Agility | Navigating the ups and downs of seasonal staffing

Navigating the ups and downs of seasonal staffing

At this time of the year we see organisations struggling to match seasonal demands, just look at the current winter problems in the NHS. Clearly there is more than just the cyclical profile here, but dealing with seasonal work demands is a common problem for many and varied businesses throughout the UK.

Peak periods may see you relying on excessive and voluntary overtime from your permanent staff or the need for external staff. These may bring the associated costs of training and recruitment, whilst spreading your skilled, trusted permanent employees more thinly.

At other times of the year there may be troughs of demand, such as after the festive period for many retail and hospitality organisations. Here businesses may struggle to productively fill working time, may lay people off, or simply stop using non-permanent members of staff.

Delivering a guaranteed service level at peaks meant carrying spares or relying on ‘voluntary’ overtime. This has become less practical with labour shortages, rising costs and the requirement of improved productivity. In recent years an alternative option was to reduce the core workforce and the add hours, when needed, from a group of more flexible, often cheaper, agency workers. To employers it seemed win-win but often led to poor motivation and a “them and us” culture.

If you are using traditional working arrangements in a very seasonal enterprise, it is a matter of the level where you pitch your establishment permanent workforce as to which of these issues is more significant.

More flexible solutions enable organisations to do more with their core workforce through managing them in a more demand responsive way spreading fluctuations in workload across more employees.

The first step on this path is to understand your organisation’s demands for work

Sounds an obvious starting point but often in practice frequently neglected! Organisations muddle through, putting simple rules of thumb in place allowing arbitrary numbers to take holiday without examining detailed requirements.

If historic data is available, can this be translated into a future business demand?

For certain businesses this may be a straight-forward method of forecasting demand for a product and translating it to skill presence demand, and thus shift patterns and employee numbers required.

Services, in general, are direct, they cannot be transported, stored, or pre-made, but for others it may depend very much on the nature of what we are forecasting. For a manufacturing organisation what about stockholding, is this possible or too costly? Can demand be smoothed by building to stock?

Furthermore, has the past data simply followed a pattern constrained by historic shift patterns, changeable productivity levels or other issues?

It’s more than maths, use the working knowledge from the experts – your own staff. So, collaborate with employees, representatives, and unions to engage the correct number of people in any shift pattern taking account of ASH.

Understand reasons or patterns of absence, and whether you can address them, could multiskilling prevent additional hours requirement? Can we plan holiday to fit with workforce requirements and those of the business?

Match short term peaks and troughs through better shift planning

If your analysis has shown that there are different attendance requirements at different times of day or week, then plan for them. It may be that it is possible to increase the hourly rate slightly to offset any employee losses from overtime reduction – employees may work fewer hours whilst improving business productivity.

Matching longer term peaks and troughs through banked hours schemes

This is the crux of what we are discussing. Seasonal flexible working arrangements range from flexitime to annualised hours. They rely on hour banks allowing work to be flexed when needed.

Flexitime often is aimed more towards helping employee flexibility. Annualised requires more planning, but aligns more working hours from your core workforce.

Monitoring equitable hours usage

Whichever form of flexibility is chosen, or even if you stay with overtime and try and spread the burden, then the problems described can be reduced through maintaining a good record of hours worked by each individual. If you can’t match peaks and troughs using only your core workforce, it may still be a useful option to utilise agency or temporary workers. Cognition of all types of hours, normal hours and overtime/banks is essential to ensure that there is a good, equitable balance of hours across employees. Workforce Management Systems ensure that planners are able to examine attendance demand and more fairly utilise employees based on a variety of criteria, e.g. labour grade, attendance information, bank levels or overtime level, whilst making sure that people are in the right place at the right time.

For more information on flexible ways of working, to discuss your strategic shift planning or workforce management requirements, please contact us on [email protected]

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