The United States workforce expands the most in the spring and again in the late fall, in preparation for the holiday season. “For many businesses, the holiday season is a make-or-break period,” said Lauren Griffin, Senior Vice President of Adecco’s North Central region. “It’s not uncommon for businesses to make most of their profit during that single quarter. That puts a lot of pressure on businesses, and getting the right amount — and the right kind — of seasonal staff can be the difference between a successful year and a disaster.”
The National Retail Federation estimated that retailers alone added 750,000 seasonal employees in 2015. “There’s so much demand for seasonal staff that businesses are in constant competition with each other,” said Griffin. “This is especially true for businesses in regions where the seasonal hiring pool is limited. Everyone’s going to be going after those seasonal workers.” Here is how you can position yourself to handle seasonal increases in demand for workers and hire the seasonal employees who will make your busy season a success.
Why Great Seasonal Employees Matter
Because seasonal employees are only around for a few months, it’s easy to fall victim to the false assumption that the quality of hire doesn’t need to be as high as for full-time employees.The busy season, however, is when your company does a large share of its business, possibly even the largest share, and when many new customers have their first experiences with your company.
"You're not just looking for warm bodies," says Daniel Butler, vice president of retail operations at the National Retail Federation. "You're looking for people that are going to be good with the public, who realize that there's a lot more to it than just standing at the register ringing people up." Bad customer service costs U.S. businesses $41 billion annually, according to an infographic by NewVoiceMedia. Don’t let poor seasonal hires hurt your bottom line and damage your brand.
It’s also critical to hire seasonal employees whom you can trust. “Temporary workers usually have access to your place of business, and they interact with your permanent work force and maybe even clients” says Angela Preston, Senior Vice President and Counsel of Corporate Ethics and Compliance at Sterling Talent Solutions. “It’s likely that they are trained on your business systems, and may have access to certain intellectual property. They may even have access to your trade secrets.” Take the time to check references!
How to Find Seasonal Employees
Start early. "If you're a retailer who's not hiring in September, you're giving your competitors a lead on you," says Butler. The same goes for employers in other industries with similar seasonal patterns. According to a 2016 Adecco white paper, most positions added in preparation for the holiday season are in retail, manufacturing, warehousing, shipping and logistics, and call centers. Competition for season employees can be particularly stiff if you’re in one of these industries, so don’t worsen your odds by starting late.
Like with normal hiring, you need to know what you’re looking for if you want to have any hope of finding it. “Approach your seasonal hire as if it’s a full-time position and prepare a very detailed job description,” says Ann Fisher, president and owner of HR Alternative Consulting, Inc.
Just as you would for hiring a full-time employee, leverage your networks to find strong candidates. The first place you should look for seasonal hires is within. Part-time employees may be interested in increasing their hours over the holidays to help offset the costs of the holiday season. "We try to anticipate the [seasonal] increase and have a panel of part-time staff that we can draw from," says Jim Kiriwan, owner of Try Sports. "They're pretty experienced and trained and can hit the ground running in the store." If you have enough part-time staff, you may not have to hire additional seasonal employees at all, or much fewer than otherwise.
After looking within your part-time workforce, look within your networks and those of your employees. “Referrals from word of mouth, family, and friends are often the best way to find people” says Fisher. “Use social media — post the job on your Facebook page or Twitter.” Employees hired by referral are pre-screened by people you trust and are often better hires than those from other sources.
Regardless of where candidates come from, some of your current employees’ time will need to be diverted to interviewing them. “You might have a lot of applicants, but are they the right applicants?” asked Griffin. “Do they have experience doing the kinds of work you need them to do? Are they trustworthy? There a number of questions you have to ask for each applicant, and you can’t know the answers until you vet them.”
Don’t be tempted to save a little time and money by hiring referrals informally or hiring outside applicants without interviews. “It’s a mistake to hire just from a resume” says Fisher. “Have each candidate fill out a job application because it’s a legal document. You must be cautious about discrimination during the interview and hiring process. Also, don’t just hire based on a gut-feeling — you want the most qualified candidate for the job.” Make sure you cover all of your bases so that your busy season is a success.
How to Retain Seasonal Employees
The most important thing you can do to eliminate mid-season turnover happens before you’ve even made the hire. Once again, it comes down to providing clear, specific job descriptions when advertising the position. “If you are specific with exactly what you’re looking for, you will eliminate turnover” says Fisher. The last thing you want is a seasonal hire quitting right in the middle of the busy season and leaving you scrambling to fill the new opening.
Set up seasonal hires for success by providing them with clear expectations. “Hiring is always a 50-50 situation” says Dana Killion, CEO of Killion Clothes. “It’s as much my job to set up an employee for success as it is the employee’s to perform. In a short-term hire situation, the balance swings even more toward my end. I have to both choose wisely and set proper expectations for the results.” Onboarding is essential, even with seasonal employees!
Another way to make seasonal employees want to stay is by giving them a proper welcome. “Temporary and seasonal jobs can lose value quickly for the employee if they are not properly welcomed and treated as a part of the team” says Cord Himelstein, head of marketing at Michael C. Fina Recognition. Because seasonal employees are only around for a few months, often full-time team members don’t bother trying to make them feel welcomed and wanted in the same way as they would with a new full-time team member. That is a costly mistake.
In addition to making sure that seasonal employees are treated like valued colleagues, managers should set goals with them. “Many seasonal employees quit when they begin to feel like hired help with no purpose, which is why goal-setting can be a powerful tool for retaining them” says Himelstein. “Tangible progress markers can help employees get value out of a task and feel accomplished, raising engagement.”
Setting goals not only enables seasonal employees to see what they have accomplished, it also enables managers to do so. The highest achieving seasonal employees make great candidates for a transition to full-time, year-round employment. According to a 2015 Career Builder study, a third of all U.S. businesses add seasonal workers for the holiday season and almost two-thirds of those businesses plan to transition some of their seasonal employees into full time roles.
After all, who is better prepared to fill a role than someone who has already been filling it to your satisfaction for several months? "In an ideal world, all of our full-time people would have started as part-timers," says Kiriwan. "You're actually making employment decisions based on hard performance data that has been built up over a period of time, not relying on subjective interviewing to make your decisions." Use the holiday season to ‘test-drive’ new employees and improve your long-term hiring results.
How These Employers Set Themselves Apart
In the most competitive markets for seasonal employees, or when either the seasonal worker pool is small or the employer has great need, some companies offer benefits and competitive compensation packages to set themselves apart from competition as a seasonal employer.
According to a 2016 Adecco white paper, UPS offered a semester’s tuition for college students who joined the team for their busy holiday season. Amazon offered free transportation to their offices and upped their pay rate. Toys “R” Us Inc. focused within and allowed part-time employees to double their hours for the season.
Whether you appeal to potential candidates with special benefits or not, the key to making your seasonal hiring a success is starting early, screening thoroughly, treating seasonal employees like employees, and rewarding strong performance.