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Fall 2014 Holiday Help

Your holiday employees are the backbone of your business. Here’s how to find and retain stellar staff.

Consider what it takes to hire someone: the time and expense to find and train an employee; the tax and accounting issues; and the legal do’s and don’ts you have to navigate. No wonder business owners are intimidated by it all.

But good employees are among your best assets. They can make your business succeed in ways you could never achieve on your own. First, you have to decide how many employees you need. Do you need part-time help year round, or just for the holidays? Do you need a full-time employee who can take on managerial duties? Or do you need several part-timers to give you greater “coverage” and scheduling flexibility?

Holiday help

Specialty retailers put in especially long hours during the holiday season. Malls usually have extended hours, sometimes staying open past midnight during November and December, when shoppers come out in droves. Because the Christmas crunch can be a make-or-break proposition, most owners are on-site from opening to well after closing. But you can’t do it all, all day and all night. Even if you already have employees by the time the holiday buying season rolls around, it is wise to gauge your staffing needs throughout the holiday season.

Here are some simple steps to follow to hire the right staff now and in the future.

Seasonal employees 

It is daunting to find capable, dependable employees to work for just 8 to 12 weeks straight. But it’s by no means impossible.  Where do you find them? Special-interest groups (hobby clubs, collectors’ associations, etc.) can be a good resource; so can church groups. Students are a good bet, so get the word out through students and teachers you know, or through campus channels. Also ask family, friends, and neighbors to scout for you. And don’t forget to ask your best customers—they might love to have some part-time work, especially if they like your products (and you!), and you give them an employee discount while they’re employed.

The right fit

When you evaluate resumes, read beyond the facts to see what you can about the applicant’s attitude and character. Also notice if applicant’s merely list their previous job duties, or if they explain what they learned, how they met challenges, and what they achieved. Granted, they don’t have room for too many details, but good candidates find a way to make their enthusiasm, creativity and growth potential come through.

Once you start interviewing, keep your job description and skills list handy so you can stay focused on your needs. Interviewing can be tricky. You’re trying to read between the lines.  But again, as a general rule, keep interviews relaxed and friendly, ask questions that get applicants to reveal their true selves, and pay as much attention to what they’re not saying.

Hiring by the rules 

A number of federal and state laws govern hiring practices, and many are enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Private employers (vs. public ones, such as government agencies) who have 15 or more employees are bound by EEOC guidelines. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore them just because you have fewer than 15.  Keeping within EEOC guidelines is strongly recommended, no matter how many employees you have.

Do you have to memorize pages and pages of law and regulations? No. In a nutshell, here’s the golden rule of hiring: All of your decision-making criteria must be job-related. So if you ask questions that don’t pertain specifically to job performance, you could find yourself in trouble. Why?  Because anything that’s outside of doing the job as you’ve already described it in writing is legally “none of your business.” (Here’s an example of a classic no-no: “Are you planning to start a family?”)  You might be surprised at how easy it is to make innocent but potentially costly mistakes, especially during the interview process. If you’re not sure
if a question is job-related, play it safe and don’t ask.

Retaining good employees

Like every other employer—especially retailers— you may be worried about keeping good employees, especially part-timers, who are more likely to come and go than full-time employees are.  And like many other retailers, you’ll probably pay hourly wages without benefits, which does little to encourage stability.

But studies show that employees, even those in non-career jobs, routinely say there are many aspects of the work environment that are as important as pay—and sometimes even more important.

Reward good behavior. If an employee handles a difficult situation well, or you notice that they’re on a first-name basis with repeat customers, let them know how much you appreciate it, and why. It’s also a great idea to thank your employees at the end of the holiday rush. Any time you see an employee showing initiative, whether they straighten up the cleaning supplies or learn the latest sales techniques, rewarding them will do wonders to reinforce their behavior.

Create a good environment. As a small-business owner, you may have a great advantage over larger companies in creating the kind of “team-building” environment that keeps good employees. It’s also easier for you to be flexible, which may be worth much more to good workers than just wages.

Create opportunity. In a large company, employees tend to become increasingly specialized: their jobs are often quite narrow.  But small-business owners can provide their employees with the chance to learn all the facets of running a business. After all, as a small-business owner, you do just about everything to some degree. That means you can give employees an invaluable learning and growth opportunity, extending if not their job duties, at least their knowledge and experience. Again, if they feel they’re a more integral part of your company, they’re much more likely
to stay.

Encourage input and initiative. When you acknowledge employees for their contributions, and you put their ideas into action, you let them know that they’re making a difference. By empowering employees to deal with situations that call for strategy and judgment, you show you trust them with your business, and you build their confidence. (And if you can’t trust an employee’s judgment, it’s time for more training—or a replacement.)

Remember, you set an example every time you come to work. If you’re respectful and courteous, creative and fun, hardworking and committed, they’ll follow your lead.

And that’s exactly the kind of employee you want.

Patricia Norins

Norins is the founder and publisher of two national trade magazines and two trade shows. Specialty Retail Report, the voice of the specialty retail industry (carts, kiosks and temporary in-line stores) has a readership of more than 75,000 and GIFT SHOP, the magazine for independent gift shop owners, has a readership of more than 60,000. She also serves as consultant to small independent retailers across the country.

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