Behind the scenes of the festive season

Retailers face unique challenges over the Christmas period related to hiring and training seasonal workers, preparing for ‘the rush’ and raised consumer expectations

He’s making a list, and checking it twice… Which means Santa has a relatively easy job over the festive season compared to the roughly 2.8 million people working in retail in the UK.

“The Christmas period – October through to January – is the busiest time of year by an absolute mile,” says Guy Youll, HR director at Superdry.

For HR this means recruiting a high volume of temporary staff to work in the retailer’s stores. Youll says Superdry has many seasonal employees who return each year, often from school or university. The challenge is maintaining quality of hire and continuity of the brand’s culture and ethos.

“When we have a lot of new joiners, that’s a risk we have to negate,” says Youll. “A great store manager is someone who can scale up that culture quickly for new people.” HR’s role is to help store managers keep their teams engaged through reward, recognition and incentive schemes.

At Studio Retail, HR starts its ‘golden quarter’ with a conference that takes every line manager off-site to outline the priorities for the period, and gives a “real call to arms so everyone knows that every role in every function has an absolutely critical role to play”, says HR director Sharon Benson.

“Buyers need to be buying the right products in the right quantities, the customer delivery team needs to be focused on customers, and HR needs to service our internal customers.”

Benson explains that preparations for this quarter ramp up in different areas of the business at different times.

“The golden quarter is peak trading, but every function has a different peak of its own. For example, in HR our peak workload is the quarter before as we’re mega busy recruiting additional people,” she says.

“For buyers it’s about nine months in advance; for finance it’s after Christmas as they’re chasing payments. So while we’re all busy, it’s the warehouse and contact centres and frontline roles that are really flat out at Christmas.”

Which is why it’s critical that quieter functions such as HR get out to see frontline staff, says Benson. They take them coffees to “rally the troops, as they’re the foot soldiers that really deliver Christmas”. Internal competitions around Black Friday also motivate staff and recognise their hard work.

The peak festive season is also an opportunity for permanent colleagues to develop leadership skills by helping to manage the roughly 750 seasonal colleagues who come on board.

“We give our warehousing operatives the opportunity to step up to be ‘job trainers’ – in essence supervisors of the temp staff – for the peak trading season,” says Benson.

“So when a permanent team leader position becomes available, they’ve had the opportunity to try it and decide if they want to step up. It also gives them the opportunity to earn more money as they’re in a more senior role during that window.”

All in the name of Santa delivering those all-important presents on time…

This piece appears in the December 2019 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk

Further reading

Shutting up shop: HR on the high street

Good work and D&I in retail

Studio Retail: HR's journey from mail order to ecommerce