this trend. Ester Van Eupen, Senior Manager with Accenture Strategy – Talent and Organization:

"It used to be a case of hiring external staff for transactional or operational activities; take for example call centres. Today, outsourcing is much more a means of increasing an organisation's flexibility. Companies are adding a flexible "shell" of external staff to their fixed core of internal employees. This shell consists of external staff with specific skills or knowledge. Often these are highly skilled professionals who are a very scarce commodity on the job market. The main advantage is that the company no longer has to go through expensive and time-consuming recruitment procedures. Not only does it save time and money, it also means having to invest less in training: you simply pick the skills from the market."

Breaking with convention

Automation, digitisation and robotisation. According to Jan Laurijssen, HR consultant with SD Worx, these are the three most important tasks outsourced to external providers:

"It concerns specialised jobs for which the organisation has no internal expertise. Everyone talks about outsourcing, but in practice both employers and employees tend to be much more conservative. Companies hire when expertise is in short supply and fire when there is a surplus. In turn, employees tend to hold onto their jobs. In any event, the job market will force us to make choices."


Colleague Sven De Kremer, Managing Consultant, predicts that some companies will shed their workforce layers until they are left with hubs:

"I have spoken with managers who say their fixed workforce will be reduced by half over the next decade or so. To be clear, this does not mean they will not grow. In fact, their total workforce will likely be bigger than it is now. Some companies no longer consider themselves as lifelong employers. They will become hubs where people perform a job temporarily, then leave again."

Corporate Culture

Outsourcing may be the new buzz word, but specialists also have some reservations about this development. Koen Dewettinck, HR professor at Vlerick Business School, is one of them:

"More and more companies are concentrating on their corporate culture. In other words, the vision and values the organisation wants to communicate and which are reflected in its corporate processes and policies. Corporate culture is a cohesive force; people identify with it and rally around a common purpose. At least, this is true for internal employees.

But what about external staff? They don't identify that strongly with the collective vision. As a company you have to strike a balance between the individual and the collective, and this is no easy task. Organisations could do much more to define and enhance their corporate culture. They claim to be different, but in essence they are doing exactly the same as everyone else. It's about clearly stating what your vision and mission are. My advice is to overcome the idea that you need to do your best for everyone – that is simply impossible."



Flexible working – how to make it work: easier said than done

Although teleworking has become commonplace in many companies, it is not always received positively. A rigid, hierarchical attitude is often to blame. It is therefore not surprising that newer and more flexible ways of working, like co-sourcing, are met with great resistance, despite the many benefits.

Bon a savoir

Teleworking has been on everyone's lips for decades, but the real breakthrough has only been made recently.

In many companies, teleworking has not got off to a good start. Jan Laurijssen of SD Worx says the reason is straightforward: employers have to learn to let go.

"With teleworking, your employees are partly in charge of the process. Not all companies are ready for this. The problem is that companies introduce teleworking for the wrong reason. They move to a smaller office with flexible workspaces, simply to save costs. Employees have the option to work from home and that, basically, is the end of the story."


Kristien Van den Bon, Business Development Manager for the Government at SD Worx, believes working from home must be actively endorsed at the executive level:

"Executive managers must take the initiative, otherwise it remains largely a theoretical exercise. The FPS Social Security organisation was a pioneer in teleworking. At the time, manager Frank Van Massenhove put a lot of effort into getting this off the ground. This type of project can only succeed if it is headed by a charismatic leader who personifies the change and takes responsibility for the process. Cost-cutting alone is not sufficient as a prerequisite for change; you have to believe in it. Without top-down support, teleworking is doomed to fail.

WC_Art_Crowdsourcing2_enIncidentally, the "New World of Work" involves much more than teleworking. It is also about flexibility in terms of working hours and place of work, whether that is at home, at a satellite branch or elsewhere. Virtual teams, organising work in autonomous teams, target management, etc. are also aspects of this new way of working. These all have a positive effect on employee engagement – not insignificant when you consider we will all have to work for longer."

False sense of control

Many employers are hesitant about introducing teleworking for fear of losing control. Jan Laurijssen dispenses with that assumption:

"Let's be honest: you are giving up a false sense of control. Take for example a conventional office with employees working at their computers. Bosses see that their employees are working, or at least they think they are. How do you know those people are really being productive? In fact, it's been shown that teleworkers respond very quickly to e-mails from line management. They are keen to prove they are hard at work. Consequently, people work more efficiently at home than at work. The boss thinks he's no longer in control, but rest assured: people are quite capable of self-management."

Chocolate and meat

WC_Art_Crowdsourcing3_enIs co-sourcing the next big thing in HR? It could well be, even though it is a big leap and people have major concerns. In essence, co-sourcing is relatively simple: two or more companies form a pool of shared employees they can exchange. In Brussels, for example, a chocolate maker and a meat-processing company recently joined forces. The two companies had different seasonal peaks. To avoid having to recruit and dismiss employees, they created a joint organisation. The shared employees were on the payroll of these employers' organisation and alternated between making chocolates and meat products.


