For many businesses, demand is seasonal — it rises and falls throughout the year. Given these changing requirements, it's not always financially feasible to maintain a full staff year-round.
If your company is in a similar situation, seasonal employment is one potential solution. Bringing in additional workers during the peak season can help meet demand and keep labour costs in check, while increasing the flexibility of your organisation.
In this article, we will delve into the perks and drawbacks of recruiting seasonal employees and identify the specific situations in which your organisation may benefit from them.
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what are seasonal employees?
Seasonal employees are short-term workers who fulfil additional staffing needs during your company's busiest months. Typically, seasonal jobs last for 6 months or less; their contracts usually have a start and end date, and employees may work part-time or full-time hours. The specific season varies by industry and individual operation.
Most countries have specific labour laws regarding seasonal workers to govern taxes, insurance, contract terms and the deductions an employer is permitted to make. For example, the United States has a federally mandated minimum wage for all non-exempt employees; however, each state may define employee exemption differently, affecting how seasonal employees are recognised. Here in the United Kingdom, seasonal employees receive an industry-specific minimum wage, and in Germany, seasonal workers are entitled to paid holidays and sick days.
temporary vs. seasonal employees
Both seasonal and temporary employees work for companies for a limited period of time. However, while seasonal workers come in during a single season, businesses may hire temporary workers at any time to cover short-term staffing gaps or fulfil unexpected production increases. If one of your employees takes a medical leave of absence, you might need to hire a temporary worker to fill in.
Companies across a variety of industries hire temporary workers to cover administrative and office work. The healthcare sector takes a more specialised approach, offering temporary contracts for doctors, nurses and technicians to ensure continuity of care.
part-time vs. seasonal employees
Part-time employees work less than 40 hours per week, but they can work year-round. Companies often hire part-time employees to fill out the schedule, expand core capabilities and save money on salaries and benefits. Seasonal employees might have a part-time schedule, but they're still limited to a certain number of months. As an employer, it's important to understand the distinction; in many regions, these two types of employment are subject to different rules.
seasonal employment examples
Certain industries have pronounced demand fluctuations throughout the year — companies in these areas tend to benefit most from seasonal work. The following are examples of industries with high levels of seasonality.
Agriculture businesses often have a high demand for seasonal employees. In the United States, farms bring in between 2 and 3 million seasonal and migratory workers every year. Labour requirements surge during the harvest season; the rest of the year, many operations can get by with full-time and part-time staff.
Seasonal agricultural workers often work on farms, helping to collect, dry and store crops. Others assist with processing crops and transporting them to buyers around the world.
Farming is inherently unpredictable. To succeed, farmers need reliable access to seasonal labour. A flexible talent pool helps farms manage uncertain output levels due to weather, pests and soil quality. Downstream businesses must also be able to adjust staffing quickly in response to the year's harvest.
In many geographic regions, construction work is limited by climate conditions. These areas typically see a spike in demand for seasonal labour in the late spring through mid-fall. The exact months vary by location, depending on ground thaw and precipitation levels.
Nearly every type of construction company relies on seasonal employees to speed the building process. Road construction crews repair damage to roads caused by freezing water and salt degradation. Builders need extra workers to dig foundations, operate equipment, cut materials and erect structures. Summer hiring also increases in landscape construction.
Companies that compete in, manage venues and organise competitions experience dramatic shifts in operations before, during and after the event. Seasonal workers can help bridge the gaps created by a sudden need for particular skills or quantity of employees. For instance, organisations involved in Formula One racing need workers with specialised technical skills to help design and fabricate cars for upcoming races. Companies that operate arenas and other sporting venues require large numbers of workers to handle food and ticket sales.
The Olympics is another prime example of a biennial event that requires a large workforce during a short period of time. However, once the competition is over, workloads may quickly return to normal. Seasonal hires can help cover the temporary increased demand for products and/or services.
Businesses in the tourism sector are among the biggest employers of seasonal workers. Summer is the peak season for many locations in the northern hemisphere, as favourable weather conditions, school breaks and relaxed schedules lead to an increase in travel.
An efficient seasonal hiring strategy helps tourism businesses handle higher visitor levels and capture more of the tourism dollars. The effect on the bottom line can be significant — in the UK, overseas residents spent 24% more in June 2022 than they did in May. In Europe, 43% of all tourist accommodation stays happen in July and August.
Many locations also experience smaller seasonal surges. Snow destinations bring in seasonal workers during ski season, while areas with fall colours might extend some summer contracts through October to accommodate leaf-peepers.
Retail businesses are heavily impacted by seasonality. Consumer spending rises and falls throughout the year, creating ever-changing staffing requirements. In many countries, December is a particularly busy time as shoppers buy gifts to celebrate Christmas and other religious or national celebrations; in January, sales drop.
