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Temporary staff have a long-term impact

Mary Clarke, chief executive of people risk assessment firm Cognisco

To cope with Christmas demand, many retailers recruit seasonal workers.  Amazon UK has hired 15,000, M&S is taking on 12,000 and John Lewis an extra 2,000 staff.

Managing this is challenging and the risks of recruiting temporary workers en masse should not be underestimated. Seasonal staff, like permanent employees, must be exceptional, particularly at Christmas, which could be the only time a customer visits the store so is the one opportunity to impress them.

Seasonal workers need to understand the organisational culture quickly, including what exceptional service looks like.

Highly competent permanent employees should be on hand to lead by example, share knowledge and coach new recruits. One of the risks is the failure to invest in processes including the assessment and training of staff, which can have serious repercussions – it can risk health and safety, alienate customers and damage brand reputation.

In November a BBC Panorama investigation found that working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses could be putting workers at risk of “mental and physical illness”. Workers were shown performing long shifts without a break, under pressure and walking miles to complete orders within set  timescales. This shows how standards can be compromised under commercial pressures at this time of year.

A poll this month of 5,712 UK shoppers by Retail Eyes, a mystery shopping company, found 92% had left an establishment before making a purchase following poor service. This highlights the need to ensure seasonal workers are fully trained and competent.

A common misconception is that seasonal staff don’t warrant the same commitment regarding training and assessment. This can be a huge commercial mistake, both in terms of health and safety and brand reputation. Retailers that understand this will reap the benefits far beyond the festive season.

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