As employers, most of us are in a seasonal-type situation where we need to hire a crew, then eventually need to lay them off for a few months over the winter. Not that some of us have any choice, but is there even a small benefit to a seasonal layoff – to employer and employee? And how can we retain our best workers, despite the seasonal nature of the work, while properly managing our company in a seasonal environment?
Hiring seasonal workers is tough, but it might not be as difficult as it sometimes seems. Why? Because during your “on season” you can tap into workers that might be in their “off season” with jobs such as those in the ski resort industry or schoolteachers. Many of those people are looking for work that is seasonal.
But for those not looking for seasonal work, we owners need to do a better job of marketing seasonal employment. There are actually advantages to seasonal work, but you have to look closely. The biggest advantage, in my eyes, is that seasonal employment offers the employee a much-needed break -- and if you can get them to return the next spring, they are as refreshed as ever. The biggest benefit to the company is that hiring seasonal workers saves payroll money and reduces liabilities over the winter. If you can trim costs while your revenue has stopped, you are taking another step to success.
Retaining for the Season
As we hire new crews, we know that training will be involved. Some companies, such as airlines, spend thousands in training (I’m glad that’s not this industry!), but I’m well aware it still costs time and some money to bring staff on. Although seasonal hiring puts us owners in situations where we need to accept any applicant come spring, there are considerations we should factor in when hiring. The basics for most operations would be a drug-free, hardworking individual -- and hopefully one with a driver’s license. After picking the best candidates, we conduct interviews and pre-employment screenings, then invite the selected candidates on board for the season.
When it comes to getting them to stay for the whole season, there’s no magic answer. But you can – and should -- try. After all, you’ve already invested time and money in their training, so if they are a quality worker (or sometimes even an acceptable worker), you want to keep them on.
But the newer generation of workers will tend to up and leave if they aren’t happy. I’ve noticed the last few years that today’s applicants want to dictate demands more than employers do! This is odd to me as it used to be that the employer posted the job and pay rate, and away things went. It represents a greater challenge to the HR side of things.
Relate to your Workers
To try to keep workers for the season and beyond, I’ve taken the approach to treat our people well in hopes they will enjoy their job. I’m a firm believer that happy employees create a better product and happy customers. We let them know we understand they are doing a job that’s tough, dirty, in hot conditions and often long hours. But even just relating to them can make a huge difference. I think problems start when there appears to be a disconnect from management to employees.
We also try unconventional but simple approaches to retaining employees. For example, we provide lunch on large jobs, and we provide bottled water and sports drinks as well. A friend of mine and co-Pavement Advisory Board member actually built a kitchen in his office to ensure his crews are well fed every morning. Does this help? It seems to be working for him, and so far, our lunch offerings and pallets of Costco water seem to make guys happy.
But I’ve also learned that when they are done, they are done. There’s little you can do to keep employees once they’ve made up their mind to leave – and in most cases you probably don’t want to try.
All in all, communicating the benefits of seasonal work and creating a positive work environment seem to be the key to successful hires and to retaining workers – at least through the season.
But you also have to understand that turnover is part of the game. As an owner you can’t take it personally, and you have to keep moving forward – just bring in the next candidate!