Hiring for the Holidays

It’s the time of year when we start to see retailers bracing for the holiday shopping season. For the heavy hitters in the industry, this usually means hiring seasonal workers. Lots of them.

In the past week, for example, we’ve seen reports that J.C. Penney plans to bring on 40,000 new workers to handle the holiday load this year, while Target Corp. figures to add around 100,000 seasonal employees. Even Toys ’R’ Us, fresh off of filing for bankruptcy, is looking to hire roughly 12,000 part-timers for the holidays. (The toy product retailer also says it will pay weekend rates during peak holiday times and offer additional employee discounts over the 2017 holiday season.)

The biggest retailer of them all, however, is going a different route this year.

As noted by the Washington Post, Walmart’s answer for handling the 2017 holiday crush is to “dole out extra holiday work to its existing employees.”

These extra hours “will help staff traditional roles like cashier and stocker, and newly created positions such as personnel shoppers and pickup associates,” said Judith McKenna, chief operating officer for Walmart U.S., in a statement. “This is what working in retail is all about, and we know our associates have the passion to do even more this year.”

This holiday staffing strategy isn’t altogether new for Walmart. The Bentonville, Ark.-based corporation took a similar approach last year, which was “well-received by employees and customers,” according to the Post.

The new policy will allow employees to work up to 40 hours a week during the holiday season—Walmart considers 34 hours a week to be full-time—and will help address what the Post calls “long-standing complaints” among workers who feel they’re underemployed.

“The struggle to get enough hours has been the No. 1 issue angering associates,” according to Dan Schlademan, a spokesman for OUR Walmart, an employee group founded by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which has attempted to unionize Walmart locations in the past. “We’ve never been able to understand why Walmart continues hiring seasonal workers when there are so many people begging them for more hours.”

That said, questions remain around the new policy, as the Post points out. For example, will employees be forced to take on extra hours? And will they be penalized if they take time off during the holidays?

These kinds of questions aside, labor experts contend this approach makes sense for Walmart, according to the Post.

For example, even if the company ends up having to pay overtime to some of its employees, “it probably will save thousands of dollars” by not having to recruit, hire and train a fleet of temporary workers.

Richard Feinberg, a professor of consumer sciences at Purdue University, tells the Post that Walmart should see the decision to rely on its own veteran workers to get through the holidays pay off in additional ways.

“Experienced employees are … more knowledgeable and effective than new hires,” says Feinberg, “which means [Walmart is] getting greater productivity while also cutting costs.”

Such benefits are no small matter, especially at a time when, as the Post notes, the national unemployment rate is nearing a 16-year low and economists say attracting temporary workers for low-paying jobs is becoming “increasingly difficult.” Given such realities, it will be interesting to see if other leading retailers adopt a similar staffing model in holiday seasons to come.