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Seasonal Employees: A Practical Guide for Retail Managers

by | Nov 21, 2016

Seasonal Employees: 7 Tips for Retail Managers

“Tomorrow, our associate headcount will increase by more than a third,” said Noam, as he crossed his arms and leaned back against the breakroom’s kitchenette countertop. He was standing in front of nine managers, all of whom were his direct reports.

“They’re not going to be full-time,” said Noam, referring to the dozens of seasonal retail workers slated to join the team before Thanksgiving, “but they’re still going to be our employees, our people—and we have to treat them as such if we’re going to hit our targets through the end of the year…”

“This holiday season, retailers could add as many as 690,000 new seasonal positions.” – NRF

And that’s only in the United States…

Around the world, millions of people will accept temporary employment with large and small retailers alike, helping existing teams handle the influx of store traffic and inventory without missing a beat.

Target, for example, estimates 77,000 holiday hires. Macy’s will take on 83,000 new people.

What about your store, your department? How many additional hands do you need during the retail holiday rush? More importantly, are you prepared to hire, onboard, and manage those people?

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7 management practices that promote success among seasonal hires:

Given his or her “temporary” status, a seasonal worker’s frame-of-mind will differ from that of a full-time counterpart’s. Managers who acknowledge, anticipate, and prepare for this mental shift will get the most out of their holiday hires.

If you want to be your best retail manager this year—effective, yet still beloved—keep reading:

1. Tone down your hiring process.

Don’t make a temporary employee fill out a full-time application. Don’t put them through the pressures of a typical, full-time interview, either. The effort wouldn’t be worth the return.

Keep each candidate’s hiring process relative to that individual’s investment in your company.

When it comes to seasonal hires, feel free to check only the essential boxes: fundamental skills; applicable experience; background check. This approach will help you hire your target workforce efficiently, without burning out.

2. Be honest.

If you like someone, it may be tempting to promise them full-time work after the holidays are over.

If you’re doing this solely to make the hire, don’t. It’s unethical. Be upfront and realistic with the candidate about their chances to secure a 40-hour week.

3. Design a seasonal-specific training program that scales.

Most customers don’t care if they’re speaking to a temporary worker or a career associate. They only care about their question, their issue. Therefore, it’s important to adequately train your holiday hires, exposing them to the same information as the full-time team—but in smaller, more digestible amounts.

Putting your temporary hires through the rigors of a full-time training program is overkill: the time investment, again, wouldn’t justify the return. That said, every employee should start on the same page for the customers’ sake.

A scalable training program can be achieved in-person, through classroom sessions or online, using web-based programs. Either way, don’t skip this step. Train your people, even if they’re only “your people” for a few months.

4. Help your employees communicate with each other.

A new job can be stressful and intimidating, especially if you feel disconnected.

Empower your retail associates with tools that streamline communications and enable practical actions, like shift swapping.

Empower your retail associates with tools that streamline communications and enable practical actions, like shift swapping. via @WorkForceSW

5. Master your schedules.

Posting schedules with little advance notice will disengage your people, leading to late arrivals, no-shows, and sub-par customer service (especially among low-loyalty, seasonal employees).

Avoid the consequences of poor scheduling practices—during the holidays and throughout the rest of the year—by using modern workforce management software to forecast your labor demand and schedule your people.

6. Don’t neglect your full-timers.

Be empathetic. Don’t forget to consider how your full-time workers feel in the midst of a sea of holiday hires. After all, your full-timers are permanent fixtures. They’ve proven themselves to be loyal and dedicated, eager to put their best foot forward for the sake of their future with the company.

Don’t cut their hours unless they ask for the time off.

7. Keep your brand’s reputation top-of-mind.

This one’s easy to forget, to disregard, even. The urgency of holiday rush will do that. But you can’t let it. You have to fight the pressure, and you have to win. That’s your job.

You have to treat customers well, and employees even better. Because everyone that walks into your store is a potential brand advocate, including seasonal workers. Sure, a seasonal worker is only with you for a moment. But when he or she leaves, they’ll take that experience with them. They’ll share it with their friends and family. They’ll post about it on Facebook.

That temp’s message could touch thousands of people, maybe more. So be kind and courteous. Treat people fairly, with dignity and respect. Not only because your company’s reputation depends on it—which it does—but because it’s the right thing to do.

“…any questions?” asked Noam.

He was still leaning, cross-armed, against the countertop. Dan, who was recently promoted to shift manager, raised his hand.

“Whachya got, Danny?”

“Do you have any advice? I mean, is there a game plan?”

“Great question. There definitely is a plan, and it starts with toning down our hiring process…”

Master your schedules.

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