Seasonal Talent In Retail

Seasonal Employees In Retail

There is a frequently unacknowledged reality in retail that seasonal employees are the embodiment of revolving door employees and that we need not invest in them as we would our permanent talent because “they are only here for a short period of time”…BUT… if you are seeking to fill your store(s) with amazing, loyal, dedicated, and productive talent – you have to maintain your standards for ALL talent. Seasonal people can be a fabulous asset to your business. If you treat them well, they are enthusiastic and appreciative of opportunity because a lot of retailers don’t see this as a role that brings value. Organizations use the ‘bodies’ they bring on to plug in scheduling holes, they don’t invest time in training, they don’t see them as assets. Yikes! These temporary people can be incredibly supportive and beneficial to the business. When they are treated the right way, these people can be a great returning seasonal employee and a reliable “same time next year” team members.

Any season may be the season of your discontent — if you don’t take care to source, hire and onboard seasonal workers who represent the best that your business has to offer. – John Rossheim

The Challenge Of Seasonal Hiring And How It Can Impact Business

Seasonal hiring, however is not without it’s challenges but being aware and sensitive to the issues will help you combat the obstacles to create a value-driven, mutually beneficial relationship. Retail seasonal talent generally work part-time without benefits, hiring seasonal holiday workers is an essential and cost-effective retail management strategy for  organizations.  However, ineffective management of temporary seasonal employees can actually cost retail companies more than the hiring of seasonal employee saves because of the effect that bad employees have on both the employee and the customer experience.

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Disengaged employees who then create bad customer experiences can cause a 50% decrease in customer spending.  It is important to point out – it is not bad seasonal hires that are the costly problem. It’s bad/uninformed leadership practices before, during, and after the holiday hiring that is costly. We usher these new hires in, have them complete the new hire paperwork, and give them irrelevant and immeasurable tasks without meaning and purpose [aka: the things that your permanent employees don’t enjoy doing and the worst shifts]. We expect them to engage, sell to, and wow our customers through delivering a great experience without giving them the benefit of onboarding, training, access to mentors or resources, and usually without communicating the goals and objectives of the business.

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  • Employees Who Create Bad Customer Experiences Cut Sales by 50%: Gallup research has found that customers who are aligned with a brand promise spend twice as much customers who have no strong relationship with a company or a brand. Clearly, retail organizations cannot afford to abandon hiring, training, and employee engagement strategies with their seasonal team members.  There are ways to compress the onboarding and training programs to ensure we maintain the selling and culture standards for these seasonal employees.
  • Ignoring And/Or Lowering Hiring Standards For Seasonal Employees Is A Costly Mistake: According to SHRM, the cost of lowering hiring standards and making bad hiring decision is five times what the ineffective seasonal worker is paid. [Marinade in that statement for a moment – wow!]
  • On-the-Job Training Cost Cuts Increase Shopping Cart Abandonment Costs: I know this sounds weird but when we force seasonal employees to learn “on-the-job” and ignore training because “they won’t be here for long” we are making the decision to erode the customer experience in some way, and it is never appreciated by the customer. “This is the in-store equivalent to the online phenomenon of shopping cart abandonment.  A study by Business Insider estimated that $4 trillion of merchandise was left unpurchased by online shoppers in 2014.  And while there’s no easy way to quantify the amount of sales are lost when frustrated customers change their minds about making a purchase in physical stores, when 75% of Internet shoppers are willing to walk away the items in their online cart, they’re predisposed to exhibiting shopping cart abandonment behaviors in physical stores as well.” [Source: About Money]
  • Bad Fit Holiday Temps Create Tension, Turnover, Customer Disengagement: Sloppy and lazy hiring practices with seasonal talent most often results in bad fit employees who create tension in the organization/store/district for both permanent employees and customers.  If even one of your seasonal hires is disruptive to the chemistry and flow a good retail team, it can diminish workplace engagement, and perhaps can even result employee turnover.  Harvard Business Review reports that 80% of customers who observed employees being uncivil or rude to each other said they did not want to return to the business again.  Considering that you may lose customers and/or great permanent employees if seasonal hires aren’t appropriately assimilated into the employee team, the investment in time and maintaining structured hiring standard doesn’t seem unreasonable.

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Tips & Practices On How To Make The Most of Seasonal Hiring

