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Staffing For Peak Season: What Went Wrong?

Justin Willbanks | 11 February 2020

Now that peak season is over for many operations, it’s becoming clear whether the strategies to handle the spike in volume were sufficient or fell short.  While many companies simply hire temporary labor to cover the additional demand, this relies on the year-round workforce hitting their expected productivity and/or working longer hours.  If your operations hired additional staff over peak season and it was still a struggle to keep up, there could be a few factors that were overlooked in your planning process.

When to Hire Seasonal Staff?

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 several factors, but it primarily depends on how steep the learning curve is for the tasks they will be performing.  It’s also 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 peak season, the problems that can arise from having insufficiently trained associates in a facility at its busiest can far outweigh the costs on the front end.

Factors Influencing Peak Productivity

Another factor to consider is that one full-time associate’s productivity through most of the year may not be achievable during peak periods.  It may seem easier to be more productive with the constant availability of work, but there are additional factors working against that theory.  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.

Adding Value but Hurting Productivity

Another common practice during the holiday peak season 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.

Lessons for Next Peak Season

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.

If your peak season operations didn’t operate as smoothly as you’d like, contact us. Our consulting team has the expertise to make sure next peak season is successful.

Author: Justin Willbanks

Justin Willbanks is a Consulting Engineer within the Consulting division of Bastian Solutions. His primary areas of focus are Labor Management System implementation, Operational Engineering & Distribution Center/Automation Design. He has more than a dozen years of experience in supply chain operations and consulting.


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