Seasonal hiring is different in 2022; how talent leaders can make the most of it

As the 2022 seasonal hiring engine shifts into high gear, employers are grappling with possible falling consumer demand for the holidays amid high inflation and recession fears.

Retail and other similar employer segments may have good reason to feel stressed, according to Deloitte’s annual holiday retail forecast, which predicts that seasonal retail sales are likely to increase just 4%-6% in 2022, equating to $1.45 to $1.47 trillion from November to January. That’s significantly less than growth during the same period in 2021, when sales grew by 15.1%, according to Deloitte.

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Among the largest employers, Walmart recently announced hiring plans for 40,000 seasonal workers, down significantly from the 150,000 temporary workers the company announced last year. Still, e-commerce giant Amazon is hiring 150,000 seasonal workers, the same as last year—perhaps reflecting the difference between online and brick-and-mortar retail entities.

“The lower projected growth for the 2022 holiday season reflects the slowdown in the economy this year,” says Daniel Bachman, Deloitte’s U.S. economic forecaster. “Retail sales are likely to be further affected by declining demand for durable consumer goods, which had been the centerpiece of pandemic spending.”

But while the economy may be slowing hiring, it’s also widening the talent pool of those seeking seasonal work, which could be a boon to employers and talent leaders looking to grow their talent pools for the long term.

A survey from this month found that 73% of workers polled say they need additional income due to inflation and other economic conditions and that almost half (47%) plan to work at least two jobs this year as a result.

The reasons? money for holiday gifts (44%); turn the gig into a full-time role (36%); develop skills (34%) or even for the employee discount (22%). Despite the need, few are feeling highly confident (23%) and 27% haven’t been able to find those second and even third jobs so far—pointing to the notion that employers are hesitant about holiday hiring.

Holiday hiring challenge

A recent survey from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., reveals that current economic conditions will no doubt give employers pause to avoid over-hiring this season.

Employers are “taking a cautious approach,” says Andrew Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, and economic conditions may decrease the chances that seasonal hires are kept on for full-time roles.

“We may see fewer of these opportunities given that so many companies have their eye on a downturn next year,” he says. “Companies have been in hiring mode for two years, battling to attract and retain talent—and offering unprecedented perks and salaries to do so. Some may find they have all the workers they need, considering a downturn and consumer activity, leading to fewer jobs added overall.”

Facing pressure to limit hiring but seeing a more robust pool of talent, what can HR and employers do to maximize their seasonal hiring?

Sean Behr, CEO at Fountain, an all-in-one applicant tracking system for high-volume hiring, suggests that employers consider a season-specific hiring strategy.

“Look at which roles need the most support during the season and how to best approach reaching the ideal applicant for the job,” he says, adding that mobile-friendly application journeys with few steps enable a faster process, benefitting both employer and employee.

“Utilizing digital services and strategic hiring practices can help ease the burden of seasonal hiring while reducing the amount of wasted time and money on hiring and interviewing candidates—so every company is on strong financial footing heading into 2023,” he says.

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Neil Costa, founder and CEO of HireClix, a recruitment advertising agency, adds that many retailers have not “done the math” to determine the ROI of hiring and retaining seasonal workers, putting themselves at a disadvantage.

“Simply bumping your pay up to $15 an hour won’t be enough,” he says. “The competition is already quite stiff for these types of roles and the holiday season will exacerbate this. Having a game plan to support these workers through the season and not burn them out will be important since they can typically go a few storefronts over and do something else if they don’t like their work.”

Meeting employee expectations

While many companies may be hesitant to hire for a full-time fit in the current climate, they should be realistic about what workers are expecting. Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster, says the 2022 season is different from past years because of the 36% of applicants who hope to turn a seasonal job into a full-time role.

“In the past, we’ve seen workers considering it a side hustle and nothing more than perhaps consistent seasonal work throughout the year and during the next holiday season,” she says. But the Monster data shows that workers now may view seasonal roles as a “foot in the door” to a new career path, she says.

“They’re also looking for more than just a paycheck,” Salemi says. “Thirty-four percent want to develop skills in other areas of work and another third want to bulk up their resumes.”

Given the majority of workers looking for extra income this year, she says, employers should recognize the benefits of an active talent pool that is ready to start working and can be recruited and hired quickly compared with full-time employees.

“There’s no time like the present to build your talent pipeline: Create detailed job descriptions and post them online so this talented pool of workers has access to start applying and interviewing,” Salemi says.

She suggests that employers emphasize retention, too, by communicating the opportunity for career stepping stones and skills growth and by providing on-the-job training and mentoring. It’s also wise to re-evaluate pay structures and be transparent on job postings.

“Even though it’s just for a season, if there’s a right fit, the worker assimilates into the environment and has an excellent work ethic and productivity, as well as camaraderie with peers and bosses,” she says. “Think of this as a potential long-term hiring plan.”

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected]