Getting the best out of Christmas temps is a bigger job than ever before, finds Joanne Ellul

Retailers have become more reliant on a temporary workforce since the recession made job cuts essential. According to research by recruitment consultancy De Poel, there will be a 46% increase in the demand for temporary retail recruits this December compared with last year.

De Poel managing director John Salisbury says the balance of temporary to permanent staff in retail is becoming more equal. He says: “Before the recession, companies used to be able to keep their current people on, but now people are lost through attrition and not replaced. It used to be 60% to 40%, permanent to temporary staff. Now it’s 50% to 50%.”

He adds: “There is more demand for temps this Christmas than any other and the supply doesn’t match. Now, Christmas seasonal staff are needed even more before January because of the VAT rise and the loss of temporary staff to the public sector due to the recruitment freeze.”

One retailer that does have a good supply of temps is Sainsbury’s. Its 14,000 Christmas recruits form a 10th of its usual 140,000-strong store workforce, which requires careful planning to ensure the right staff are recruited. To make sure it hires the same calibre of temps every year, Sainsbury’s uses its own recruitment website and head of resourcing Jackie Hallums says: “It’s quicker and has all of the information a prospective colleague would need.”

Time really is of the essence this year if retailers want to fill their temporary roles with the right people and this applies to training as well. Avoiding poor customer service is crucial, and yet one day of training is often all most retailers, including Sainsbury’s, can afford.

Hallums says temp inductions follow the same format as those given to permanent staff, but condensed into a much shorter time. This is because permanent staff need to be multi-skilled, whereas temps are only trained in one area such as checkouts or replenishment. However, customers are likely to approach temps with queries not related to their department.

To combat this, Sainsbury’s runs a buddy system, where temps work with a more experienced colleague. Whenever it can, the grocer also hires seasonal temps who have worked for it before.

At a time when the proportion of Christmas temps is increasing, the best ones are in demand. Providing good quality training and making them feel part of the team will help ensure the best possible customer service at Christmas.

See the Difference

  • Sainsbury’s Christmas customer and employment facts:
  • The grocer is expecting 24 million customers in the week before Christmas
  • That figure equates to a 20% increase in footfall
  • Outside of the festive season, it employs 140,000 store staff
  • It employs 14,000 temporary Christmas workers
  • 3,500 of the 14,000 staff are previous Sainsbury’s Christmas temps
  • The grocer’s temporary store workforce is given one day of training