Sharon Benson: Keeping seasonal colleagues engaged

seasonal workers

The Christmas season can bring a number of challenges for many businesses, retailers in particular. From product development and promotion, to sales and customer service organisations are under increased pressure to perform. In fact, not only must they perform, but they must outshine the competition in a period deemed to be the ‘golden quarter’ for many businesses.

From a people management perspective, there’s a constant challenge of allowing people to embrace the fun and festivities, while balancing the importance of managing the pressures, which can ultimately impact colleague satisfaction and performance. This is where a good HR strategy comes into its own, with good planning, preparation and of course communications.

Many businesses often overlook seasonal colleagues when it comes to ensuring a happy seasonal balance. Businesses are often guilty of failing to recognise the importance of Christmas colleagues (beyond their function of providing extra resource) which is ironic considering the impact their performance can have on a business. So, keeping them happy and engaged can bring benefits to everyone.

At studio.co.uk we take on around 750 seasonal colleagues to support our extremely busy Christmas season. From warehouse operatives to customer service advisors, they’re crucial to our seasonal success. We’ve seen that around 40 per cent of our seasonal team have returned at least twice, and insights have shown that this is down to good engagement.

Firstly, all colleagues that join us on a short-term basis are given a clear brief on the job in hand. Not just the day to day tasks and responsibilities, but we are realistic about the fact that it is an extremely busy but rewarding season. Taking a ‘Ronseal’ approach can work at this time of the year, so that they know what is required of them and can prepare themselves accordingly. That said, it’s also important to balance the perceived pressure with the idea of a bigger picture or goal that they can contribute to, which can ultimately benefit them.
Reward is certainly a strong pull for seasonal colleagues. By offering an additional income during what can be an expensive time of the year for many households, they will be much more likely to return.

But pay isn’t the only ‘perk’. Long term benefits can understandably be expensive and require a lot of resource to implement and administer on a temporary basis, but other benefits such as discounts or overtime options can be just as appealing. Not only does it offer an extra incentive to those that need to budget over Christmas, but it makes them feel like they’re truly part of the business and just as respected as their permanent counterparts. From my experience, retailers in particular are often poor at offering additional benefits to seasonal colleagues, but something as simple as this can make a real difference to both sides and we champion this at studio.co.uk. A valued colleague is a productive one after all.

Integrating temporary colleagues with permanent ones also encourages value and engagement. This not only allows your permanent employees to step up and show the ropes to their new work colleagues, but it ensures that the newer recruits mix with the wider business and culture, rather than feeling like an add-on. By facilitating more experienced colleagues to lead and show the way, a strong work ethic can be encouraged. With that kind of integration, you can really create more of a team environment, ensuring everyone understands the goal they are trying to achieve and feels motivated to achieve it.

Communication is an important part of employee engagement and this is no different for temporary colleagues. If things are going well and you want to thank people for their hard work, it is important to make sure that all workers are recipients of that praise. If temps don’t have access to a company intranet or email system for example, which is understandable, think about other ways you can communicate with them.

Communication shouldn’t end when Christmas does. When it comes to planning for the next peak season, we do always get in touch with our former temp colleagues directly to invite them back and give first refusal on jobs, which is a real demonstration of our gratitude and appreciation for their work. This makes them feel valued and puts the business in a comfortable position of hiring trusted, reliable workers for a key season. Likewise, we’ve also been able to offer permanent roles to some temporary colleagues in the past, showing the wider pool that there are genuine opportunities available through working with us on a short-term basis.

The peak trading period can understandably be a demanding time for Human Resources and people managers but forming a culture which values and appreciates seasonal workers is a must. A productive, happy team of short term colleagues, will no doubt ease some of the demands of the season, allowing us all to have a great peak season.

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About Sharon Benson

Sharon Benson is HR Director at online value retailer, studio.co.uk. Having joined the business in 2017 as its the group’s first HR director, she’s overhauled its HR approach, supporting the wider business transformation to drive enhanced commercial return for shareholders. With a specialism in transformation, Sharon’s passionate about advocating for commercially focused colleague value propositions, helping businesses to understand how, by putting colleagues at the heart of a strategy, they can grow customer numbers and profitability.
Owned by Findel plc, Studio.co.uk offers a personal shopping service to around 1.9 million customers each year through a combination of direct marketing and online via the studio.co.uk and ace.co.uk brands.

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