Hiring and managing seasonal workers

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Christmas is the key trading period of the year and to cope with the increased demand, many businesses, including restaurants and retailers, recruit thousands of seasonal workers.

Online retailer Amazon UK has hired 15,000 people; M&S is taking on 12,000 seasonal workers, Argos 10,000 and John Lewis an extra 2,000 staff.

While this is a great opportunity for people to find extra work and can lead to a permanent contract, it can prove a real challenge for any organisation to ensure temporary workers are up to the job and to mitigate possible risks that might occur if the correct procedures and processes are not followed.

Commercial pressures sometimes dictate this time of year and corners are cut, particularly if an organisation doesn't invest in adequate training for temporary staff because they will only be employed for a limited period.

Like permanent employees, seasonal workers need to be exceptional. Christmas represents a huge opportunity and it is potentially the only time a customer visits a store.

All new recruits must have the right attitude and the potential to learn quickly, hitting the ground running and ensuring standards are not compromised.

One of the risks for organisations is the failure to invest in processes to support new recruits, including carrying out assessments in the recruitment phase to check they have the right skills for the role, as well as training in all aspects of the role. Neglecting these areas can have serious repercussions.

Mistakes can compromise health and safety standards, lead to poor customer services and even damage a company's reputation or brand.

The Health and Safety Executive's latest report into Workplace Injuries stated that 646,000 workers had an accident at work in 2012/13. Slips and trips were the most common cause, accounting for three in every 10 injury reports.

Handling was the most frequent cause of an injury that lasted more than a week. Around three million working days were lost due to handling injuries and slips and trips.

Last month, a BBC Panorama investigation into Amazon found that working conditions in its warehouses could be putting workers at risk of "mental and physical illness".

Workers were shown performing long shifts without a break, under pressure to complete orders within set timescales and walking miles, up to 11 miles every night, to fulfil orders. The programme highlighted how standards can be compromised for the sake of commercial pressure at this time of year.

HR managers need to ensure that their recruitment processes for temporary workers are as robust as they would be for a permanent employee and it should include assessments to understand a person's knowledge and competence to get the job done well.

Seasonal workers also need to understand the organisational culture quickly, including what 'exceptional service' really looks like.

A recent poll of 5,712 UK shoppers from mystery shopping company Retail Eyes highlighted the importance of good customer service. It found that 92% of shoppers had left an establishment before making a purchase following poor service, so it is essential to get it right.

Once a candidate has been recruited and gone through a suitable training programme to ensure they are up to speed with company policies and procedures, it is recommended that fully trained permanent employees are on hand to lead by example, share knowledge and coach the new recruits. These people should be highly competent and confident about all aspects of their job and able to ensure the best possible customer experience.

A common misconception is that seasonal workers don't warrant the same commitment from organisations regarding training and assessment. This can be a huge commercial risk, both in terms of health and safety and brand reputation.

Mary Clarke is CEO of Cognisco

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