Getting the Most Out of Your Summer Workforce

Two young men beach lifeguards watch people swimming in the blue ocean with waves crashing on a sandy beach.
Restaurants, hotels, landscaping businesses, summer camps, concert venues, amusement parks are all very different types of companies, but they all have a similar problem:  they rely on seasonal employees when summer rolls around.  In fact, for many of these businesses the bulk—if not all—of their yearly income is earned while the summer sun is shining, and earned by employees who may not be around come fall.

If you run, manage, or own one of these types of businesses, you understand the importance of summer help. At the same time, you’ve probably always struggled to get the most “bang for your buck” when it comes to hiring seasonal employees.  Below you’ll find some advice on how to get the most out of your summer workforce without increasing your own workload.

Find the Right People

Simply put – hire as if you’re hiring a full-timer.  But, of course, that’s often easier said that done…

If you’ve endured summer-hiring season before, you know that the spectrum usually ranges from the lazy teen whose parents put him up to it to the History teacher with a family and two free months. They tend to be people you aren’t motivated to invest in, because they’re certainly not investing in you and your business.

The key to having the best summer season possible is to find the right people right off the bat.  That means you’ll have to be a little more aggressive to find qualified, eager candidates.  The “help wanted” sign out front doesn’t really provide a built-in screening system. It’s going to get you applications, but not necessarily from the people you want. Instead, it’s up to you to do a little more digging.

It may be worth your time to use a third party staffing service.  You can use local solutions to find qualified manual laborers (e.g. landscaping day laborers), but there are also national networks within sub-genres (like camp counselors, caretakers, or sound crews) that you can use to pick from pre-qualified employees.

Whatever industry you’re in, you’ll find that doing the grunt work up front to find good employees will make it much easier to build a successful summer staff down the road.

Provide a Thorough Orientation

Once you’ve found those star employees, it’s important that they’re transitioned in well. Sandra L. Fisher, an associate professor of organizational studies at Clarkson University School of Business, says that because seasonal employees are only around for a short period of time, an aggressive orientation is essential.

“The first thing I would say is to make sure the temps are adequately trained,” she warns. “Even though it may seem not worth the investment because the employees won’t be there long, having employees around who can’t effectively do their work, especially during busy times, will create challenges for the standard employees and may cause the business to lose customers.”

In short, if you don’t take the time to adequately train your seasonal help, you’ll put a strain on your whole staff—yourself included.

Cultivate Long-Term Relationships

Obviously, seasonal employees are looking to sign up for temporary work. But when you find a good seasonal employee, it makes sense to do what you can to keep them around.

Robert Sinclair, SIOP Member and associate professor of psychology at Clemson University, agrees.  Sinclair points to research which indicates quality summer workers actually develop “psychological contracts” when they feel they’re being valued by their employer.  He says that this mutual respect breeds hard work, dedication, and the willingness to go “above and beyond the call.”

Good employees who feel valued will seek to extend their employment beyond the season in which they were hired.  If they’re putting in hard work and hours, and are appreciated, they’re going to want to get the most out of it.  If your company can afford to do so, keeping them on in a part-time capacity can save you the headache of recruiting for next season.

Alternatively, many employers use their seasonal employee pool as a resource to fill spots, should a full-time opening come available.  This obviously isn’t an option for seasonal businesses, like landscapers or some hospitality organizations. However, others, like retail stores or manufacturers may be able to accommodate a qualified individual even after busier seasons pass.

Treat Them the Same

It’s tempting to lump summer employees into one group: outsiders.  Since they’re only around for a few months, it’s easy to think of them as less valuable—but that’s just not true. Summer employees should be treated just like every other employee on your roster.

That means you shouldn’t pawn off the busy work on them, keep them out of the loop, or make insensitive comments (whether you think they can hear you or not).  Doing so is a surefire way to break whatever psychological contract they may have developed with your company.  Doing so may result in them leaving you during your busiest season, or simply not performing at their best.

Immediate Gratification is Key

Whether they’re good workers or not, most summer employees don’t see past the summer.  Because the number of job opportunities balloons in the summer, employers have to compete for qualified employees.  That means that immediate gratification is the key to keeping them happy.  As a result, you’ll likely have to pay competitive wages above and beyond what you would offer a year-round employee upon hiring.

Scheduling tends to also be a big factor in where summer employees want to work. Most want to maximize their time out of work and in the sunshine. Using flexible computerized scheduling software, like the When I Work app, allows you to juggle time off requests for all of your employees’ (seasonal or otherwise) and respond to scheduling crises in a timely manner—both of which keep your business running smoothly.

Plan Ahead

The beauty of seasonal help is that the need arises every year. That means you know pretty much when and where you’ll need extra help, and you can lay the groundwork ahead of time.

It might mean planning next year’s advertisement and recruiting drive while the summer sun is still shining. You can also revise your administrative procedures in response to the hiccups you experienced this past spring. The good news is that with this kind of planning, hiring and keeping summer employees should get easier every year.

One of the best aspects of hiring summer workers for your business is that it allows you to keep up with increased demand without taking on permanent payroll obligations.  You get all the benefits of being fully staffed, but don’t have to worry about the financial impact in slower seasons.  Savvy business owners can even use seasonal employees to build businesses from the ground up.

Whether your operations runs year-round or shut down for the fall, having that extra padding during the busy season helps you boost profits, maintain healthy customer service levels, and get the job done.  Just keep in mind that while summer workers come and go, the impression they leave on your customers and your business sticks around through next year.

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