  • Use sourcing channels that offer a high yield of candidates who only want seasonal work. You’ll make better seasonal hires faster if you can mine rich veins of candidates who just want to work for the season. Look into graduating university students who are taking time to figure out what they want to do. Also by ensuring that you have a compelling and well-communicated employee referral program to entice right-fit talent is beneficial to finding great talent.
  • Adopting a “sink or swim” approach with your seasonal employees is setting yourself, them, your team up for disaster. Here an opportunity to compress your onboarding program using information vetted from your existing team to determine the critical components to be a contributing and value-adding, high-functioning member of the team. By including your best field people in this process, it will give your team some additional ownership in the seasonal team member’s success and the working relationship.
  • Take time to ensure that job descriptions for seasonal hires are accurate, complete and up-to-date. In other words, stop relying on descriptions that are four, five, or six years old. Make it current and accurate. Ensure it delivers meaning & purpose to your seasonal employees need to do work that matters. Customers should not be able to determine who is seasonal or permanent based on the experience they deliver.
  • Consider using assessments to find the seasonally right-fit for your culture and the role. Even if you don’t utilize these tools with all of your permanent candidates because the cost and your investment in the regular hiring/interviewing structure. Assessments allow you to gain insight to the actual ability of your seasonal worker and their adaptability and personality can be supported by this tool.  This will support the hiring of the best talent available for these roles when there is not a lot of time to find the top talent.
  • Give preference to “same time, next year” candidates. Being able to select for candidates who are open and willing to return for another season is a huge benefit. Ask the question to see who would be likely to fill this critical need. Be sure to use your current and best talent as sourcing advocates [in conjunction with a great “Employee Referral Program”] to solicit candidates who will understand and likely fit the culture by having your top current customer facing people advocate on your behalf…after all they are intimately familiar and likely contributing to the success of that culture. Start the process early, often, and with enthusiasm.

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  • Don’t shortchange HR or other processes for seasonal hires. Though tempting to save short-term costs by bypassing some processes for these workers. This can bring you HR trouble on many fronts, from fielding confused employees to running afoul of labor/employment laws. So keep your seasonal people on your regular HR platform and provide them with the same information [employee handbook, access to resource platforms, etc.] as you do your regular, full-time employees.
  • Don’t neglect your end game. Never assume that your workforce will remain intact through the entirety of the season. This is retail –  it most likely won’t.  Consider structuring compensation to reward seasonal workers for staying and supporting their great attendance as long as you need them. [I this program]. But by implementing some of these practices you can give you and your team your best shot at it by supporting an amazing season.
  • Acknowledge Individuality. When your seasonal hire does a great job, approach him or her individually, say their name, and congratulate them on a job-well-done. Individualized appreciation goes much further than the typical blanket or uninspired “Thanks” managers tend to give out in passing during these times of years.
  • Humanize yourself. Make sure your seasonal employees see the human side of your diverse team and feel included. Frequently we hire seasonal employees because the pace of business and/or traffic has increased. We hire seasonal team members to support this so we should never be too busy to be supportive and working to engage ALL team members regardless of the elevated momentum of the business.
  • Engage Wisely. It could be that some of your seasonal opening are being filled by emerging adults, many of whom are social and would be happy to return to work at your store because of the friends they made there. Use this to your advantage: create a social media presence among various platforms where you can post updates and your workers can stay in touch outside of the business. Plus your workforce will be that much happier to return to friendly, familiar faces if they feel included and like a part of the business even after they leave (this is also a great place to post team recognition).

Helpful Tips From SHRM: Training The Retail Leaders of Seasonal Employees

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  • Handbooks: Employers commonly forget to give seasonal employees handbooks and have them sign off on them. These oversights can come back to haunt employers. The employee should be given ample paid time to review the handbook, ask any questions about the handbook, and sign an acknowledgment sheet thereafter demonstrating receipt and time spent reviewing the handbook,” said Frank Wolf, an attorney with Fisher & Phillips in Chicago.
  • Time Keeping: It’s important, too, for seasonal employees to understand they must record their time. They need to notify their manager if they work through a break and accurately record the time worked on their time sheet so they’re not unlawfully working off the clock. “Although some workers may be seasonal, they will still be entitled to overtime wages in the event that they exceed 40 hours per week,” Wolf noted.
  • Meetings: Make attendance at all employee meetings mandatory for seasonal employees, recommended Jeffrey Ruzal, an attorney with Epstein, Becker & Green in New York City. Wolf added that seasonal employees may be the victims of discrimination, and they need to know to whom they may complain—HR or another supervisor, not just their own supervisor—who may be participating in the discrimination.
  • Accommodation Requests/Mentions: Retail Leaders should be trained that seasonal employees’ requests for reasonable accommodation must be treated the same as other employees’ accommodation requests, “The manager needs to be aware than an employee need not use the word ‘accommodation’ to begin the interactive process” for identifying a reasonable accommodation, Wolf noted. “Accordingly, the manager must be trained in recognizing what constitutes a request for a religious or disability accommodation in the absence of some key words. If there is uncertainty as to whether an accommodation is needed, the manager should be trained to contact human resources.”
  • Probationary Employees: Inform seasonal workers that they are probationary employees, Diane Saunders, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Boston said, noting that most seasonal employees work three months. The seasonal workers should know that in the case of misconduct, there may not be progressive discipline such as a written warning or performance improvement plan, but instead immediate termination.

Peak seasons bring higher levels of traffic and momentum to the business. Seasonal employees are a critical part of the business strategy to ensure we can react and maximize metrics [conversion and business levers] and deliver a consistently elevated customer experience to our customers during peak shopping. They are an important and crucial part of team success during these times. They are worth every moment and penny of investment retail organizations and leaders make in them to ensure they are a highly-productive and happy member of the team.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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