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How Grocery Stores Can Make the Most of Seasonal Hires

Q&A with Dawn Rauhe, senior manager at Alexander Mann Solutions

With the busy holiday season about to kick off, retailers are expected to hire between 700,000 and 750,000 seasonal workers to meet consumer demands. With limited time and resources to train these employees, how can retailers best provide an education that will empower these employees to succeed?

We sat down with Alexander Mann’s Dawn Rauhe to talk about how grocery stores can make the right hire when it comes to seasonal employees and also maximize the effectiveness of this workforce.

In most cases, grocery stores are aware they will have higher talent needs in certain seasons, especially at the end of the year around the holidays, for example. How can a store get quickly up to speed when those peak needs seasons arrive?

Grocery chains should be planning their workforce supply needs with the same precision they plan their inventory supply needs. Fortunately, the grocery industry has a mountain of sales data and the technology tools to analyze it, data that shows when and where there are spikes in demand—not just for the obvious holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for things like the Super Bowl or even a winter storm. If you extrapolate that to the workplace, they can use that kind of information to predict when they’ll need more staff, in what departments, what types of skills, and for how long.

Since you can plan for these demands, create effective processes that can be used time and again, whenever the next spike season is. Come up with interviews that you know yield the types of employees that succeed at stores and then repeat those interviews. Set up milestones and dates, like the number of days before you need the talent to start working should roles be posted, when the interviews should begin, when paper work needs to be completed, etc., and adhere to that timeline for every season. Create routinized training for temporary workers and then train anyone coming in on a set schedule, too.

In what ways can stores prepare for the influx in hiring demands ahead of time? Is that necessary to do?

It’s all about having clear, consistent plans that are repeatable and effective, then being prepared to turn those processes on when you need to by making sure everyone involved is up-to-date on what they need to do. These can be owned internally or you can have the hiring done by a third party. If you do use a third party, make sure you go to them each time so you’re not reinventing the wheel each season.

It’s absolutely necessary, because a smartly planned workforce flows to the bottom line. Imagine if a grocer didn’t have enough people working in the warehouse and therefore couldn’t keep up with demand at the store level. They could easily lose customers and lose sales, and that’s just in the short-term.

What techniques should an organization employ during the season to ensure they have the talent they need available at all times? Is this possible? Especially as resources are exasperated at all levels and things get busy?

Once the season starts, and you have all the talent you need ready to go for day one, it’s paramount you don’t stop your recruiting processes there. You should always be keeping people who you didn’t initially hire warm and ready to go, to account for attrition. Say, for instance, you need 25 seasonal employees. You should have an additional 25 additional potential employees ready and waiting, whether it’s your third party vendor doing this or you’re doing it directly. If you have automated processes in place for the whole season, this will be second nature for whoever is in charge, ensuring that nobody gets blind-sided by needing to suddenly be involved in recruitment and nobody is exasperated.

How can you make sure you’re hiring the best people?

Hiring the best people is a year-round effort. You shouldn’t change your strategy to hire the best possible staff only for the holidays, because you need to run an efficient operation and deliver on your customer service promise all through the year. We think it’s important not to hire too many part-timers—instead, you should hire fewer people to work more hours and more shifts, because someone who works 40 hours a week will tend to be more reliable, have greater loyalty and will deliver a better customer experience than someone who works maybe 20 hours a week. You really need people who work well as part of a team, because busy times will demand a lot from everyone. And we think it’s really important to hire people who fit your culture. If you’re a high-touch company, you need to hire sociable people. If you’re all about efficiency and low-cost, hire people who fit that mold.

There are things you can look for with temporary work, too. For instance, even for people who like and have a history working in temporary roles, you can find consistency on a resume. If someone has worked for every retail company in your town, and they’ve never once returned for a temporary role at the same place twice, that can be a warning sign. Find people that other companies have wanted back and get them to become loyal to you, instead.

Should you hold yourself to as high of standards as you would when hiring for a full-time employee or does that vary depending on the length of time of the role and the type of role?

Yes, you should be looking to hire the same caliber of people for short-term assignments that you would want for a permanent, full-time position. You might need to hire different skills during peak seasons, like cashiers or warehouse workers, but you always want to make sure that you’re hiring the best people you can afford, because your customers won’t forgive the shortcomings of a part-time worker just because they’re part-time.

How can you continue to keep the best people year after year?

Retention is important in the retail industry—and it’s a huge challenge. I’ve seen turnover rates for part-time retail employees at numbers approaching 60-70 percent, and the cost of turnover can be a significant drain on profitability. I think the key for seasonal or holiday employees is to create a level of trust and approachability with them. A seasonal job might not be a path to permanent employment, but you should always treat your temporary employees with the same level of respect and openness that you would a permanent employee. For those you think you’ll want back next time there is a demand, tell them that. They’ll appreciate that kind of loyalty and it will pay back to you—both in terms of performance and their own loyalty to you.

Does hiring people on a temporary basis mean that those people will have no loyalty, or worse, feel let down once the season is over and they are no longer needed? If so, how do you mitigate that lower sense of loyalty than a full-time employee so that you can continue to deliver strong customer service?

Set expectations so there are no hard feelings. If it’s not going to become a full-time job, you should be very open and honest with them about that. People understand the nature of temporary and part-time work. What they don’t understand is being misled. And for those individuals who you think you’ll want back next time there is a demand, tell them that. Make sure they know how much they value their work, but only do this when you mean it and it’s sincere. This will help people feel fulfilled when the season is over and eager to return when you call back down the road. If you bring in a certain number of people each year, it would be good to maintain at least 50 percent of those people. That way, you don’t need to repeat your processes, even if they are effective and routinized. But it’s all about setting expectations and then, when they return, set expectations for whatever the reality of the role is at that time. You’ll once again get top results.

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