Onboarding seasonal staff: 8 tips for small business owners

Phil Kendall

Nov 2018 ⋅ 6 min read

They might not be on your team for long, but seasonal staff can often mean the difference between record profits and a record number of disgruntled customers.

It makes sense to get a little extra help during your busiest times of year. But without properly integrating your seasonal workers into your existing team and providing them with adequate training, they could end up causing more headaches than they solve.

So how, when time is short and you already have your hands full managing your business, can you successfully onboard seasonal staff?

In this blog post, we'll be exploring just that, with concrete steps that small business owners should take to get their seasonal help up to speed in time for the big rush.

Let's get started!

A word on recruitment...

We won't be focusing on the recruitment processes itself in this post, but it's worth mentioning that your approach to hiring seasonal staff should be a little different from when taking on longer-term positions.

Seasonal staff tend to respond better to particular types of job ads, and will often gravitate more towards certain platforms in search of work, so if you haven't done so already, I'd recommend checking out Anna's guide to recruiting for seasonal roles before you start your hunt for seasonal staff.  

With that out of the way, here are our top tips for onboarding seasonal workers:

1. Focus on key roles & responsibilities

Getting your seasonal staff up to speed before things get hectic is usually a race against the clock. One way to take the pressure off while ensuring that your temporary additions get the training they need is to give them only a limited number of tasks to perform while they're with you.

You might expect your full-time staff to switch between roles on an ad hoc basis, for example going from tending bar to serving food and taking bookings over the phone as a matter of course. But it's unfair to expect similar levels of confidence and flexibility from new starters, especially at your most hectic time of year.

By keeping seasonal staff focused on a handful of specific tasks, not only will they feel less overwhelmed when things do eventually get busy, but you'll have more time to show them the ropes and ensure they're working to the standard you'd expect.

2. Start them early

Too many employers make the mistake of starting their seasonal staff right on the cusp of the busy season. While this may save them money on wages, by limiting their new employees' exposure to the business and throwing them in at the deep end, they're negating any positive effects those extra pairs of hands might otherwise have had.

Sure, you might not need extra help six weeks before Christmas or when the school summer holidays start, but starting your seasonal staff off early will give them chance to find their feet — and you the confidence that they can be relied on.

Whether you gradually increase the number of shifts they work or start them as you mean them to go on, be sure to get your seasonal workers in and trained up early in order to reap the benefits later on.

3. Pair newbies off with permanent staff

Another way to expedite your training is to give each of your seasonal staff a 'buddy'. Pairing newbies with members of your existing team will help them learn the ropes far quicker than if they're trained alongside other newcomers. They'll also integrate better with your team and as a result be more engaged in their work.

Of course, you should never simply pass the burden of training seasonal employees on to your existing staff (they'll still require a proper induction!). But by having temporary staff work closely with someone who's been on your team for a while, they'll have someone to turn to, and will — hopefully — have a good role model to follow.

4. Don't cut corners on paperwork

It can be tempting to keep things informal when it comes to hiring a little extra seasonal help, but skipping over things like fire and safety training or issuing employee handbooks is a risk you should never take.

Documents like these protect not only your employees' rights, but your rights as an employer. The last thing you want is to end up in hot water as a result of something that happened involving someone who only worked for you for a handful of shifts!

If you're concerned that you might have missed something along the way, you might want to consider using HR software. Platforms like breatheHR, PeopleHR and CharlieHR, to name but a few, can help managers streamline the onboarding process and will alert them if any boxes have not been ticked.

5. Be vocal about your company's culture

Their position might be temporary, but it's essential that you impress your business' core values upon your temporary staff. If you don't, they're likely to remain somewhat detached from your business, approaching their work as merely a way to make a bit of extra cash.

Share your company values with your seasonal hires during both the recruitment and onboarding processes. Talk about the impact their role will have, what you expect of them, and, if relevant, any employment opportunities that might arise as a result of their performance during the busy season (though do be careful not to mislead if the position is unlikely to evolve into a permanent one).

Your customers probably won't be able to tell the difference between your seasonal and permanent employees, and will be holding them all to the exact same standard, so it's important that your newbies represent your business in the right way.

6. Make them feel welcome

Seasonal staff know that they won't be with you forever, but not bothering to welcome them into your team will only cause them to feel detached from your business — potentially leading to subpar performance and leaving them with a negative impression of your business (more on this later!).

Take the time to introduce your seasonal staff to the rest of your team; involve them in any team meetings, events and parties; and make sure they have everything that permanent staff have, even it's as simple as a name-tag or their own locker, to make them feel a part of the team.

Both you and they know that they won't be around for long, but it's in your business' best interests to treat your seasonal staff as if they're with you for life — they might want to come back next year.

7. Plan and share your rota early

Managers hanging onto the rota until the last minute is one of the biggest gripes shift-working staff have, but it's also in your business' best interests to get the staff rota planned and published well in advance of your new employee's first day at work.

As well as affording you extra time to make any final tweaks or deal with any last-minute requests for shift-swaps, getting your rota into your employees' hands early will allow them to plan their personal lives around it.  This, in turn, means fewer missed shifts and instances of staff showing up late when you most need them.

You should also ensure that you have a system in place for communicating any last-minute changes — there's no use pinning an updated version of the rota to the staff room wall if people aren't there to see it.

A clearly communicated rota will help your new employees focus on the job at hand — and not worry about when they're meant to show up.

8. Keep your business' reputation in mind

Finally, it's worth remembering that the time your seasonal staff spend with you can have an impact on your business further down the line. The first few hours and days are particularly important.

They might be your employee for a few weeks, but for the rest of the year, your seasonal staff are regular people. Treat them as little more than seasonal skivvies, and they'll go out of their way to warn people — job-seekers and potential customers alike — to steer clear of you, and we all know how quickly bad news travels...

Treat your seasonal employees well, however, and they may recommend you to others who are looking for work. They may even come back to work for you again next year or apply for permanent positions, making your job as a recruiter that much easier.

Final thoughts

When you're heading into a potentially busy and lucrative period, taking on a few extra staff is usually a good idea. More hands on deck usually means more customers served, more orders taken, and a better level of service given overall.

Fail to properly onboard your seasonal staff, however, and they'll contribute very little to your business, and could end up negatively impacting its reputation.

Perhaps the best approach to take when recruiting seasonal staff is to remember that, while they may not be with you for very long, they have the power to contribute a great deal to your business and so should be welcomed and treated exactly like any of your permanent employees.

Good luck!