According to Jan Laurijssen, co-sourcing is also suitable for knowledge jobs:

"It seems perfectly feasible for different SME's to share the same financial professional – why not? Many small companies cannot afford to hire a high-profile expert, but together they can. Incidentally, it doesn't always have to be about cost efficiency. Co-sourcing is also a means to keep employees in employment for longer. Older employees can start to feel burnt out at the end of their career. It is not always a good idea to want to retain them. You could arrange for them to work in a non-profit organisation on a part-time basis, at your cost. This is not as disadvantageous as it sounds. It can give your employees a new sense of enthusiasm."

End of fast-lane career path?

Kristien Van Den Bon expects co-sourcing to gain in importance:

"This is just the beginning. Take it from me: the more publicity these initiatives receive in the media, the more employees will demand them. Organisations will be forced to do something about this. The great thing about co-sourcing is that it's not an earning model like outplacement or secondment. Employees switch jobs so that they can develop and get a second wind. It's an opportunity. Co-sourcing allows us to end the fast-lane career path of working harder and harder."

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How to retain employees in the new economy?

Increasingly, employers are having to learn how to take the individual wishes of their eclectic workforce into account. This requires customisation. But how easy is it to manage this flexibility in practice?

Time for a remarkable statistic. The average Belgian worker only changes employer three times in their career. This means Belgians have one of the lowest employment mobility rates in Europe. In fact, 30% of Belgians over the age of fifty have never changed jobs. If you think young workers are more mobile, you will be surprised. Research conducted by VUB sociologist Mark Elchardus has shown that young employees are not the job hoppers people often consider them to be. Young people are happy to work for the same company for ten or twenty years. However, they must be given incentives, much more so than the baby boomers. No simple matter…


A competitive salary and attractive employee benefits are no longer sufficient, says Ester Van Eupen of Accenture:

"Companies must have a good image, state-of-the-art technology and interesting career paths to offer their employees. It's all about culture, opportunities, work-life balance, an attractive physical work environment and belonging. These perks strongly influence productivity and staff retention."


According to her, young people want first and foremost to be challenged:

"Simply carrying out a job is not enough for them. Young people seek meaning and personal development. Companies must therefore profile themselves as an attractive employer that can respond flexibly to its employee's needs. This is the only way to retain employees, because the widely held belief that young people do not commit long-term, is simply incorrect."


The call for a highly individual approach did not appear out of the blue. When seeking a job, young people behave like consumers. This is not surprising, as today's customers have become used to customisation. Every product or service can be customised, and this tendency can also be seen in the workplace. Male or female, young or old, Belgian or non-Belgian – different employees have different concerns, cultural standards and core values. Customisation is increasingly becoming the norm.


Employers must therefore provide variation, for instance by making internal mobility easier. Leen van Damme, remuneration expert at SD Worx, believes this makes sense.

"People don't always want or have to climb up the corporate ladder. First and foremost, they are interested in developing a broad range of skills. Good internal mobility is always a win-win situation. Employees are given the opportunity to grow and change. Employers also benefit from this, because your employees stay motivated and are more versatile."

One size does not fit all

Whether your work is interesting and varied or not – at some point it is about the money. Leen Van Damme is in favour of flexible remuneration, an issue many companies are struggling with:

"In most sectors salary scales are still all about age and seniority. Each employee in the same category is entitled to the same benefits. But today, "one size fits all" no longer cuts it. People want individual choices, and flexible remuneration gives employees this option. Compare it with a store where employees can shop around. Employees are allocated a budget for fringe benefits. They can use this for extra leave days, for example, or more cash, a smaller company car and a bicycle, or a larger car, etc. They may choose once a year, and employers can modify the fringe benefits they offer."


Flexible remuneration offers many advantages. It increases staff satisfaction and retention. Employees considering moving to another company always compare the pros and cons. They will think carefully before giving up the perks of their job. Offering them something they won't find elsewhere increases their loyalty. Koen Dewettinck of Vlerick Business School warns about the potential pitfalls:

"Companies must be able to keep the administration processes manageable. I don't think it's advisable to give people too many choices, as this makes them indecisive. Develop a few prefab packages from which people can choose. Remember that becoming more flexible requires more work, and that HR departments are increasingly expected to be more efficient."



HR trends for the 21st century

You don't need us to tell you that the HR landscape is undergoing major changes. But how do you get the most out of all the new ideas and innovations in HR? What threats should you watch out for? Four experts share their predictions.

Isabel De Clercq, trend catcher at Kluwer Opleidingen

Encourage knowledge sharing

"Companies should encourage their employees to share their knowledge. Thanks to social technology, there is a wealth of knowledge available online: presentations, blogs, whitepapers, social media posts, etc.

According to the McKinsey research agency, companies that encourage their employees to use social technology see productivity gains of up to 25%. But this does require them to leave behind the traditional culture of control and hierarchy. They must also acknowledge that those mechanisms are no longer an adequate model for responding rapidly to the fast-changing environment we work in today.

Herein lies an important role for HR, for it is they that can help organisations make that cultural shift. Knowledge sharing will only work in an open culture based on trust. To coach employees and allow them to develop new digital skills, it is important that management and HR take the necessary steps to raise awareness, to offer training courses and to lead by example."

