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With the holiday season right around the corner, businesses across the economy are already making plans to bring in temporary workers. In many cases, these workers will be completely new to the businesses that hire them. Yet they won’t just be working a few shifts — they’ll also be auditioning for more opportunities, including permanent positions.
That’s because the holidays are a great time to “try before you buy” in the labor market. Businesses that staff up to fill seasonal needs have a unique opportunity to see how candidates perform, not just in an interview but actually in the workplace.
Close to 20 million people will work part-time during the holidays. So how can managers set their new co-workers up for success?
Step 1: Onboarding
Onboarding is the most critical step toward success with temporary workers, both for getting to know their preferences and for aligning expectations. People who work on a temporary or flexible basis have diverse motivations. Most of them are working to pay for essentials, so earning money is certainly at the top of the list. After that, things get a little more complicated.
Some workers are looking for shifts primarily to fit around their other responsibilities. Whether it’s because of caring for loved ones, education or another job, these workers generally want to work at the same time every week with a reasonable expectation that their shifts won’t be canceled. They still need some flexibility, though, in case something unforeseen comes up, like a child home from school, a big exam or overtime in another workplace.
Other workers are more interested in personal autonomy and growth. They want to set their own schedules, which could be different every week, and they want to pick up new skills to give themselves more options in the labor market. They may want to try out a variety of roles, and they can bring new ideas into the workplace.
The time to find out workers’ preferences is during onboarding. Ask what sort of schedule would work best. Find out whether they want to hone their skills in one position or try out several. See if they can be “on call” to work on demand. Talk about whether a permanent position could be a realistic goal for both sides.
Step 2: Training
Businesses don’t want to invest a lot of time or money in training if a worker is simply going to move on a couple of weeks later. So it’s crucial to use what you’ve learned during onboarding to assign training in the most efficient way.
If a worker wants to try for a permanent position, then there’s a greater chance they’ll be staying with you and more reason to train them. The same is true if they want to stay with one role during their time in your workplace. By contrast, workers who are just looking for a little extra money may not want to pursue these opportunities. Calibrate your investment according to the expectations that you’ve already set.
Step 3: Scheduling
When it comes time to set a schedule, the information you collected at onboarding comes front and center again. Even if you’re only looking for extra labor during the holiday season, you probably want consistency in the workers who show up from day to day. It means only having to train people once, as well as higher productivity as they gain experience.
To start, identify the workers who can work on the most consistent basis, and assign them shifts first. Try to place the same workers together as much as possible, so they get used to each other’s rhythms. Assigning the bulk of shifts in this way will also cut down on bureaucracy since the same workers will be involved most of the time.
Workers want consistency, too. One of Instawork’s recent surveys showed that 86% of workers on our platform wanted to work at least two to four shifts per week at the same business, and 55% wanted a whole week of shifts or more. Another one of our surveys suggested that more than 70% of these workers could commit to five days a week of shifts for a month or more.
Step 4: Retention
Some businesses will want to make permanent hires as soon as the holiday season is over. But in other cases, a few brief and frenetic weeks may not be enough to make a decision. Here it’s important to offer an intermediate stage, like a long-term assignment, to avoid losing the relationship. When employers show commitment, workers are more likely to reciprocate.
Even for businesses that aren’t considering workers for permanent positions, holiday hiring isn’t just a one-shot deal. Most of them will need people in the years to come, and bringing the same people back will save time and money. In these situations, it’s important to offer workers an incentive — a bonus for returning, a promise of more training, a higher-level position, etc. For example, the best front-line workers this year might be your peak-time supervisors next year.
You can keep the relationships with temporary workers alive using small gestures during the year — a photo from the holidays, a birthday card or a reminder that you’ll be hoping to work with them again. These gestures don’t cost much, but they can save you thousands in recruiting and training.
All of these things come in addition to the basics that workers truly appreciate: helpful and upbeat co-workers, a clean, safe workplace and prompt payment for their time. Especially around the holidays, when shifts can be non-stop and intense, keeping a positive attitude and a touch of the festive spirit can go a long way to support morale. Just like in a family, there are some people you might only see for a few days a year — make that time count.