Facing one of the tightest labor markets in living memory, US retailers and other companies staffing up for the holiday season have had to get creative about finding and attracting the extra workers they need for the seasonal rush. Some retail chains started hiring for the winter holidays all the way back in the early summer, raised entry-level wages for store employees, and offered a variety of bonuses and perks like store discounts.
The retail sector was already feeling pressure to bump up pay, the Star-Tribune reported this week, citing a survey by the hiring platform Snag that found retailers expected wages to rise by 54 percent this year. That’s partly a product of a labor shortage, but also reflects the growth of online shopping:
As more shoppers order online and opt to have items shipped to the store or their front door, retailers’ backroom operations are changing. Mass merchants still need cashiers, salespeople and shelf stockers. But they need more people to package orders for store pickup and to work in warehouses and distribution centers, which increasingly requires more technology skills.
Target is doubling the number of staff it needs to handle digital orders. Macy’s, which is hiring about the same number as last year, will shift its mix and add 5,500 more people for its fulfillment centers. Best Buy says it, too, will bulk up on workers to package up online orders.
Labor market competition, the need to attract and retain more skilled employees, and “HR-as-PR” considerations are all coming to bear on retailers’ decisions to raise pay for their hourly employees. They are also courting hires with new benefits, including intangible benefits like flexibility, Steve Bates notes at SHRM:
The holiday hiring season is already in full swing in the US and the number of seasonal workers hired this year is expected to grow, according to a new forecast from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, citing year-to-year trends and announcements retailers have already made this year:
Last year, seasonal retail employment increased by 668,400 during the final three months of the year, 4.3 percent higher than the 641,000 jobs added in 2016, according to employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). … Last year, BLS data showed that transportation and warehousing employment increased by a non-seasonally adjusted 279,700, up 13.4 percent from the 246,700 workers in the final quarter of 2016 and 6.6 percent higher than the 262,300 workers hired in this sector in the final three months of 2015.
Companies in this sector are averaging 5.2 million workers this year, compared to 4.9 million in 2015 and 4.2 million in 2008, according to non-seasonally adjusted BLS data.
Challenger points to several companies that have announced they will hire as many holiday season employees as last year or more: Macy’s announced this week that it planned to hire 80,000 seasonal workers, as many as it planned to at the start of the 2017 season (it ultimately hired 87,000 last year). FedEx announced plans for 55,000 holiday hires, a 10 percent increase over last year’s number, and said it would also increase hours for some current employees. The big-box retailer Target, meanwhile, said on Thursday that it would hire around 120,000 seasonal workers for the holidays, 20 percent more than last year, while also raising starting pay by $1 per hour, the Star-Tribune reported:
In a sign of just how proactive employers need to be in the current US labor market, Kohl’s announced last week that it was already taking applications for seasonal positions for the coming autumn and winter, CNN Money reported:
Kohl’s is filling jobs at 300 of its 1,100 US stores for the back-to-school and holiday seasons. Additional jobs at stores and fulfillment centers will come open later in the year. It’s the earliest Kohl’s has ever started hiring seasonal workers, said Ryan Festerling, the store’s executive vice president of human resources.
Seasonal hiring has been increasingly competitive in the US over the past few years, with retailers hiring seasonal help earlier and having a hard time finding the numbers of workers they need. These large employers are hiring store staff by the thousands, but also lots of warehouse and fulfillment roles: a sign of the growing impact of e-commerce. Last year, some companies opted for alternative strategies like giving more hours to existing employees or hiring work-from-home customer service representatives, as means mitigating their need for extra on-site staff in the tight market.
