This article was originally published under Jeff Miller's column "The Science of Workplace Motivation" on Inc.com.
While the holidays seem to start earlier and earlier every year, the rush of late November and December can't be denied. Next week will kick off the biggest holiday shopping season to date. Americans are expected to spend $682 billion, a 4 percent increase from last year, and retailers are preparing for the demand by recruiting hundreds of thousands of seasonal employees.
While holiday recruiting starts as early as summer, hiring will continue through the end of the year. In fact, last year, U.S. retailers hired more than 140,000 seasonal employees in November and December (out of more than 700,000 total holiday hires). This year promises to be similarly busy, with big names like Target recently increasing their seasonal hiring count.
But with unemployment rates down and many holiday jobs already filled, the end of the year is a competitive time to hire top talent. While temporary employees may only be at the company for a few months or weeks, they should be as aligned with company practices and values as any full-time employee.
How should retailers recruit and engage seasonal employees? I talked with three experts in retail to discuss their holiday hiring strategies and best advice for other brands this season.
1. Build Relationships
As a retailer, relationships with seasonal candidates aren't limited to the next two months--it's possible they could return full-time, or become a lifelong customer.
For Denise Domian, SVP of HR at national retailer Bon-Ton Stores, building long-term relationships with part-time employees should be foundational to every retailer's hiring strategy. Bon-Ton's onboarding process includes an overview of the company mission, vision and values, touching on the caring environment that should be created in interactions with both coworkers and customers.
The impact is telling: Bon-Ton hires between 10,000 and 13,000 seasonal employees a year--growing their full-time staff of 24,000 by 50 percent--yet they maintain a 40 percent retention rate.
"When I ask people, 'Tell me how you started with the company,' it's amazing how many of them tell me that they were seasonal hires and that, at the time, they had no intention of staying long-term," Domian says. "Once they come in, they become immersed in the culture and become familiar with the atmosphere--you know, working in a store is exciting."
2. Don't Skimp on Training
While 63 percent of retailers plan to offer at least 10 percent of their seasonal workforce full-time positions, the majority of seasonal hires are temporary. But don't take this as an excuse to diminish investment in their learning and development.
For national members-only wholesale club BJ's, training is key to providing a seamless customer experience through the busy holiday months. The company hires thousands of seasonal employees, says Shelley Constantino, VP of Field Human Resources, and provides them with the same multi-day orientation as year-round employees.
In addition, Constantino warns against a one-and-done training for seasonal employees: "We encourage our Club leadership to provide feedback on a regular basis to make sure that our new team members feel welcome, understand their roles and responsibilities and have the opportunity for growth and career development."
3. Hire With the Right Technology
If onboarding and training holiday employees during an already hectic season seems daunting, consider investing in technology to automate the process. The right digital tools can save time and money, while providing temporary employees with the same experience as full-time workers.
Franz Villa, director of training and development at sports gear retailer Big 5 Sporting Goods, shared how switching from in-person to online learning transformed his seasonal training process. Now, holiday hires can take a series of interactive elearning courses on their own time. "Our store managers are able to get new seasonal employees up to speed faster," he says. "We've reduced overall training time, administrative costs, and travel expenses and have developed an efficient training program that can onboard and prep a new employee in less than seven days."
Other retailers are now using technology to enable remote work, expanding their talent pools and offering more flexibility to seasonal candidates. This year, JCPenney, Williams-Sonoma, and Amazon added work-from-home positions to their holiday jobs.
As you engage with seasonal workers, whether they're on the sales floor, behind the scenes, or remote, the bottom line is to show them they are valued. As Domian put Bon-Ton's philosophy, "Even if you're not going to be here for more than six to 10 weeks, you're still part of our team."
Photo: Creative Commons
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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development
There’s a lot of coordination that goes into a company’s learning and development programming, from identifying skills gaps and creating engaging content to scaling initiatives company-wide. And because there’s so much complex planning involved, organizations can sometimes get caught up in the details, and overlook how L&D fits into broader organizational goals. A recent survey—titled "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change"—from Cornerstone People Research Lab (CPRL) and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that only 55% of organizations believe their L&D programs are well-aligned with their company’s overarching strategy. But CPRL and HCI’s survey reveals two logical ways to overcome this challenge. First, there’s a need for L&D executives to participate in strategic conversations around organizational goals to ensure that L&D planning aligns with broader business plans. And second, it’s important to share responsibility for learning effectiveness. If facilitating continuous learning is a part of everyone’s role, it becomes easier to integrate it organization-wide. Promote Cross-Departmental Collaboration and Responsibility To better align L&D efforts with overarching business goals, learning executives have to participate in strategic conversations about organizational direction. For instance, when business leaders gather to discuss goals and KPIs for the coming year or quarter, HR and L&D leaders should be involved in those conversations. And the opposite is also true: Business leaders need to help direct the learning outcomes framed against those goals. According to the "Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey from CPRL and HCI, only about half (51%) of learning leaders report being involved in these discussions. During these business planning discussions, it’s important to establish accountability, especially among people managers. CPRL and HCI found 67% of people managers report being involved in the creation of content, but only 47% are involved in the accountability for the results. By holding more people accountable to the success of L&D programs, it can be easier for a company to spot pitfalls or opportunities for improvement. It creates shared goals for measuring effectiveness, and establishes a process for making changes. For example, by getting people managers involved in L&D initiatives, L&D leaders can work with them to get a better understanding of a specific team’s skill gaps or what reskilling or new skilling solutions will work best for them. All leaders in an organization, in fact, should be eager to participate and own their team’s newskilling, reskilling or upskilling efforts. Ask a people manager in the IT department to reiterate the importance of learning to their team, and track the amount of time their employees spend on learning content. This approach will not only create a shared commitment to continuous learning, but can also help leaders outside of L&D and HR get a better idea of what content or formats work best for their teams and recommend adjustments accordingly. Continuous Learning Is Everyone’s Responsibility Aligning overarching business plans and strategy with learning and development efforts can improve each’s efficacy. The more cross-departmental collaboration that exists, the more information that HR and L&D leaders have about their workforce and its needs, strengths and weaknesses. And with more accountability, all stakeholders in an organization can become more involved in ensuring the successful partnership between L&D and a company’s overall strategy. To learn more about the findings from Cornerstone’s "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey and its recommendations for using cross-departmental collaboration and accountability to help with L&D efforts, click here to download and read the full report.
Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today
When we think of diversity in the workforce, we typically think of it along the lines of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. But focusing only on those four is its own sort of constraint. To truly create a successful and diverse workplace, you need to ensure you're also embracing neurodiversity too. Understanding neurodiversity In the late 1990s, a single mother in Australia named Judy Singer began studying Disability Studies at University of Technology Sydney. Her daughter had recently been diagnosed with what was then known as “Asperger’s Syndrome,” a form of autism spectrum disorder. As she read more and more about autism as part of her studies, Singer also suspected that her mother, and she herself, may have had some form of autism spectrum disorder. Singer describes crying as she realized that her mother, with whom she'd had a tumultuous relationship throughout her childhood, wasn’t purposefully cold or neurotic as she had thought. She just had a different kind of mind. In her honors thesis, Singer coined the term “neurodiversity.” For Singer, people with neurological differences like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyslexia were a social class of their own and should be treated as such. If we are going to embrace diversity of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc., then we must embrace a diversity of the mind. The following video is an excerpt from the "Neurodiversity" Grovo program, which is available in the Cornerstone Content Anytime Professional Skills subscription. Neurodiversity in today's workplace Recently, neurodiversity has become a trendy term in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging spaces. And many organizations are working to hire more neurodivergent people, as well as give them opportunities to thrive at work. That’s why, at Cornerstone, we recently produced a series of lessons on neurodiversity. If your organization hasn’t prioritized neurodiverse inclusion yet, here are some reasons why it both supports your people and organization. 1) Neurodivergent people are underemployed Neurodivergent people, especially people with autism, are widely under-employed, regardless of their competence. In the United States, 85% of college graduates with autism are unemployed. According to a 2006 study, individuals with ADHD have higher rates of unemployment than individuals without. However, there is no evidence that neurodivergent people are less competent or less intelligent than neurotypical people. Organizations are missing out on talented people. 2) Neurodivergent people are more common than you may think Neurodiversity manifests in many different ways. It can encompass autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette syndrome, and many other conditions. And as scientists have learned more about what makes someone neurodivergent, they're identifying more and more people. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 160 children have some form of autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in every 162 children have Tourette Syndrome, and roughly 8 percent of children under 18 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And that's just children. How many adults, like Judy Singer's mother, have struggled their whole lives without a diagnosis? People who are neurodivergent are everywhere. Diverse organizations are stronger Diverse organizations and teams not only have better financial returns than less-diverse ones, but they also perform better. Having the different perspectives presented by people who are neurodivergent can help your team solve more difficult problems. Different perspectives and different ways of thinking lead to creativity and innovation.
Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated
Many organizations face a leadership gap and cannot find the talent needed to grow. We could blame the retiring baby boomer phenomenon, the free agent nation, or the lack of investment made in developing leaders. But since blame is a lazy man’s wage, I will not entertain that debate because there are too many options out there for developing leaders. There are many leadership development programs in the market. In minutes, with a simple Internet search or over coffee with your head of human resources, you can discover myriad high-quality leadership development programs that you could use in your organization to develop leaders. The problem is not finding a good program, but in choosing one. Answer the Right Questions So how does one choose? The problem we face in evaluating leadership development programs is that we get caught up in evaluating the content rather than asking a simple question, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Each organization is unique in how it answers this question. And that is where the secret lies. If an organization can select a program that matches the answer to the question above, the selected program will likely be the right one. After all, each leadership development program is very good in some way. It is not so important which one you select. It is important that you use the one you select. In other words, the key is to not let it become another un-opened binder on the bookshelves of your management team. Be An Effective Leader Let me give you an example: If an organization’s answer to the question above is, "We want our leaders to be proactive and focused on the things that drive results," your choices are narrowed down to only a few programs that would deliver on that answer. And if I had to pick one program that would deliver on that answer, without hesitation, I would choose, "The Effective Executive" by Peter F. Drucker. It is a classic, and all five of the behaviors of effective executives taught in the book remain vital skills that any leader should practice if he or she wants to be effective in his or her organization. In the book, Drucker teaches that effective executives: Know where their time goes Focus on contribution and results Build on strengths Concentrate on first things first Make effective decisions This is not a book review or a plug for "The Effective Executive," though I do believe if you had to choose one set of skills to teach your leadership, it would be the five from Drucker’s book. This is a challenge for every organization to simplify the selection of leadership development programs, and ask, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Answering this question clearly will help you choose the right program. After all, many programs are excellent. The secret to success is not in which program you choose, but that you get people to apply the program you choose. Photo: Can Stock