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Say goodbye to those holiday staffing blues

Surefire staffing solutions to keep you covered during one of the busiest times of the year.

For some, the holidays are a magical time of year, full of parties and presents. For many small business owners, however, it’s also a stressful time, juggling full-timers on holiday with overtime hours and temporary workers — all during one of the busiest sales cycles of the year.

Getting all hands on deck

Scheduling is key. Businesses are getting better at tracking vacation days (and how many each employee has left for the year), thanks to automated tools. Ideally, you want to make sure that employees who have about-to-expire vacation days don’t take them all off at the same time, leaving the office understaffed.

“Start the conversation, if you haven’t already, with your staff. Get a calendar built out and start to map out availability so nobody gets blindsided in a couple of weeks,” said Travis O’Rourke, head of Hays Talent Solutions.

You might have gaps to fill while senior staff are on vacation, or for administrative roles like payroll or in the IT department. But you may need additional hands on deck to deal with higher business volumes such as in retail, warehousing, shipping and customer service functions.

Finding temporary employees

This is where temporary workers can help to maintain or boost staffing levels to get you through the holidays.

“Temporary workers are excellent — they’re hungry and you have a huge proportion of the workforce looking to make money this time of year, so finding workers is not the challenge,” said O’Rourke.

The challenge, he said, is that staff with seniority might take off two weeks (plus stat holidays), so temporary workers are on site while senior leadership isn’t there. Often, these temporary workers come in with little or no training, so they may not know how to use systems or follow procedures — and there’s no one around to help them.

“Our advice is to make sure references are air-tight and do criminal background checks,” said O’Rourke. “You have to pay more for a more senior temporary worker, but the peace of mind it will provide — the value is there.”

How many hires?

So, you need temporary staff, but how many do you hire? There’s no formula for finding that magic number, but O’Rourke recommends hiring help on a one-to-one basis for administrative functions or where a senior staff member is taking vacation time. And he recommends bringing temporary workers in a few days early for training — it costs a bit more, but you’ll get more value from that worker while senior leadership is out of office.

Retail requires a different approach. You may end up hiring more temporary workers than you need to figure out that magic number. “We always suggest overstaffing for a few days — it’s quite easy to right-size your team after that,” said O’Rourke.

Of course, there are planned vacations, but there is also the type of ‘vacation’ that you can’t plan for. “Unfortunately, some people take advantage of sick days they’ve been allotted and haven’t used this time of year, so being prepared for absentees is often much more of a scramble,” said O’Rourke. “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best when it comes to staff attendance.”

Who to hire?

holiday staffingBuilding a relationship with a temp agency can assist with any worst-case scenarios — so if an employee calls in with an “eggnog-infused sick day,” you can make a phone call and have a skilled temporary worker show up a few hours later.

Ideally, you want temporary workers to be as self-sufficient as possible, so the more senior, the better. But students are another option — they’re back from university during the holidays and typically keen to make a few extra bucks.

Don’t overlook full-timers, either. “You have a lot of workers looking to earn money who have full-time jobs, and they’re taking this on as extra work,” said O’Rourke. “It’s not uncommon for us to see someone who takes a two-week vacation but picks up a two-day temp job while on vacation.”

Managing OT

Overtime is another budgetary issue that comes up this time of year. “You get hit with three stat holidays in a 10-day window, and that can be difficult based on the way overtime wages are calculated,” said O’Rourke.

Make sure you have a strategy to deal with overtime — and tired, stressed employees. If staff are expected to work long hours on Boxing Day, for example, make sure they take scheduled breaks and perhaps motivate them with perks like a pizza lunch.

The holidays can be stressful for small business owners and their staff. But having a strategy in place for staffing issues can help you be prepared for the worst — while hoping for the best.

Up Next: Some tips and tools for your retail business to manage the rush of the holidays.

How your small business can skate through the holiday madness

Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. She has covered technology and travel for 15 years, for media outlets such as, The Globe & Mail, Metro News, ITBusiness, PCworld Canada and Computerworld Canada. She also spent three years living abroad and working as an Asian correspondent.

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