For employers who expect surges in business this winter -- whether it’s holiday retail hiring, winter travel and recreation or year-end accounting -- now is the time to plan winter seasonal staffing. And to start executing on that plan.

“With ever-improving market conditions in 2016 and opportunities available for candidates, scrambling at the last minute will obviously create issues,” says Dave Benjamin, finance and accounting manager at Addison Group in Austin, Texas.

Your early investment in seasonal staffing will pay big dividends in the form of satisfied customers who are more likely to come back to you for winter 2017. Here are staffing gurus’ best ideas for recruiting and hiring the best seasonal help

Start holiday staffing for retail now. Holiday retail hiring needs to ramp up gradually starting in mid-September, says Rhonda Arledge, regional vice president at Adecco Staffing for parts of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. “Call centers follow a bell curve, peaking a week after Thanksgiving.”

Winter staffing for finance and accounting can't wait until New Years. Financial professionals ranging from December grads to experienced tax accountants will be in high demand as the calendar flips to a new year. 

So “tax firms, along with most industries with finance, accounting, clerical or tech functions, should begin hiring as early as October to secure top talent for year-end or winter projects,” says Benjamin.

Set staffing levels to keep customers happy. For most businesses, the risk of losing under-served customers should be of greater concern than the risk of slightly higher seasonal labor costs. 

“We determine the lost profit if our clients hire too many employees, versus the lost profit if they hire too few,” says Caleb Ulku, principal of Ulku Logistics. “Most owners err on the side of hiring too few employees to minimize expenses, but it’s safer to err on the side of too many, to assure appropriate customer service. Customers won’t give them a break just because the store is busy.”

Make simple calculations to forecast demand for seasonal staffing. Ulku estimates optimal seasonal staffing levels by combining a business’s profit calculations with a demand forecast that compares this year’s local municipal sales tax collections to those of prior years.

“So far for 2016, all of the signs are positive, at least in our Gulf Coast region,” says Ulku. “New hotels are opening, their occupancy is good and sales taxes are up.”

Measure the seasonal labor market early with hiring events. Beware: holiday staffing and other seasonal labor markets can vary widely from year to year. 

“We get the jump on many retailers by starting our hiring of roughly 2,700 workers so much earlier,” says Danette LaFollette, vice president of human resources at 1-800-Flowers.com, which sells food gifts as well as flowers. LaFollette is bullish on hiring for the 2016 holidays. “Our early hiring events are yielding 30 or 40 responses, versus 8 or 10 last year.”

Returning workers and employee referrals boost seasonal staffing quality. “We start with seasonal people  we worked with last year,” says Arledge. “And we’ll look for referrals from our own workforce.” Employees earn cash rewards for successful referrals.

“We bring on 1,900 ski season employees, including culinary, ski instruction and mountain operations, for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows -- 50 percent return year to year,” says Brittany Clelan, director of human resources for the California ski resorts.

Don’t just fill seasonal seats; sell what’s special. To attract seasonal workers who will fully engage, you’ve got to sell the big picture. 

The ski resorts’ recruitment strategy pitches a California lifestyle – including the sunnier, drier climate – to East Coasters who have come to dislike cold, gray, damp winters. “We actively recruit in colleges, on their jobs boards and campuses, and we also focus on people who work summers in national parks,” says Clelan.

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Be transparent about how much work you’re offering. “We’re extremely aware of snow variability, and we’ve had some lean snow seasons over the past few years,” says Clelan. “A high percentage of our seasonal workers are part-time, and they often have an additional, more regular part-time job. We look for part-time workers who are flexible about hours.” 

The resorts work to communicate clearly what days and hours seasonal employees can count on and what may vary due to weather.

Plan for inevitable mid-season attrition. Given that some of your workers will quit before winter is over, it's wise to build continuing hiring into your seasonal staffing plan. “We post jobs starting in late September or early October and hire into mid-March,” says Clelan.

If your business sees multiple seasonal surges, never stop hiring. Are seasonal peaks a big part of your business? Then it may not make sense to ramp up and wind down the recruiting process several times a year. “We make seasonal hiring a year-round process,” says LaFollette.

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