Seasonal Employee Training—from the Employee’s Perspective

At Training, we receive many tips this time of year about how to hire, recruit, and train seasonal employees. That is valuable information to share with readers, but what about seasonal employment from the employee’s perspective? 

Themuse has a piece by Ashley Fidel on its site about whether an employee should take a seasonal job. The pros and cons it outlines also give employers an idea of where improvements are needed in managing seasonal employees. 

I was thinking myself of becoming a seasonal employee this year, but only if I could do it at one of my favorite stores, Anthropologie. The employee discounts alone, I figured, would be well worth it, but more than that would be the experience. I’ve never worked for a retail store—or any store—before, so I wondered what the training process was like, how rude and cruel shoppers could be, and whether I could patiently smile in response to those brusque, nasty people. I probably won’t be doing it this year because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a seasonal retail position wasn’t something to do for fun, or just for the experience. It doubtless is challenging and often unpleasant. 

The article on themuse notes that retailers too often don’t provide sufficient training. “The training you receive on your first day may be the only training you receive throughout your employment! And without a lot of training, job tasks for seasonal roles tend to be basic and even repetitive,” Fidel writes. “So be realistic with yourself about the day-to-day tasks of your seasonal job, and ask yourself if you can stay positive and motivated throughout your employment.”

That wouldn’t be a good fit for a novice like me, I’m guessing. In addition to knowing where to find most-commonly asked about merchandise, the return policy, and how the clothing should be folded and put back on racks, I would need interpersonal preparation. As a sensitive person, I would want role-playing exercises to mentally prepare myself for difficult shoppers who berate me for something that is not my fault—such as their unhappiness at the price of a sweater they really wanted to buy or the long checkout line. 

Fidel also notes that a seasonal employee’s time becomes largely owned by his or her temporary job. It’s bad enough working nights or weekends for a permanent job with benefits, but how about working every waking moment at a job that you will be done with a month from now? “It’s likely your seasonal job will conflict with holiday parties and your holiday travel plans, so be sure to understand the commitment level expected by your seasonal employer before accepting a job,” Fidel warns. Such a time commitment not only impinges on your personal enjoyment of life, but if you’re unemployed and looking for full-time, permanent employment, it limits your freedom to do so. How do you make time to scroll through job listings and schedule job interviews when you have to be back at the store in a couple of hours?

“Low wages with no benefits” is another downside to seasonal employment, Fidel points out. It’s understandable that a company can’t offer health and paid-time-off benefits to employees who will only be working for the company for four to six weeks, but wages could be improved. A socially responsible company could take into account the lack of benefits and other perks and offer at least slightly higher wages. Another option would be more generous employee discounts and/or employee discounts that extend for a few months past the time of employment.

On the positive side, Fidel writes that seasonal employment can be resume-building: “If you’re straight out of college or struggling to fill your resume, adding a seasonal job is a great way to show additional job experience. Alternatively, if you’re looking to switch industries but have no experience in your new field, adding a seasonal job can help bridge the gap.” 

I long have had a yearning to work for a fashion- or style-related publication, so a seasonal position at a major retailer might give me good insights. I could parlay those insights into style-oriented writing opportunities, or be better equipped to handle questions at style publications about modern trends and the expectations of today’s consumers. 

The experience also would give an introvert like me experience managing challenging face-to-face interactions. My tendency now is to retreat to my workstation, put my noise-cancelling headphones on, and listen to music as I tune out discomforts to focus on my work. Employees in stores, with customers facing them, don’t have that luxury. 

The employee discounts would have been nice, but the growth opportunities might have been the real value. 

Does your company employ seasonal employees? Do you take the employee’s perspective into consideration when developing training? How do you create a fair, positive work environment for seasonal employees that results in great customer service?