WITH THE SHOPPING holiday just around the corner, the search for seasonal staff is already in full swing.
To serve the nearly 60 million consumers who come out for the traditionally discount-laden event, retailers hire extra hands to ring up purchases and re-stock shelves. Last year alone, shops brought on more than 720,000 workers to work October through December, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., an employment consulting firm in Chicago.
This year, as many retailers feel the pangs of pricey toy recalls, a sluggish housing market and rising energy costs, holiday hiring will likely be much more subdued. That means “competition for jobs could be higher than usual,” says John Challenger, the firm’s chief executive.
The good news is that small-business owners looking to add seasonal staff can be more selective, he says. Still, it’s tough for a small employer with limited resources to out-hustle the big retailers when it comes to securing top-quality talent. Here are a few ways to fill your staffing quota this holiday season:
Show them the perks . Prospective workers, naturally, are most interested in a nice paycheck when it comes to seasonal jobs, says Shawn Boyer, chief executive of SnagAJob.com , an online listing service for hourly and part-time jobs. That’s because the holiday-time work is usually a second job, and traditional benefits such as health care and retirement plans are provided by a primary employer.
But a small business can compete with a big business by offering a nice package of perks, such as steep employee discounts, and signing and retention bonuses. “You need to understand what your competitors are offering,” says Dan Butler, vice president of merchandising and retail operations for the National Retail Federation in Washington, DC. For insight into their perks, Butler suggests looking at large retailers’ advertisements or visiting their web sites. “If I’m going to offer seasonal bonuses, I’d post it on a hiring ad,” he says.
Accentuate the positives . For instance, Boyer from SnagAJob.com says: “The biggest thing that a small company can do is tell a story about why it’s a good company to work for.” Perhaps your business teams up with a charity, which can make workers feel like they are helping a good cause. Small companies often have friendly work environments, and can offer flexible hours or “close early, when bigger stores can’t,” adds Butler.
Students who are off from school might be particularly attracted to a job that advances their skills. Pitch the position more like an internship, suggests Howard Feldstein, director of the Arlington Employment Center in Arlington, Va. “Bring them into the inner workings of an organization,” he says. Let them take a look at the books, or shadow you in areas such as merchandising or buying.
Create a win-win situation . It’s tough to offer costly perks, so consider incentives that are appealing to employees but also boost your bottom line. A sales commission is a perfect example, as it motivates seasonal workers and often results in more ringing of the cash register, says Feldstein.
Providing referral bonuses to current employees who bring in seasonal workers can also be helpful. Employee referrals can cut out the cost of advertising a position in, say, the classified section of a newspaper. But also referrals can serve as a pre-interview of prospective employees. The National Retail Federation’s Butler says: “Your employees tend to refer people they think will be good employees.”
Cover yourself . Seasonal staffers might be hard-working, but not exactly committed to staying through the holidays. To curb the desire to flee, consider offering a retention bonus. Or, put restrictions on employee discounts, suggests Butler. For example, have employees make their purchases at regular prices, and then provide them with refunds at the end of the holiday season. “Retailers do this to ensure that someone who signs up with them will fulfill their obligation,” says Butler.
And make sure to keep application information on file, especially that of contenders who didn’t get the job. That way, “if someone for whatever reason quits in [the middle of the season], you can go back to the resumes,” says Boyer.
And when the season ends, Boyer recommends to “stay in touch with employees.” Making sure you keep a database of previous employees will help you out in future years when you need to add staff again, he says.
Want Free Help?
State employment centers may offer free help fulfilling your staffing needs. For example, Nadia Conyers, a youth employment program coordinator in Arlington, Va., visits area high schools and continuing-education programs to spread the word about local seasonal jobs. She also prescreens applicants. “If they don’t meet the employer’s minimum qualifications, they don’t make it to the employer,” she says.
Services at state employment centers vary depending on location; to find one near your business, go to the Labor Department’s CareerOneStop Service Locator web site .
Or, you can post seasonal jobs free online at America’s Job Exchange , a national labor exchange web site that also provides access to state portals. Ads for seasonal work can also be listed at no charge on Craigslist.org.
Write to Diana Ransom at email@example.com
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