To account for the drastic fluctuations in orders and foot traffic, retail businesses depend on seasonal hiring. Most openings are designed to fill customer-facing positions that require minimal training, such as cashiers and floor associates, but companies also hire warehouse, loading dock and stocking staff.
Because the logistics sector is closely connected to a range of other industries, it also experiences a certain amount of seasonality. Companies often hire extra handlers, assistants and drivers during the busiest months of the year.
Hiring demand typically mirrors that of the linked industry. For instance, retail logistics companies hire an influx of seasonal employees during the last quarter of the year. In 2022, UPS posted jobs for more than 100,000 seasonal workers to handle the end-of-year rush, while the United States Postal Service brought in 28,000 people. During the harvest season, agricultural supply-chain businesses need more workers to transport and handle crops post-sale. Construction logistics hiring peaks in the summer as demand for raw materials increases.
It is worth noting that these examples are just a few among many. Even businesses that have historically experienced consistent trends can be taken by surprise by unexpected disruptions, resulting in unforeseen surges or declines in their demand. In such scenarios, these businesses can also benefit from hiring seasonal employees.
wondering if your company would benefit from seasonal hiring?download our guide on seasonal hiring.
pros and cons of hiring seasonal employees
For businesses with inconsistent staffing requirements, seasonal employees present both advantages and disadvantages. This type of short-term work isn't right for every business; as you develop a hiring strategy, it's important to consider how the positive and negative factors could impact your operations in the long term.
pros of seasonal employees
Hiring seasonal employees offers a valuable chance to boost your labour flexibility. This increased flexibility simplifies the process of expanding or reducing your workforce as needed, which is especially crucial during uncertain times like these.
When there is a specific period of time when additional employees are needed, it becomes impractical to hire full-time employees. Opting for seasonal employees can effectively eliminate the unnecessary expenses that arise from hiring and retaining full-time employees beyond the busy season.
Bringing in seasonal employees provides a valuable opportunity to assess their skills and compatibility with the company for future permanent roles within the company.
Hiring seasonal employees tends to be faster and less expensive than traditional hiring. Because their contracts are shorter, you can apply a less-stringent vetting process. If an employee isn't a good fit, simply avoid hiring them in the future. Plus, since many seasonal employees fulfill entry-level positions, training and onboarding take less time.
To help businesses meet seasonal hiring needs, governments often offer special visa programs to expand access to international workers. For example, in the United States, the H2A and H2B visa programs accommodate both non-agricultural and agricultural workers. As well as the UK, Germany also offers seasonal worker permits with streamlined requirements. Plus, hiring international workers gives you access to a larger pool of candidates.
cons of seasonal employees
lower employee engagement
When a seasonal employee starts work at your company, they know the job is temporary. As a result, they may be less motivated to meet high-performance standards or engage with the rest of the team. This mindset is challenging to overcome; unlike permanent employees, seasonal workers have little to no stake in the organisation's long-term success. It can also affect your year-round staff, affecting morale and eroding company culture.
Short contract lengths can limit the loyalty of seasonal workers, making them less committed to your company. If they receive a more attractive offer, or if they're unsatisfied with the position, they can leave with few consequences. To account for higher employee turnover, you may need to bring on more workers or conduct a new round of hiring in the middle of the busy season.
When you hire workers for 6 months or less, it's not feasible to spend multiple weeks on training. The compressed timeline might allow just a few days for training, which restricts the types of jobs you can fill with seasonal employees. Minimal training may also make it harder to find workers; McKinsey found that 75% of frontline workers are interested in learning opportunities at work.
In most countries, the nature of seasonal employment is different from that of permanent employment. It is crucial to have a clear understanding of the regulations to steer clear of any potential legal issues. On the other hand, collaborating with a reputable talent company can provide valuable guidance throughout this process.
are seasonal employees right for your company?
Given the significant pros and cons of seasonal employees, it's important to consider your priorities carefully before making a commitment.
To start, examine the predictability of annual demand fluctuations. The longer you've been in business, the easier it is to analyse sales data and identify patterns. If the busy season stays the same from year to year, seasonal workers might be the right choice; the consistency makes it easy to identify key positions and streamline the hiring and training process.
Training is another key factor. If you can prepare workers for open positions with a small amount of training, seasonal workers can be a cost-effective alternative to temporary or part-time employees.
When demand variations are more unpredictable or when you need people with specialised expertise, temporary workers are often a better solution. They give you more flexibility to accommodate last-minute staffing shortages or longer employee absences. The labour laws in many countries allow temps to work for longer periods of time than seasonal workers, which is helpful when you're managing unexpected increases in output. Because these workers are also more likely to live in your area, it's easier to bring them on full-time if demand stays high.