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Thanksgiving weekend kicked off what's expected to be the busiest holiday shopping season to date. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans are expected to spend around $655 billion in stores and online — a 3.6 percent increase from last year.

For the next several weeks, retail companies will be meeting this demand thanks in part to thousands of seasonal hires (738,000 to be exact). Whether these temporary employees work in-store, at a call center or even remotely, their success is make or break to every retailer's holiday success. While seasonal hires may only be at the company for a few months or weeks a year, it's important that they're as well-versed in the company practices and beliefs as any full-time employee.

As a retailer, what should you do to engage with seasonal hires and invest in their success? We reached out to a number of industry experts to get their take on trends and best practices when it comes to smart talent strategy during the holidays.

Don't Skimp on Training

The majority of seasonal hires are temporary — while some stay on as permanent hires or come back year after year, many people in this year's seasonal workforce have never done the job before and will never do it again. But experts warn against seeing this "temporary" status as a reason to decrease your investment in learning and development.

Brad Stultz, human resources coordinator at Totally Promotional, takes all seasonal hires through the same onboarding and training process as full-time hires. In addition, he recommends maintaining relationships even after the holidays are over: "We stay in touch with seasonal hires throughout the year so they are aware of job openings as they arise."

The most important thing is to make sure that seasonal workers are learning, says Jeff Miller, director of talent management at Cornerstone. "Nobody likes a job that is totally unrewarding and even if the job is mundane, people need to learn and get feedback." In addition to onboarding at the beginning of their employment, he suggests a review and offboarding session before their last day.

Create a Positive Culture

In retail, the holidays can be a particularly stressful time. Creating a positive company culture where employees feel supported and valued will not only improve performance amidst the stress, but also positively impact your bottom line when harried customers encounter smiling faces and warm voices on the other side of the counter or phone line.

For Larry Feinstein, CEO of staffing firm Hire Dynamics, creating this culture comes down to inclusion. “Engagement for temporary workers is cultivated the same way as in-house employees—effort," he says. "Make it clear to managers and full-time employees that seasonal hires are to be invited to all company events and gatherings. That from day one, they are ingrained in the culture."

Culture is also closely tied to the mission you give employees — are you simply telling them to sell as many shoes as possible, or are you encouraging them to bring joy to customers and foster a positive store experience? "That shift in thinking can cause a significant increase in your seasonal staff's productivity," says Ty Tucker, CEO of Rev, a performance management app. "Companies can position their messaging to show that they care about the greater good rather than just fiscal value. In return, employees will feel as though they are a part of an intrinsic organization-wide goal."

Utilize Technology

Of course, there is still the issue of resources when it comes to training and engaging seasonal workers during an already busy period. One solution? Technology. New digital tools and platforms can save retailers time and money, while providing temporary employees with the same experience as full-time workers.

For learning manager Franz Villa, technology helped improve and standardize the onboarding process at sports gear retailer Big 5 Sporting Goods. The company used to rely on 40 different field trainers conducting various training sessions — which led to costly and inconsistent onboarding — before switching to Cornerstone Learning. "Our store managers are able to get new seasonal employees up to speed faster," says Villa. "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." What's more, there is no difference in training for seasonal or permanent employees.

Companies can also use digital tools to engage seasonal employees during their time of employment and make them feel like part of the team. If it's the first time your organization is dipping its toe into tech, Tucker says not to fear: "Seasonal workers provide the perfect opportunity to test out new technology in your office that you might be wary to implement across the board. Use seasonal staff as an opportunity to try out new things like a gamification platform—they'll be more open to providing honest, unbiased feedback."

Photo: Creative Commons