Is the Fiscal Cliff Deterring Seasonal Hiring?

Despite concerns of decreases in consumer spending as the country heads toward a possible fiscal cliff at the end of the year, U.S. retailers are staffing stores with more seasonal employees than last year.

“Two-thirds of the economy is based on consumer spending, and that consumer has been under duress for the last several years,” said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm. “Consumer spending has been meager the past few years, and that has only exacerbated concerns if the economy were to go into recession as a result of the fiscal cliff.”

Challenger estimates seasonal hires will increase 6 percent nationwide from last year to just more than 700,000 workers this holiday season. He attributes the increase to marginal improvements to the economy and lower unemployment rates during the past 12 months.

Children’s retailer Toys R Us announced at the end of September that it plans to hire 45,000 seasonal employees this year, a 12.5 percent increase from its seasonal workforce last year. Many of the additional hires will help beef up the company’s Buy Online, Pick Up in Store program, according to company spokesperson Alyssa Peera.

Preparations and strategies for holiday hires start as early as April and need to be finalized by August, said Matthew Lavery, director of talent acquisition at UPS. The global package delivery company utilizes a variety of hiring channels to attract seasonal employees.

“We kind of shake all trees,” Lavery said. UPS uses search engine marketing, search engine optimization, traditional job boards and job board aggregators as well as outreach to universities, especially schools that let students out for winter break early in the holiday season. UPS conducts on-site recruitment at these universities early in the semester, so student seasonal hires will be ready to start from the moment they return home.

During the planning process, Lavery said UPS evaluates “pinch points” from previous years and makes additional outreach in those communities, such as advertisements in community newspapers, and local radio and television. Even with months of planning, companies such as UPS need to remain agile and ready to adjust plans in the lead up to the traditional holiday season, which runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

“On a daily basis, we’re assessing the number of applications coming in and see if it’s meeting our projected need,” Lavery said. “Then, we make adjustments throughout the peak season.”

In addition to attracting a large seasonal workforce, companies such as UPS also have to consider how these seasonal employees will be trained. Seasonal employees at UPS receive the same training as full-time employees in the same positions.

“The biggest challenge we have is making sure we have enough management people and other folks to train the new hires we have coming in,” Lavery said.

Success year after year in seasonal hires requires much coordination and planning to make sure resources don’t get stretched to their limits. At UPS and Toys R Us, between 10 and 15 percent of the seasonal workforce returns the following year.

Jeffrey Cattel is an editorial intern at Talent Management magazine. He can be reached at