Seasonality presents many employers with a predictable challenge year after year:
What should be done with seasonal employees when business slows? How do you handle employee relations during the offseason?
If you treat seasonal employees as temporary, employees will treat your business in kind.
But, if you treat seasonal workers as longer-term assets, you can build loyalty from your seasonal workforce and boost productivity over the years.
Follow five steps to build strong relationships with your seasonal employees:
- Fill seasonal positions with employees who enjoy seasonal lifestyles
- Treat seasonal employees as a full-time investment
- Send seasonal employees to industry events
- Subsidize ongoing education for your seasonal employees
- Include seasonal employees in your year-round plan
Match Seasonal Positions with Seasonal Lifestyles
Seasonal lifestyles include employees of all ages and experiences whose primary work is limited to certain months of the year. Examples include:
- Students (high school, college)
- Resort workers
- Seasonal sports/activities instructors
Many seasonal workers supplement their income during their offseason. If your busy season occurs during one of the these seasonal workers’ offseason, you have a match.
Often, you can count on such workers having the same offseason year after year. Your busy season provides them the opportunity to earn extra money during their offseason. Your offseason allows them to return to their primary responsibilities.
Once you find such a match, bring these employees back. Although they won’t work for you year round, their experience with your business will grow year over year. In time, such employees can bear more responsibility and take on leadership positions within your business.
Consider a high school student who bags groceries and stocks shelves at a market during summer breaks. By the end of four years, the student is quite familiar with the market operation.
The student becomes a good candidate for a part-time, assistant manager position during his or her college years. As an assistant manager, the student learns management and higher level operation skills.
Upon college graduation, the student has eight summers of experience and intense knowledge of the market’s business. Experience paired with a college degree makes the once seasonal worker a top candidate for a full-time manager.
Your seasonal workforce may be seasonal each and every year (e.g. teacher), or a seasonal worker’s lifestyle might evolve into a more year-round lifestyle (e.g. student).
Match your needs with candidates’ current lifestyle, and filling your seasonal needs will be easier.
Seasonal Employees as a Long-Term Investment
Finding new employees is expensive
Hiring and training new employees is expensive. Consider the many expenses that go into new employees:
- Recruiting (referral/recruiting agencies, advertising, interviewing)
- Training materials
- Time of existing employees to train
- Loss of productivity
- Additional equipment
Studies vary on the amount required to hire a new employee. However, the general range of costs associated with a new employee fall between $4,000 – $8,000.
If you spend between $4,000 – $8,000 per employee in preparation for each busy season, your bottom line will suffer. Replacing your seasonal workforce with brand new employees each busy season is unsustainable.
Rehire the same seasonal employees for each busy season to avoid the repeat costs associated with recruiting and hiring new employees.
Once you have a good roster of seasonal employees, invest in them throughout the year.
Industry events and conferences
Industry events and conferences are good opportunities to learn the latest trends in your industry and network with potential partners that help grow your business.
Although your entire workforce can benefit from attending such events, you need your seasonal employees working during the busy season.
The offseason is probably the only time seasonal employees have the time to attend industry events.
How do you convince a seasonal employee to attend an event that benefits your business, but doesn’t necessarily benefit their personal development?
You pay for it.
If you can afford to send your employees to industry get-togethers during the offseason, you build your workforce knowledge and build loyalty within your seasonal workforce.
By investing in an employee, the employee feels like a trusted part of the team. When the employee returns to your business, he or she can implement best practices learned at the industry events. The informed employee helps build your business.
Training and education
Industry events strengthen your employees’ knowledge of your industry.
Skills training and education builds your employees’ individual skill sets. Employees can apply such skills to businesses across industries.
Your business goal of investing in employee education is to build a more skilled workforce and increase loyalty.
However, investing in an employee’s education doesn’t automatically build loyalty.
To ensure your business benefits from investing in employee education, consider a tuition reimbursement program.
A common element of tuition reimbursement programs is an employee time commitment in exchange for reimbursement.
The time commitment generally takes the form of a vesting schedule. A typical tuition reimbursement vesting schedule includes the employer paying the tuition (or agreed upon portion) upfront, and then the employee earning the payment by continued work.
Consider an example where the tuition is five thousand dollars, the employer agrees to pay the entire amount, and the vesting period is five years. The employee earns 20% of the payment with each year of work after the payment:
- Year one: $1,000
- Year two: $2,000
- Year three: $3,000
- Year four: $4,000
- Year five: $5,000
Using the above schedule, if the employee works for an entire five years after the tuition payment, the entire $5,000 is vested and the employee owes nothing back to the employer.
On the other hand, if the employee works for only one year after the tuition payment, only $1,000 is vested and the employee owes $4,000 back to the employer.
Events, conferences, training, and education will certainly cost your business. However, in most cases, they cost less than keeping a full-time employee on the payroll.
Consider where you can invest in your seasonal employees during the offseason, and you can boost the productivity of your workforce while reducing employee turnover.
Opportunities Throughout the Year
Have you ever needed to research a certain topic that could uncover new opportunities for your business? Did you have time to conduct the research?
If you are like many business owners, there’s plenty you would like to research and no time to do it.
Seasonal employees, especially students, may have the time to research when you don’t.
College students have time, and they generally have access to resources (e.g. libraries, online research services, etc.).
Task offseason workers with research projects that can benefit your business.
The research could lead to the next big idea that propels your business forward.
At the same time, research projects keep your seasonal workers engaged when they are away from your business.
Filling in for year-round employees
Do you have full-time employees who need a vacation? Do you need a vacation?
While your seasonal employees can’t work for you the entire offseason, they are great substitutes to help out for a few days.
Your seasonal workers know your business. They can keep things running while you, or your year-round workers, finally take those needed vacation days.
Pitching in periodically allows your seasonal workers to feel like part of the year-round team. Foster this feeling, and the seasonal workers are more likely to return to your business for seasonal work.
Meetings and get-togethers
Even if you can’t afford to invest a penny in seasonal employees during the offseason, create opportunities for periodical contact.
Monthly or quarterly meetings to prepare for the next busy season is a great touchpoint to keep your seasonal workings engaged.
If meetings don’t make sense, send out an invite for an employee happy hour at a neighborhood hangout.
If your seasonal workforce isn’t local, ask certain employees to set up regional happy hours across the geography.
Frequent communication can pay dividends when it comes to inspiring seasonal employees to return to your workforce for another busy season.
If you run a seasonal business, you must downsize your workforce in the offseason.
But, don’t ignore your seasonal workers in slow times.
Invest attention, and maybe some funding, in your seasonal workforce, and you will enjoy a better trained, and more engaged workforce when the busy season returns.