Attracting, Engaging, and Retaining Seasonal Employees—It Pays to Plan

With the holidays looming, many organizations are staffing up for the busy times ahead. Holiday sales in 2018 are expected to rise as much as 5.6% over last year to a record $1.1 trillion, according to estimates from Deloitte. This means a need for more seasonal workers at a time when the labor market is tight.seasonal
With unemployment rates at record low levels, many companies are turning to innovative incentives and perks to attract and retain a seasonal workforce that will help them meet customer demand.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) notes that second to compensation planning, designing a strategic benefits plan is the most important step organizations can take to stay competitive. How does having a strategic recognition plan apply to attracting, engaging, and retaining seasonal workers?

First, Learn What Employees Value

One of the first steps in structuring a recognition plan is to understand what will appeal to your hourly workforce (seasonal or otherwise). So, ask them.
Walmart, the nation’s biggest private employer, recently asked hourly workers to rate potential incentives, including a sign-on bonus, childcare services, tutoring, pet care, and gym memberships.
If you aren’t prepared to do this at the outset of the holiday hiring season, think about questions you could put in an exit survey, such as, what benefits were seasonal hires the most and least excited about? Do they want more perks, such as discounts or meals, or more benefits like life insurance or training? Based on your total package, would they want to work for your company full-time?
Having this data can help you design packages that are more in tune with the needs of your seasonal workforce. Since temporary workers generally don’t stick around for a long time, you’ll want to offer meaningful incentives that they can obtain in a shorter period and use right away, such as free snacks, career-enrichment activities, and on-the-spot rewards given out by managers.

Know the End Game for Your Seasonal Workforce

Many companies that hire seasonal workers see them as a pipeline for potential full-time workers. This is especially true in the tight retail labor market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 757,000 retail job openings across the United States in July, about 100,000 more than the same time a year ago. This is leaving large, national retailers like Target and Macy’s in a difficult situation that will last long after the ornaments are put away.
Your organization’s need for workers beyond the holiday season may affect the types of incentives you offer. While you’re not required to provide healthcare benefits to temporary employees, if you’re seeking to convert seasonal workers, you may want to offer them group-rate voluntary benefits, such as dental and vision care, life insurance, savings plans, and access to the corporate wellness program.
If you need your temporary workers solely for the holiday rush, you’ll want to keep them motivated and engaged while they work for you—they still have to show up every day and provide excellent customer service. They also may be available for future peak periods, so it pays to cultivate top performing temps.

Plan to Stand Out

Keep in mind that the competition is fierce for qualified individuals. You’ll have to take extra steps to stand out from the crowd. Beyond incentives, compensation, and perks, here are some suggestions for other things you can do to retain top-notch seasonal employees.

  • Focus on flexibility—The holidays are a stressful period for everyone, and what people crave most is flexible scheduling so they can juggle work and family demands. And while seasonal employees understand that they’re needed for the busiest times, they appreciate knowing their schedule in advance, having a choice of shifts, and having some leniency—especially if it’s hard to find a parking space at the mall.
  • Provide training and support for managers—Your managers will be at the front lines of dealing with frantic customers and frazzled associates. Particularly in retail and hospitality settings, managers may need extra training ahead of time on the organization’s expectations for the seasonal workforce. If managers will be responsible for handing out incentives or spot awards, they’ll also need to understand the criteria and ensure fairness in the distribution. If managers are well trained, they’ll ensure a better experience for employees.
  • Don’t skimp on onboarding—Seasonal employees may be temporary, but they are representing your brand and need to receive similar training as full-time employees. Determine the level of training and onboarding needed and provide it consistently, especially in areas like protecting consumers’ personal information, credit card safety, and sexual harassment prevention. If your brand requires certain behaviors and practices, make sure your seasonal workforce is equipped to carry them out.

If you don’t have a plan for your 2018 seasonal workers, it’s not too late to put some of these suggestions in place for this year. Then, when the rush has died down, take the time to examine what worked and put a more formal plan in place for 2019.

Cord HimelsteinCord Himelstein is the vice president of marketing and communications at HALO Recognition, a provider of global employee recognition and incentive programs headquartered in Long Island City, New York. Contact him at and follow @HALORecognition.