How to successfully hire seasonal staff this Christmas

If finding seasonal employees is an annual struggle, here are 10 tips guaranteed to make Christmas recruitment less of a headache

A happy French bulldog wearing a red and green Christmas hat and jumper, against a green background

Christmas is coming. If you work in retail or hospitality, you probably view the festive season with a mixture of excitement and dread. It's such a vital time of year.

And even the best-laid Christmas business plans can come undone if you don't have enough staff available to fulfil them.

Instead of stretching your employees to their limit this Christmas, call in reinforcements! Seasonal staff will help you meet demand, keep queues to a minimum, boost the quality of your customer service, and spread festive cheer.

Here are our 10 tips for easier (and less stressful!) seasonal staff recruitment.

#1 Get started early

Ideally, you'll have started thinking about seasonal staffing requirements six months before it starts getting busy. So planning for Christmas starts in June! We know this isn't always realistic for small businesses, but it's something to aim for — if not this year, then next.

Similarly, when it comes to advertising seasonal vacancies, start as early as you can. (Most large retailers will start hiring in early September, for example.) For Christmas staff, you need get your adverts out with enough time to take into account recruitment and training. This may actually be prior to October for some.

Even though you might not be anticipating a spike in trade until late November, starting your recruitment in autumn gives you a couple of important advantages.

First, the best candidates are still available. Hire any later and the most promising applicants may have been snapped up by the competition.

Second, it gives your seasonal staff the chance to learn the ropes before your shop gets busy. Training staff how to work the till isn't easy when there's a queue snaking around the store and customers are in a rush.

If you haven't advertised roles this early, don't panic. There are still plenty of great candidates about — you might just have to look a little harder to find them.

#2 Write adverts for a different audience

Seasonal employees typically have very different expectations and motivations from permanent staff. They're usually not looking for a career — just a chance to earn some money, and gain some experience and transferable skills.

So you'll need to reach out to different audiences, such as students. Colleges and universities tend to have their own jobs boards, and you can also post ads on student sites like e4s.

And don't forget to write your jobs ads so they appeal to these applicants. Focus on the opportunity to gain skills and experience, and don't dedicate as much space to long-term benefits like pensions or career progression.

A word of warning: don't use any language in job ads that might discriminate against certain ages; you can't specifically say you're looking for young people or students to fill a role.

#3 Don't hold candidates to a lower standard

Even though seasonal staff will only be working at your business for a couple of months, you should still hold them to the same standard as candidates for permanent roles. After all, your customers won't know (or care) who's on a permanent or temporary contract.

And in many ways, your seasonal staff have to be more capable than permanent staff — you need them to learn quickly, and work effectively during the busiest time of the year.

Don't skip any of the usual assessments or interviews unless you're really pushed for time.

#4 Plan staffing requirements based on previous years

If you've been running your shop for at least a year, use your past experience of the Christmas period to plan staffing levels (and how many seasonal staff to recruit). Delve back into your spreadsheets or rota-planning software, as well as your point-of-sale software, and use this information to build a rota for this year.

Make sure you hire enough staff to fill the rota, and factor in the possibility of multiple employees phoning in sick at once or not showing up for their shifts; you can't afford to be short-staffed on the most important shopping days of the year.

#5  Advertise to older people

Although younger people are likely to be the main source of labour during high season, don't discount the potential of older candidates. A part-time, temporary role is a fantastic route back into the world of work for retired people who may be looking to supplement their pension income or widen their social circles.

Unlike students, it's also likely that older seasonal employees will want to return for future Christmas periods, or at other points throughout the year — making recruitment a whole lot easier for you the next time around.

To reach these applicants, be sure to advertise in local online community groups. Or you could put an advert in the local newspaper or display posters prominently in your shop window.

#6 Contact previous seasonal employees

One of the easiest ways to find temporary employees is to contact former seasonal staff to see if they'd like to take on the same role again. After all, you already know them, it'll take less time to train them than completely new employees, and their experience will help any new temps find their feet quicker.

Bonus tip: to save "future you" some time, ask this year's seasonal employees if they want you to hold onto their details and contact them about other short-term opportunities.

#7 Seek referrals

Ask your current employees if they know of any friends or family members who are looking for seasonal work. These referrals are extremely valuable — you haven't lost any money or time trying to find these candidates, and you can be reasonably certain that they'll be a good fit.

Of course, referred candidates should still pass through all or some of the assessment and interview processes — you need to feel confident they can actually do the job!

#8 Work with a recruiter if you need to

Even if you don't normally work with an external recruiter, consider it in the lead up to the festive season if your business or customer demand is big enough. You don't want the recruitment process to get in the way of all of your other Christmas prep!

Recruiters can be expensive, sure, but you can save a lot of time (and headaches) by letting them the hard work for you.

To get the best possible results from a recruitment agency, make sure you brief them thoroughly. If they don't know who you're looking for, they won't be able to find them.

#9 Don't forget social media

Even if you don't use social media to advertise for permanent roles, it's a worth a try for temporary roles. Again — your target audience is different this time around. You might find more seasonal employees on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter than on traditional job sites!

You can pay to promote these job ads, or just ask your page followers to spread the word.

#10 Be clear

When writing adverts for seasonal vacancies, there are a couple of ways they should differ from your usual job ads:

  • Use "keywords" (seasonal, winter, Christmas) to help and attract jobseekers
  • Make it clear that the role is temporary, and state the period which they'll be expected to work (eg. November to early January). Clarity will ensure that neither your time nor the candidate's time is wasted
  • Be honest about the prospect of offering permanent work after the temporary contract ends. Don't allude to this possibility if you know it won't happen.

Final thoughts

If you're still struggling to find seasonal staff, don't panic. You might just have to move away from your usual recruitment methods to find the right people for this Christmas — they will be out there!

Motivating and managing all these extra employees is another tough task. If your rota doubles in size over Christmas, then you can ease your scheduling headaches with rota-planning software like RotaCloud. It will make it easier and quicker for you to assign shifts, manage changes or process holiday requests, and track attendance and hours worked — and all in one place.

Try RotaCloud free for 30 days

Taking on additional staff for Christmas? RotaCloud lets you build and share staff rotas in minutes, making managing your festive team quick and easy.