Holiday Hiring 101: Plan Ahead to Beat Your Competition

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It’s that time of year again for retail employers. Autumn brings cooler temperatures, and back-to-school sales, so retailers are suddenly knee-deep in holiday hiring and pre-planning activities. That includes organizing your back room to accommodate the increase in merchandise that’s coming in, as well as tackling the annual challenge of finding, training, and retaining a seasonal workforce for the busy holiday shopping season.

How to Find Seasonal Employees and Plan for Holiday Hiring

Those of us who have worked in retail understand. The holiday season, from Halloween to end-of-year sales, can make or break profitability for store locations and your entire company. In retail, people are your biggest asset, and the talent you hire for the holidays must be high quality–from cashiers to sales team members working with customers and restocking shelves, to the back room teams at your logistics and distribution center who make sure your products are delivered and available for your store to sell.

When you’re looking at high-volume hiring for the holidays, there are hundreds of things that can go wrong. And, in today’s near-zero unemployment economy and in the retail industry in particular, it’s even more difficult to compete as an employer. The important thing to focus on is anticipating challenges and developing a plan ahead of time to make the process run as smoothly as possible, resulting in excellent hires and a full staff roster.

Anticipating challenges in holiday staffing and planning means:

  • Hiring early and often. When I was in retail, it was not unusual for me to have all my seasonal hiring complete before Halloween. Develop plans to support and organize mass hiring efforts starting in September and October to build momentum and attract qualified candidates. Store signage, hiring events, and promotion on social media can build momentum and your seasonal talent pool ahead of crunch time.

  • Forecasting. In retail we live and die by payroll hours, and payroll hours only happen if the sales follow. This means training your store leadership to forecast properly and how to quickly react to changes in the market, adding or reducing payroll hours quickly and efficiently. It also means understanding the need to compete with other employers hiring seasonal staff, through increased wages or perks that appeal to retail candidates.

    Some employers looking for help during the holiday season add perks or bonuses to the employee package they offer. In 2017, United Parcel Service (UPS), brought on the same number of seasonal workers as it had in the prior two years (95,000), by offering hiring bonuses up to an extra $200 a week, depending upon the location. JCPenney scaled its seasonal holiday hiring efforts by adding paid time off for hourly and part-time employees in 2018. If your company is on board with sweetening the pot, this should be a central focus of your early hiring promotions.

  • Scheduling flexibility. The best kind of seasonal staff to hire are those whose schedules are open and available to suit the changing staffing markets. Work with your store HR and leadership to ensure that seasonal hires understand expectations and are available on evenings, weekends, and holidays as needed. Doing so helps to reduce call ins and unexpected losses caused by seasonal hires who don’t fully understand the commitment of working in retail.

    Many part-time workers have multiple jobs to get the hours they need and they can't add hours at one job on only a temporary basis. Others are working part-time because that works best for their family situation. The number of part-time workers who would prefer full-time work fell by nearly 250,000 people in 2017, according to the Labor Department. Flexible scheduling can be a perk for employees who are juggling multiple part-time jobs.

  • Expect gaps and have a plan to fill them quickly. Work with your store leadership to develop communication plans with seasonal hires who are available to work more holiday hours. There are a lot of technologies out there, however, sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. One of my favorite strategies was using a mass text messaging service to quickly message seasonal team members about open shifts. The first team member to respond or speak to the manager on duty would receive the shift. The service was also useful for important announcements and reminders.

Related: Snag the Holiday Workers You Need with Texting

The Gig Economy Poses Challenges for Seasonal Hiring in Retail

U.S. unemployment levels have hit their lowest in more than 16 years and recruiters say the rise of the “gig economy” and new opportunities, such as driving for Uber, is shrinking the Gen Y and Z talent pool. The hourly mean wage for entry level sales personnel at retailers, including at clothing, sports goods, and department stores, was $11.96 as of May 2016, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In comparison, an Uber driver earns $14.76 per hour, according to Glassdoor data posted in 2017.

As unemployment falls, retailers will find it more and more difficult to find the number of qualified workers they need to fill temporary jobs. For brick-and-mortar retailers, the difficulty in finding seasonal help comes at a bad time, as growing competition from online rivals makes finances that much tighter. But the need to gear up for the holiday season doesn't go away for those which are struggling, and having a plan in place ahead of seasonal hiring, along with a few tricks in your back pocket, can make all the difference.

Topics: Recruiting Strategies, Talent Acquisition

Updated August 29, 2018