How to hire for a slower holiday season

Experts predict a quieter holiday spending season this year. Here are four ways to adjust your seasonal hiring.

The holidays are fast approaching. Sales are predicted to increase just 4% to 6% during this year’s holiday season, versus 15% last year, according to projections from Deloitte. In response, some companies are already announcing that they’re hiring fewer seasonal workers: Walmart is hiring 40,000 temporary workers this year, down from 150,000 last year. Macy’s will hire 41,000, compared to 76,000 last year.

Even so, a slower holiday season is still a bump up from the rest of the year. If you’re a business that hires for the season, here are strategies for handling seasonal hiring when spending may be lower than usual.

Hire Internally First

If you’ll need to fill additional shifts, consider whether you can offer them to your current employees.

“They may want to pick up extra shifts to earn more for the holidays,” says Marina Vaamonde, owner and founder of online house marketplace HouseCashin. “If you’ve got enough people to cover the expected increase in workload, you might not have to look outside, or you would need to hire fewer temporary workers than normal.”

This may require training your staff on the art of the “holiday hustle,” says Eric Elggren, co-founder of leather accessories company Andar. “Upselling, moving quickly, and managing multiple customers at once are skills that all holiday retail workers need to have. If you have a staff that’s honed these skills, you may not need to hire, train, and pay many more workers for the holidays.”

Skew Toward More Flexible Positions

When you’re not sure what your needs will be — but you anticipate them being lighter than usual — you need the ability to be light on your feet. Hiring part-time or temporary workers can give you the freedom to move workers around as needed.

“This will give you the flexibility to adjust your staffing levels based on changes in customer traffic,” says Arno Markus, founder of iCareerSolutions. If demand is higher than expected, you can increase hours for the part-time workers that want them.

This also gives you the opportunity to offer flexible work in an economy where “flexible” is what workers want. Ninety-four percent of workers want flexible hours, according to a survey from Future Forum, a consortium on the future of work.

Hire Strategically

When hiring for an uncertain spending season, you may need to have a few tricks up your sleeve. For instance, consider hiring seasonal workers who can contribute in multiple ways.

“It may make sense to hire someone who has more experience in other areas of the company so that they can take on those extra responsibilities when needed,” says Kimberley Tyler-Smith of Resume Worded.

If you’re hiring fewer workers, it’s also imperative that you screen candidates carefully and make sure you hire well. “In a slower economy, there will be more people vying for seasonal jobs, so it’s important to be selective in order to find the best possible employees,” says Phi Dange, director of home service company Sidepost.

Don’t Skimp Too Much

Even with a predicted slowdown in seasonal spending, dropping your hiring too low can backfire when you don’t have the help you need. Target recently announced that it will hire 100,000 seasonal workers this year — exactly what the major retailer hired last year.

“The holiday season is more about the experience and emotions attached to it, and seasonal team members are an important part of this and are also important to ensure businesses deliver customer needs,” says Adrienne Couch, human resources analyst with business site

Has Seasonal Hiring Been Adequate?

Consider, too, whether your seasonal hiring has been adequate in the past. “I’ve yet to find a retail store that needs to hire seasonal help [manage to] hire an adequate amount of them, leaving even the seasonal helpers overworked and regular employees downright drowning,” says Dragos Badea, CEO of hybrid workforce management company Yarooms. “Regular hiring patterns against slower demand might be a good thing in the long run, as you’ll experience a good deal fewer holiday attrition-style quittings at the peak of the season.”