How to Motivate Seasonal Workers to Perform at the Highest Level

by Jaimy Ford

3 min read

’Tis the shopping season, and as joyful and not-so-joyful customers flock to stores in droves, you don’t want to find yourself short-staffed. Hiring seasonal workers for the holidays can alleviate the strain on full-time personnel and keep sales booming during some of the busiest days of the year.

The extra help should be good for business. However, too often consumers encounter indifferent (even rude) seasonal workers who don’t give customer service their all because the job is short-term. This, of course, may cause shoppers to spend their money elsewhere.

If you’re relying on seasonal workers this year, motivate them to perform at the highest level, so that your customers’ experiences are merry and bright. Here’s how.

  • Evaluate your needs. Don’t hire haphazardly simply because you want more hands on deck. Do you need more employees in the warehouse to package and ship items? More people to run cash registers or greet customers? People to clean and restock? Make a list of the areas you need to beef up and then find the appropriate people to fill those roles.
  • Recruit carefully. Sure you may need to hire people quickly, but don’t skimp on your recruiting efforts. Collect applications and interview people. Anyone who’s going to interact with your customers must have a positive, upbeat attitude. Previous retail and customer-service experience is ideal.
  • Create job descriptions. This may take a little time, but if you want to get the most out of seasonal workers, you must establish clear expectations for them. Describe each position’s duties and responsibilities in detail, and set goals for each worker.
  • Pay people well. You’re asking temporary staff to spend their nights and weekends working for you during what is often an extremely stressful — even depressing — time for many people. They will endure the worst kinds of customers and feel overwhelmed at times. Try to beat your competitors’ wages (at the very least, pay more than minimum wage). If you can, offer incentives such as employee discounts or bonuses for meeting goals. The output you receive from workers will translate into happy customers and higher revenue.
  • Tout future opportunities. Let people know that seasonal work is an evaluation period for future full-time positions. If they do well, you will consider them for a permanent job when one becomes available. Tell them that high-performers will be the first hired the next time you need temporary help, too. This can be especially appealing to high school or college students who can’t work full-time but want opportunities to make extra money during academic breaks.
  • Provide orientation. Do not skip this important step, regardless of how busy you are. Introduce seasonal workers to all permanent staff and train everyone. Assign a permanent employee to serve as a point person should seasonal workers need to ask questions; knowing they have a support system helps to ease any anxiety. Consider offering your permanent employees incentives — bonuses, additional vacation time, etc. — for mentoring seasonal staffers. Training and coaching new hires can be taxing on busy employees; perks may make them happier to help.
  • Encourage teamwork. Most people will rise to the occasion to avoid letting their teammates down, so remind everyone daily that you are all in it together. Hold 5- or 10-minute team huddles before every shift to talk about the goals for the day, discuss any problems, and get everyone on the same page.
  • Offer ongoing feedback. Don’t overlook mistakes, figuring you “just need to get through this shift.” When you notice a temporary worker doing something wrong, politely point it out and provide feedback for correcting the mistake. Instruct your permanent staff to do the same. Meanwhile, praise people when they do something well. For example, when you notice a seasonal worker handle a disgruntled customer with poise and tact, acknowledge it during the next team huddle to encourage the behavior.
  • Show trust and respect. If you police your seasonal workers, watching their every move with suspicion, they won’t do their best work. Believe that they have joined your team because they want to do a good job. Only doubt their intentions if they give you a reason to.
  • Don’t hold on to bad workers. If a seasonal worker gives you a legitimate reason to fire him or her, do it. Keeping bad employees — even temporary ones — on staff can hurt morale and your bottom line.

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