Although more than four in ten US employees are planning to take a vacation over the coming holidays, most Americans will remain either fully or partly connected to their jobs during the last week of the year, according to a Gallup survey released on Monday:
This holiday season, 43% of U.S. workers say they plan to take a vacation during the holidays, and of that group, roughly half — or 21% of all workers — will completely disconnect from work. Meanwhile, 22% of workers will be taking a vacation but checking in with work via email or other means. …
U.S. workers are more likely to say they plan to take holiday vacation time than they were when Gallup last asked the question, at the beginning of the millennium. The 43% of U.S. employees who plan to take vacation time this holiday season is up from about a third of workers (34%) in 2000. Even with the increase, a majority of U.S. employees (57%) are not taking vacation time around the holidays.
Even if employees are in the office, the last week of the year is a notoriously slow time for many businesses as so many employees (and clients) are either on vacation, distracted by holiday events, or simply not working very hard. This has prompted some commentators to argue that businesses should simply shut down between Christmas and New Year’s Day rather than endure a guaranteed low-productivity workweek.
In the UK, meanwhile, a survey by Peakon finds that 57 percent of employees are either formally or informally finished working for the year, Sara Bean reports at Workplace Insight:
In response to a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against numerous men in the media and other high-profile industries, Vox Media, which fired its own editorial director last month for sexual harassment, announced to staff last Thursday that it would not have an open bar at its holiday party this year, the Huffington Post reported. By limiting the amount of alcohol available to employees at the party (they will now get two drink tickets instead), the company aims to discourage “unprofessional behavior” and avoid “creating an environment that encourages overconsumption”:
The move keeps in line with an earlier memo that Vox CEO Jim Bankoff sent to staffers on Nov. 3, which listed a number of initiatives aimed at improving Vox’s work culture. Among other efforts, Bankoff wrote that the company would be considering “tighter policies around alcoholic beverages at company events and meetings and generally ensuring work events and interactions meet the highest standard of professionalism.”
Vox Media is by no means the only company considering scaling back on the booze at their holiday event for this reason. The Associated Press’s Marley Jay takes a brief look at what companies are doing and why:
According to a survey by Chicago-based consulting company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, only 49 percent of companies plan to serve alcohol at their holiday events. Last year that number was 62 percent, the highest number in the decade the firm has run its survey. The number had been going up each year as the economy improved. …
Over the next few weeks, countless organizations in the US, Europe, and around the world will hold end-of-year holiday parties for their employees. While some employees are looking forward to the event, SHRM’s Dana Wilkie highlights a new survey from the staffing firm OfficeTeam that finds that only 36 percent of office workers describe their workplace holiday parties as entertaining, while 35 percent say they are no fun. Most describe their company’s events as fairly tame and not particularly extravagant, and only about a quarter of employees feel like attendance at them is obligatory.
Brandi Britton, a district president for OfficeTeam, tells Wilkie that with careful planning, employers can endure that their holiday events feel like rewards rather than obligations to their employees:
Scheduling, for instance, can be a sticking point. For instance, many companies plan parties during weekend evenings in November and December, which can be a busy time for workers who may be shopping, decorating or attending personal holiday events. …
Earlier this month, and just in time for the winter holiday season, Spotify rolled out a new paid leave feature that allows employees to swap their paid public holidays for other important days of their own choosing. The Sweden-headquartered online music, podcast, and video streaming company’s flexible public holidays policy is presented as a way for employees to “take the holidays that matter to them”:
They can choose to work on a day that is a public holiday in the country they work in, and swap it for another work day instead. This means they can be off of work on a day that fits their observations or beliefs better. For example, someone who works in a country where Christmas is a public holiday, can now choose to work on Christmas Day and switch it for a day off on another date that is important for them to celebrate. Yom Kippur? Diwali? International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia? It’s their day, their choice.
Flexible holiday policies like these are rare, however: According to an employer survey from SHRM last year, only 18 percent of employers allow their full-time employees to swap holidays, and only 12 percent let their part-time employees do so. Evren Esen, director of workforce analytics at SHRM, explained at the time that this low adoption rate reflected the fact that this practice is difficult to manage in many business contexts: “If a manufacturing plant is closed on Christmas,” Esen said, “it is impossible to swap Christmas with Ramadan.”