Managing Seasonal Employees

Many businesses experience extreme seasonality. Resorts, sports venues and retail businesses immediately come to mind. Every year they must staff up for the busy season, and lay off for the offseason. I have worked in several seasonal businesses, both as an employee and as a leader. The purpose of this post is to explore the question, in managing seasonal employees, what adjustments should managers make?

One important aspect of this situation is the mutual understanding that the job ends when the busy season ends. This forces both the employee and the employer to decide whether they want to work together again. If a seasonal employee did not have a great work experience, she will almost certainly look for a job with another employer next season. On the other side of the coin, if the employer was not satisfied with the employee’s performance, it simply won’t extend a job offer next season. No written warnings, no performance plan, no hassle.

Although there’s a built-in opportunity to part company forever, it’s also easier for both parties if the employee returns every season. For the employer, the costs of recruiting, hiring and training are reduced. And for the employee, he or she doesn’t have to invest any time applying for jobs with other employers. So there’s an incentive for both parties to make this an ongoing, though seasonal, relationship.

This incentive for a relationship that continues from one season to the next leads to an interesting conclusion. Managers should manage seasonal employees the same way they manage “permanent” employees. They should develop close relationships with their people, and they should foster close relationships among employees. They should make people’s jobs engaging and fun. They should make sure that each of their employees is in the right fit for his strengths. Most importantly, they should truly care about each and every person who reports to them.

One additional difference between a seasonal and a permanent job is the prospect for promotion. Seasonal employees might see opportunities to become supervisors, but that’s about it. Unless they become permanent employees, seasonal people are not going to become department heads or vice presidents. But a great manager can still help them learn and grow and prepare to advance in their chosen careers.

If a manager is willing to teach, any seasonal employee can learn a lot about being a great team player, solving problems, taking care of customers, demonstrating initiative, improving morale and being an informal leader. An exceptional manager can help each employee make individual learning and growth one of her goals for the season.

So, even though this is a seasonal job, a caring, committed manager can make a positive difference in her employee’s lives.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Marilyn Buresh for suggesting this topic. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Assign The Tasks Nobody Wants To Do?

A management seminar participant said there were tasks in his department that nobody wanted to do. “What,” he asked, “do you do with those?” I was surprised by the immediate reaction of the other participants. Almost all of them were in the same situation, and almost all were dissatisfied with the obvious solutions, which include:

  • Saying to the employee, “I know it’s not your favorite thing, but it’s part of your job. Every job has things you’d rather not do.”
  • Rotating the undesired tasks among the team members, thus equitably distributing the burden.
  • Including the boss in the rotation.
  • Drawing straws.
  • Paying an incentive for those tasks.

As I said, nobody was entirely pleased with these solutions. However, there were a couple of participants who had discovered an alternative approach. The first was a controller, whose broad responsibilities included both accounting and non-accounting functions. There were several tasks widely considered undesirable by his staff. One day, out of the blue, he got the idea to make a list of all tasks for which his team was responsible. He posted the list and asked his people to sign their names by the tasks they most liked to do. That was his solution.

He was shocked that even the undesirable tasks had names by them. He mentioned in particular the wrapping of packages. I don’t remember why they had to do this, but they did. He was absolutely certain that nobody liked doing that. But there were two employees who were really good at it and really enjoyed it.

Thereafter, he abandoned the notion of equally distributing tasks in favor of what we might now call job shaping — assigning responsibilities based on what each person likes to do and is good at.

The other participant was the manager of a fast food restaurant. The unpleasant task in that case was cleaning bathrooms. Coincidentally, he used the same approach and experienced the same results. When he posted the list he discovered a couple of employees who liked to clean and who realized that clean bathrooms gave the restaurant a strong competitive advantage. As you can imagine these employees were regularly celebrated by their associates who were relieved of this duty.

Can it really be that simple? Sometimes it is. Give it a try. What have you got to lose?

Thanks to Erin Padilla for suggesting this topic. And thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg