What’s a PEO – and Who Needs to Know?

In the world of business, some changes get all the attention. A new law, a new technology, a fundamental change in the economy or in the marketplace will quickly command the attention of boardrooms and the business press alike – and understandably so. The ripple effects of such changes usually create significant effects that are still felt months or years later. Even more significant changes, though, often happen almost completely “under the radar,” even though they may upend whole industries or the entire business landscape.

One such example is the ascendance of the Professional Employer Organization or PEO.

In recent years, PEOs have staked out a claim to a growing portion of the HR field, supplementing or eclipsing in-house Human Resources departments in many small to mid-sized companies. Nonetheless, they remain dimly understood by many of the business owners best positioned to benefit from their services, even as they are fundamentally changing the way American business manages interactions between employers and employees.

In essence, a PEO exists as a separate, stand-alone organization focused exclusively on managing its’ clients’ human resource-related functions, including benefits administration, regulatory compliance, workers’ compensation, payroll, taxes and similar practice areas. A PEO will assume the role of “employer of record” for a company’s employees, taking on the responsibility of administering most or all of the administrative tasks – as well as a fair measure of the risk – associated with maintaining a workforce.

In doing so, client businesses gain a number of significant operational and competitive advantages:

  • The ability to reallocate both attention and resources from HR functions to core areas of interest and expertise – the making and selling of the company’s product or service;
  • A measure of insulation and/or indemnification;
  • The streamlining of human resource functions placed under professional administration;
  • The ability to leverage economies of scale in securing necessary benefit and insurance programs;
  • Improved adoption of HR best practices under professional administration

The growing popularity of the PEO model is driven to a great degree by the increasing challenges and stressors facing small to medium-sized businesses. An increasingly technology-driven, global marketplace heightens competition and shrinks margins, even as increased regulatory and legal risks impose additional complexity and costs upon HR departments and practitioners. A PEO can deflect risk, contain costs, ensure consistency and predictability in practices, and effectively address complex taxation, insurance, and regulatory issues becomes increasingly valuable to companies operating within this challenging environment.

Few expect the business climate to become less complex or challenging in the years to come. As the burdens of regulation, competition, and costs continue to exert pressure on businesses, the ability of PEOs to buffer their clients from their effects will likely come to be perceived as a distinct competitive advantage – and not only knowing what a PEO is, but having one in hand, may make a critical difference in business success.


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