The Quick Guide to Managing Seasonal Employees

The countdown to Memorial Day is on. The official start of the summer holiday season kicks off in just a few weeks, with businesses across the U.S. already prepping for the annual rush. For many business owners, keeping up with more customers also means adding more hands on deck. This year, over 90 percent of hourly employers expect to hire the same or more workers compared to last season.

Although seasonal employees are a great solution to increased demand, they add their own challenges to an already busy time of year. They’re often younger workers with a range of different backgrounds and skill levels, and they may require more training than your regular employees. But seasonal employees can actually help you acheive your business goals. Use this guide to set your temporary hires up for success all summer long.

Start recruiting early

Want to have an easier time managing seasonal employees? Start with hiring the best seasonal employees. It may sound easier said than done, but the secret is simple: don’t wait until the last minute to hire. Seventy percent of hourly employers expect to have their summer positions filled in either April or May. For the winter holiday season, some employers even start hiring as early as August.

Give yourself the best shot at hiring the best candidates by posting job ads long before your busy season starts. You’ll have access to a bigger candidate pool, feel more confident in your hiring decisions, and be able to fully vet potential employees instead of hiring whoever happens to be available in a crunch. It may even allow you to build in a trial period, or schedule your employees to start and train all at the same time.

Treat them the same as regular employees

While seasonal employees may only be working for a few months, treating them differently from your normal employees hurts more than it helps. That includes discrepancies in pay and scheduling. Don’t comment on seasonal employees just to remind them of their limited tenure and avoid investing in their growth. Don’t only schedule them for the shifts no one else wants to pick up. Dividing your team between “regular” and “seasonal” workers does little for team camaraderie. Instead, recognize them based on their performance and give them opportunities to learn new skills. Invite them to team events and encourage your regular employees to reach out.

Research shows that happy employees are 12 percent more productive at work and happy salespeople produce 37 percent greater sales. While they may not be part of the team for long, seasonal employees are still a vital part of your business strategy. You need them to keep your business running smoothly throughout the busy season, maybe even to keep your regular employees from burning out due to an increased workload. The more invested you are, the more they will be.

Do things by the book

Treating employees fairly isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also the law. In many cases, seasonal employees are legally the same as your regular employees. If your business involves interstate commerce, then under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), both regular and seasonal employees must:

  • be paid the minimum wage for your state or local jurisdiction
  • be paid at least $2.13 an hour in direct wages if they are tipped employees
  • receive overtime pay at the rate of one-and-a-half times their regular rate of pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek

Seasonal workers under the age of 18 also come with additional legal requirements. If you’re hiring students out of school for the summer, they may not be able to work the same hours or perform the same tasks as your older employees. For example, FLSA guidelines state that 14- and 15-year-olds may not work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. (except from June 1 through Labor Day when the evening limit is extended to 9 p.m.). You can check out the full FLSA guidelines on teen workers for more information and other age-specific requirements.

Don’t skimp on training

The holiday and summer seasons are often the busiest times of year for businesses. They also happen to be the most stressful. Don’t let poorly trained new employees slow down your team. Although it’s tempting to get seasonal employees on the floor and working as soon as possible, taking the time to train them thoroughly will go a long way towards avoiding headaches later.

Remember: although seasonal employees aren’t here to stay, your customers are. Temporary workers’ interactions and customer service skills can have lasting impacts on your business long after the season’s over. So put seasonal employees through the same training as your regular employees. Try one or two of these strategies to streamline the process even more:

  • Train current employees to train new employees.
  • Cross-train new employees in other roles/tasks.
  • Provide as many opportunities to practice new skills as possible.  
  • Check in on their progress along the way.

Get ahead of any issues

If you notice a problem with a new seasonal employee, confront it immediately. It may be that they’re struggling to keep up with the fast pace or need additional training. After all, seasonal employees are usually hired because of greater demand. Help them feel comfortable speaking up if they have questions. Create a mentor or buddy system by partnering seasonal hires with more experienced members of your team. That way, they always have someone to check in with if they’re unsure or need advice.

Still, if you suspect a deeper issue like a poor fit or performance problem, address it as soon as possible. According to one study, a single “toxic” employee can cause a 30 to 40 percent drop in a team’s overall performance and damage a company’s overall bottom line. Your busy season should be the time your business performs well, not suffers due to a difficult employee.

Be clear about expectations

You may not know specific end dates, but be upfront with seasonal workers during the hiring process about how long you expect their position to last. Some job seekers see seasonal employment as a route to a long-term role, while others are happy with a temporary commitment. If a permanent job is a true possibility, it can be a great motivator for your future-thinking employees. If it’s not, you can avoid a difficult conversation by setting clear expectations from the very beginning.

Make it a habit of agreeing on the number of weeks or the end date in seasonal employee job offers. Include it on all of your hiring materials. Once an employee knows the length of their work term, you can set goals on an appropriate timeline.

Stay in touch

Setting expectations doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye forever after the season ends. If you find a good employee, keep them at the top of your hire list for next year. Employees who either teach or go to school during the year are usually available during summers and holiday breaks, as well as employees who work other seasonal jobs that contrast with your busy season.

If you have any of these employees on your summer staff, talk about their plans for next year. It can be an informal conversation where you simply let them know your door is always open or a semi-permanent agreement to work for you during their personal off-season. When your busy season comes around again, you won’t be starting from the ground up. You’ll already have a roster of potential hires to call.


Seasonal employees can be a challenge for even the best manager. With good planning, careful hiring, and additional training, you can build a team that’s ready to tackle the busy season head on, this summer and the next.

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