Ester Van Eupen, Accenture

Experiment with new ways of working like crowdsourcing and copro-working

"Today's companies have to innovate. Inflexible working methods and practices are out of the question. Copro-working involves people working together in a physical space on improving existing processes or testing new initiatives. This allows companies to collaborate with start-ups, for example. The advantage is that, as a large organisation, you have access to innovation. This new way of working is particularly useful for companies that are familiar with a project-based approach.

It is also useful if you have clear structures and job descriptions. Another potential solution is Crowdsourcing, where different employees work together on a project. The idea is that you can give shape to ideas more quickly, across all departments in the organisation."

Sven De Cremer, Managing Consultant at SD Worx

Create self-directed teams

"People like to organise their own work. We see that managers like to keep a tight grip on the reins and determine the schedules themselves. However, the more you control people, the less inclined they are to seek solutions themselves. People are perfectly capable of pulling their own weight in the workplace. By creating self-directed teams you can make people responsible for their own work.

Volvo was the first company to introduce this concept. The car manufacturer's assembly line workers were allowed to organise their own work. Before, an engineer used to do this for them. The results were astounding – people organised their work according to their talents. This boosted their motivation and increased efficiency: the number of sick days went down dramatically.

Can this be done in every sector? Why not? We have software that allows people to enter their preferred tasks and number of hours. Obviously a few things will still have to be modified and coordinated afterwards. After all, self-directed teams require a certain level of maturity. It requires a certain type of cooperation and communication between people. Once they have mastered this, however, you often see quality improving in leaps and bounds."

Koen Dewettinck, HR professor at Vlerick Business School

Look out for review sites

"In his book Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux asserts that companies are forever shrinking. Consequently, managers have more time to redefine the organisation. This can be done relatively easily through a system of internal crowdsourcing.

In practice, this means creating workgroups and getting everyone on board. Whether it concerns a new HR system or marketing, everyone has a valuable contribution to make. The strength lies in the synergy between the different areas of expertise. Something altogether different are the review sites popping up everywhere.

A good example is Glassdoor, a site where employees and former employees can share their work experiences. They give these companies a rating, a bit like the sites on which you can rate hotels. Companies are well advised to look out for this phenomenon. It is something you have no control over."



Export plans? Make sure you talk to our experts first

To prepare your international adventure properly, ask yourself the right questions and talk to people who have done it all before: partners, customers, fellow exporters and experts.

BNP Paribas Fortis listens to the questions asked by international entrepreneurs and offers reliable advice. "A lot of exporting companies ask for our help when it's too late", Frank Haak, Head of Sales Global Trade Solutions, says.


Entrepreneurs with little export experience are often unaware of the bigger financial picture. So what do they need to take into account when they set up a budget for their export plans?

Frank Haak: "Budgeting and pricing are affected by a lot of crucial factors: working capital, currency exchange risks and currency interest, prefinancing, profit margins, insurance, import duties and other local taxes, competitor pricing and so on. We always advise customers or prospects to start from a worst-case scenario. Quite a few companies are insufficiently prepared for their first international adventure: they see an opportunity and they grab it, but quite often disappointment and a financial hangover are not far away.

Our experts have years of export experience and the BNP Paribas Group has teams around the world. This means that we can give both general and country-specific tips. Let's say a machine builder wants to design and manufacture a custom-made machine. We recommend including the machine's reuse value in the budget: can this machine still be sold if the foreign customer suddenly no longer wishes to purchase it or if export to that country becomes impossible due to a trade embargo or emergency situation?"


What type of companies can contact BNP Paribas Fortis for advice?

Frank Haak: "All types! Entrepreneurs are often hesitant to ask for advice. Sometimes they are afraid that it will cost them money. However, the right advice can save them a lot of money in the long run. For example, we recommend a letter of credit or documentary credit to anyone exporting goods to a foreign buyer for the first time. This product is combined with a confirmation by BNP Paribas Fortis to offer the exporter the certainty that it will receive payment when it presents the right documents and to assure the buyer that its goods or services will be delivered correctly."


The consequences of not seeking advice: what can an exporter do in case of non-payment without documentary credit?

Frank Haak: "If you are not receiving payment for your invoices, the counterparty's bank can be contacted in the hope that it advances the payment on the customer's behalf. However, we shouldn't be too optimistic in that respect: the chances of resolving the issue without financial losses are very slim. Once you have left your goods with customs, you usually lose all control over them. Hence the importance of good preparation: listen to and follow the advice of your bank and organisations such as Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT). It will protect you against a whole host of export risks."


BNP Paribas Fortis

  • is the number one bank for imports (approx. 40% market share) and exports (approx. 25% market share) in Belgium (according to the statistics of the National Bank of Belgium): it offers advice/financing and can help you to discover new export markets through trade development;
  • is proud that Belgium is one of the world's 15 largest export regions and is pleased to give exporters a leg up, for example by sponsoring the Flemish initiative ‘Leeuw van de Export’.


Source: Wereldwijs Magazine

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