Retailers face some stiff competition when it comes to recruiting staff for the holidays. Just look at two of the biggest national retailers: This year, Macy's announced it was hiring 80,000 holiday seasonal associates. Kohl's announced it was hiring upwards of 90,000.
To attract part-time workers, some offer perks like $1 more per hour, discounts up to 25 percent, even profit-sharing incentives. And yet according to a recent Wall Street Journal report, most are still scrambling to find qualified seasonal staff.
What if, rather than competing with the other stores, retailers flipped the script? What if they worked together to staff up for the holiday season?
Why Collaborative Hiring Could Work
Just recently I stumbled upon the term "collaborative hiring," and I was intrigued. As it turns out, many retailers and shopping malls are doing just that--brokering formal or informal partnerships with each other to create better hours, stability, and flexibility for employees.
The collaborative approach makes a lot of sense, particularly because today's part-time "gig" worker has such a different mentality than in years past. For one, they're much more discerning. With so many options for part-time work, basic perks are now table stakes. As we've learned in article after article, what part-time employees really want is an easy-to-manage schedule and guaranteed hours on their terms. Today's gig worker is also running their "slash career" like a business, and every business comes with admin headaches (i.e., texting co-workers to switch shifts, juggling multiple job schedules). Retailers that promise to reduce these headaches will win.
Forge, a workforce tech platform, is one tech company that is bullish on the collaboration model. Stacey Ferreira, the founder and CEO, told me she founded the company in 2016 to solve headaches on both sides of the employment equation. Retailers struggling to attract or retain talent can use the platform to share, schedule, and manage part-time employees with like-minded stores; and employees can more easily manage multiple part-time jobs in one place.
For many part-time employees, it's an easier way to design a work schedule that guarantees the number of hours they want to work each week. After all, as labor costs continue to increase, many retailers have opted to cap hours to get around providing benefits. But, as Ferreira said, capping hours "leaves the worker in a hard spot and causes turnover." Forge solves this problem.
"We hear employees end up sticking around much longer because they're getting all the hours they want or need each week," said Ferreira.
I also learned some retailers have brokered similar workforce collaborations the old-fashioned way--with a smile and a handshake. Consider Spirit Halloween, the world's largest Halloween retailer. Every fall, the company hires 25,000 part-time staffers to work in its 1,325 stores across North America. But when Halloween comes to an end, the company has a novel way to support employees year-round. They recommend top employees to two companies who always launch a springtime hiring spree ahead of tax season: H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt.
As Spirit Halloween President and CEO Steven Silverstein told me, the collaborative workforce model can work for companies in vastly different industries and seasonal calendars, and is a great way to inspire part-time employee loyalty year-round.
"We pride ourselves in the high number of part-time workers that return to our stores every Halloween," said Silverstein. "Brokering informal partnerships with retailers that hire in our 'off' season--and knowing they'll do the same for us--is just one way we've learned to hold onto great part-time employees."
Scheduling Stability Is Key
Fluctuating seasonal talent needs can make for unstable schedules that shift from week to week. Employers are turning to new technologies to help them ease problems associated with erratic schedules, while helping employers navigate last-minute time-off requests and limit no-shows.
When The Gap last year tried out the Shift Messenger app, allowing workers to post shifts they did not want, the company found that 62 percent of part-time hourly workers posted or took a shift. Retailers and employers in other fields such as nursing are using apps including ZoomShift and Shyft to improve employee accountability and attendance, reduce talent turnover and in general make work easier for employees and management.
Because collaborative workforce and scheduling tools assuage scheduling headaches for employees, retailers and other employers using them have reported fewer no-shows. When a store is slammed with customers during an important selling season, there's nothing worse for employers or workers than not enough hands on deck.
The hiring environment for retailers may be uncertain, but those willing to incorporate collaboration-based technology or broker informal partnerships with other retailers, could find maneuvering in the new gig economy just a bit more manageable.