Staffing For Peak: What Went Wrong?

Staffing For Peak: What Went Wrong?

By Justin Willbanks

Now that’s it’s the peak season for many operations, it’s becoming clear whether the strategies to handle the spike in volume are sufficient or falling short.  While many of these strategies involve simply hiring temporary labor to cover the additional demand, this method usually relies on the year-round workforce hitting their expected productivity and/or working longer hours.  If you’ve taken steps to hire additional staff and yet it still seems impossible to keep up, there could be a few factors that were overlooked in the planning process.

One common mistake is waiting too late in the year to hire seasonal staff.  The amount of lead time to begin hiring can be based on a number of factors, but it primarily depends on how steep the learning curve is for the tasks they will be performing.  And it’s also a good practice to allow additional training than what a typical new hire would receive in case of the unavailability of quality labor.  While it may seem like a waste of money to hire months in advance of the peak season, the problems that can arise from having insufficiently trained associates in the facility when it’s at its busiest can far outweigh the cost on the front end.

Something else to keep in mind is that what one full time associate may be able to hit from a productivity standpoint most of the year, may not be achievable during peak periods.  Although it may seem easier to be more productive with the constant availability of work, there are additional factors working against that theory.  The first is that full-time workers often act as trainers to the less experienced seasonal workers.  Constantly starting and stopping to answer questions kills momentum and results in lost time getting back on track.

Another common practice this time of year is to offer additional value-added services that associates don’t typically encounter.  Packers might find themselves giftwrapping orders that would normally just go into a single shipping carton.  For many retailers, there could even be multiple items on an order that must be wrapped individually.  For those in the food and beverage world, there is the sudden influx of ornate displays for endcaps and entrances.  The list goes on from promotional inserts to kitting.  And although these cause headaches for the folks on the floor, they’re intended to generate sales and unlikely to go away any time soon.

The first lesson to learn here is that all associates, full time and seasonal, should be properly trained PRIOR to peak season.  This not only provides a more self-sufficient workforce, but also decreases the chance for mistakes and increases the level of safety when the facility is at its busiest.  The second is that estimating labor is not as simple as comparing your average productivity during the year against the forecasted volumes during the holidays.  There are a number of additional factors that need to be taken into account when putting together an accurate staffing model.  Failing to do so results in excess overtime and a more painful peak season overall.