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5 Tips to Ace the Busy Holiday Season With Flexible Work

To get the most out of holiday workers, set up shifts with their preferences in mind. Here's how.

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The holiday season is usually a time when businesses bring in part-time and temporary workers to cope with a surge in demand from consumers. Gifts change hands, families and friends go out to celebrate, and the economy hums.

But this time may be different. There's growing uncertainty among retail analysts about spending this fall and a huge number of part-time workers have left the labor force. As a result, more businesses may be looking for flexible workers via online marketplaces.

Flexible work brings aspects of the "just-in-time" supply chain to the labor market. Businesses book shifts online when they need workers, sometimes just hours before the shifts start. They access huge networks — we have more than 3 million workers in ours at Instawork — to ensure shifts are filled quickly. Yet workers obviously can't be treated like boxes of parts or raw materials. They're people, and their success depends in large part on their working environment.

Related: 5 Strategies for Hiring Seasonal Employees

Pay matters, especially during the holidays

Of course, before a worker walks through the door, something has to attract them to the shift. It's usually a combination of pay and convenience, with extra credit for a particularly exciting opportunity. In research published as part of our recent State of the Flexible Workforce report, we've found that pay really does affect the likelihood of filling shifts. When shifts pay $14 an hour or less on our platform, they fill in an average of about 12 hours. By contrast, shifts that pay $20 or more fill in eight hours, on average.

Not surprisingly, shifts that take place on nights, weekends and holidays often require a premium to bring in high-quality workers, compared to shifts that start on weekday mornings. For businesses planning payrolls for the festive season, the premiums for holidays are not much different from those affecting weekends. The premiums do differ by industry and role, though. Flexible workers in hospitality demand a smaller premium to work weekend nights than weekday nights, likely because tips are higher on weekends. The reverse is true for workers in goods-producing industries and the logistical roles that support them.

We also know that flexible workers are sensitive to commuting time and distance. When gas prices were at their peak, we found that workers would no longer travel the same distance for the same pay. With commuting distances commonly between 10 and 20 miles each way, they had to be compensated more to make the trip. Businesses with facilities well outside of the population centers where workers live may have to pay even more to bring in quality help.

The exceptions to these rules are shifts at sports and entertainment venues or other exclusive events, where flexible workers may catch glimpses of a spectacle or brush shoulders with celebrities. But these shifts are usually one-offs. For more general staffing needs, there are many other non-monetary factors that attract flexible workers.

Related: 4 Ways to Keep Seasonal Employees Engaged

Doing it right

Here are some top tips from our team and from our business partners to help you use flexible work successfully this holiday season.

  • Book shifts a week in advance if possible. This will ensure the best workers have time to see your shifts and sign up for them. You'll also have time to adjust your pay rate if you're having trouble filling the shifts.
  • Don't book extra shifts that you may have to cancel later on. Workers hate having shifts cancelled, since they're counting on the income. If you cancel often, it may be harder to attract workers in the future.
  • Specify exactly what a shift will entail. If you require specific attire, abilities, or experience for a shift, let workers know up front. A detailed job description can go a long way, so make sure that the role you book is the role you need.
  • Look for ways to ensure quality. Just paying more doesn't always lead to higher quality, since all workers like higher pay. At Instawork, our most reliable workers are called Top Pros, and business partners can choose to work only with them for a slightly higher rate.
  • Show commitment to your workers. Using long-term assignments and adding workers to a roster that can book your shifts exclusively can create a stronger relationship with flexible workers. It builds reliability and loyalty, and it also gives you more return on any training you might offer.

Related: Unionizing Isn't the Only Way to Restore Workers' Bargaining Power

Feedback points to better outcomes

We surveyed a sample of our flexible workers in April to find the factors most associated with positive experiences. Among the highest-rated shifts, the most commonly cited factors were co-workers and other staff (40% or more across all industries) and the working atmosphere (20% or more across all industries). Friendly supervisors and helpful team members were at the top of the list, as were clean, well-lit, temperature-controlled environments with a busy and efficient vibe. Other important factors were the ease and pace of work, as well as the convenience of the location — parking, transport links, etc.

By sharing this feedback with businesses — and with the other flexible workers in our network — we create a virtuous circle of improving conditions in the workplace. Small investments by businesses, like clear signage inside and outside the location, pre-shift videos showing entry and clock-in procedures and places to store valuables, can go a long way to make flexible workers feel welcomed and appreciated. By saving time and reducing stress, businesses make sure that their staffing dollars yield the highest possible productivity.

Flexible workers deserve all of this care and attention because they're among the elite in their occupations. Our report reveals that flexible workers are more diverse and better educated than the overall pool of hourly workers. They enjoy being their own bosses and setting their schedules, and they have an entrepreneurial bent that's focused on building networks and picking up new skills. For all of these reasons, they can play a critical part in staffing — especially at the most challenging, and wonderful, time of the year.

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