Open season: hiring and training seasonal staff

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Christmas spirit: How can you ensure seasonal staffing pays off for everyone involved?
Christmas spirit: How can you ensure seasonal staffing pays off for everyone involved?

Related tags: Christmas

As the temperature drops and evenings get darker earlier, pubs are turning their attention to the Christmas period, but what does that mean for staffing?

Despite the need for more staff at this time of the year, this busy period can make things a bit of a baptism of fire for many workers fresh into the trade. But there are measures to ensure seasonal work pays off for all involved. 

Brexit, the word on almost everyone’s lips at the moment, could throw further difficulties into the mix in the future – especially during the festive period when extra staffing is necessary.

An exodus of pub and bar workers could be on the cards come Brexit, according to research by YouGov for software company Planday. The survey of some 400 hospitality employees found more than one in 10 staff members (11%) working in UK venues are thinking of leaving the country.

Concerns are so great that the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) has published advice to help ease employers’ anxieties about future staffing. 

Another fear for publicans looking to recruit has been decreasing numbers of available young people, traditionally the linchpin of the seasonal hospitality workforce. While young people have been the target of campaigns to improve the image of the hospitality sector​ as a longterm career, this image shift could take years to sink in. So, until then, it’s up to pubs to present themselves as good employers​ to those looking for Christmas work.

Get on the front foot

CIPD advises operators nervous about being short on staff during the upcoming busy winter weeks and beyond to “get on the front foot” and make workforce planning a priority.

It is imperative operators do not just watch and wait, the association urges. Leaders in the trade will be better off taking precautionary steps early on.

Before putting any measures into action, operators should ask themselves if any staffing shortages are the result of not being able to attract applicants for the roles or whether there are high absence levels among permanent staff, says ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation & Arbitration Service).

Once the reasons behind staff shortages have been assessed, ACAS advises operators to liaise with recruitment agencies, pointing out that the stress of hiring new team members doesn’t have to be faced alone. 

Recruitment & Employment Confederation senior policy adviser Phillip Campbell says publicans struggling to hire staff this Christmas, or at any time of the year, should look to partner with a recruitment agency as their first port of call. Look for an agency that knows the market, he adds.

An extension of your own business

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One recruitment agency specialising in connecting licensed businesses with staff is Berkeley Scott. A representative for the firm advises: “Viewing an agency as an extension of your own business means that you can build a strong relationship with a recruiter that will understand your company’s needs and values inside and out. 

“Therefore, cutting the cycle of company advertising and role briefing, your partnered consultancy can continue to provide you with the right individuals from their pool of candidates as and when required.”

ACAS, which provides free and confidential advice over employment matters, also recommends using agency workers above direct recruitment in situations requiring fast recruitment – such as for seasonal staff. “A pub should make clear to an agency the skills and experience they require,” a representative for the organisation adds.

Pubs do not directly employ or pay agency workers, but they are still responsible for their health and safety. Giving new staff a proper induction to their role should include making them aware of any potential hazards, even if they have worked in the trade before. 

Adherence to the Agency Workers Regulations, which were implemented in 2011, is crucial. The regulations give agency workers clear rights, active from day one of their employment. 

All agency workers should be able to access the same facilities as permanent staff, including parking and canteens. They have the right to know about job vacancies at the company, so that they have an equal opportunity to apply for a permanent position. After 12 weeks, agency workers qualify for the same rights as directly employed staff, including automatic pension enrolment and paid annual leave.

In addition, many temporary staff satisfy the statutory definition of ‘worker’ within legislation designed to protect ‘workers’ generally.

The sole responsibility for any breach of these rights and, thus, the full liability, rests with the employer, the guidance states. Meanwhile, for those looking to hire staff directly, experts advise you stand out against others by championing good employment practices in advertising. The CIPD recommends conducting an employee value proposition (EVP) exercise to strengthen “the congruence of brand image, identity and reality”.

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“Efforts could be directed towards enhancing your employer brand and recruitment processes to improve the odds of securing a better proportion of available skills,” CIPD adds.

Consider a digital recruitment strategy, too, which may be key to success and survival. Social media is a relatively inexpensive method of promoting Christmas vacancies and an efficient way to get the word of job availability out in the market. Businesses can use local Facebook groups as well as more traditional forms of promoting vacancies.

Despite the many things it has going for it, social media should not solely be relied on to fill roles. ACAS recommends using a range of outlets to publicise positions, including social media, local newspapers, Jobcentre Plus or colleges and universities.

Pubs should consider how they can sell themselves as employers, even if it is just going to be for Christmas. The market is extremely candidate-driven, with a record high employment rate, Campbell says.

“Pay is important, of course, but publicans also need to think about what else they can do to attract candidates,” explains Campbell. “Can they structure hours to suit the needs of bar staff? Can they offer flexible working options and what will the working conditions be like? What other perks are on offer? These are some of the things that can persuade a bar person to choose to work for them.”

It’s a similar line from recruitment agency Berkeley Scott, whose representative says temporary workers often feel excluded in temporary roles because the focus is on full-time staff’s wellbeing​. “While casual workers may come and go, the key to retaining a bank of casual staff is to make them feel welcome and encouraged to return,” the agency says.

Making workers feel valued

Providing appropriate training to seasonal staff will make workers valued, the agency adds. Christmas staff will be expected to deal with all manner of hectic scenarios​, from a bustling bar to large groups who outstay their welcome, and they need to be prepared to deal with any chaos. 

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“If you make sure your staff feel confident and competent in their role, this sense of value can help create loyalty towards your business, while providing a better service to your customers,” Berkeley Scott recommends.

Regarding pay, the agency’s research shows that a good place to work is worth an extra 25% on the hourly rate. A spokesperson explains: “With the transient nature of the workforce in casual pub roles, it is easy to switch from business to business with the temptation of a few pence in hourly rates. This means that in order to be sure other businesses are not poaching your employees, you should be wary of the remuneration they are receiving for their labour.”

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to hiring seasonal staff – or any staff for that matter. However, there are key basics and steps any employer can take to ensure their businesses are front of the queue for the best seasonal staff on offer.

Related topics: Legislation, Training

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