Food for Thought - Employee engagement seasonal workers


23 September 2019

In the autumn 2018 edition of Food for Thought we discussed the increasing demand from UK employers for temporary seasonal labour, which is predicted to reach 95,000 by 2021.

Given this trend in the face of a potential slump in supply of seasonal workers, it is increasingly important to engage and motivate those workers you have whilst they are in your organisation. In this edition of Food for Thought, we consider how employers can meaningfully strive to engage with seasonal, temporary workers when the dialogue surrounding the issue of employee engagement is heavily geared towards permanent staff.

Benefits of engaged employees

An extensive report was released by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills nearly a decade ago which identified some clear positive commercial benefits of an engaged workforce, including:

  • improved employee performance and output 
  • improved employee innovation
  • reduction in sickness absence
  • an improved understanding of the individual business needs
  • a reduction in staff turnover.

However, a report published by Deloitte in 2018 shows that employers continue to struggle with the concept of employee engagement, with the report highlighting that, in the UK, “many workers lack enthusiasm for their roles, with 32 per cent of UK respondents saying they are not stimulated by what they do, additionally 36 per cent say what they do is not meaningful”.

Why attempt to engage temporary workers?

Given that there is such difficulty within big corporates to achieve an engaged workforce, even amongst permanent career-driven employees, it is perfectly reasonable to question why you would even want to begin to approach this issue in a work environment such as food and drink production, where you are attempting to engage a largely transient workforce in seasonal roles.

However, given that research suggests that there will be fewer temporary employees in the marketplace in the near-future, this challenge becomes a more fundamental concern. By leaving a lasting, positive impression on temporary employees it has been argued that they are more likely to consider approaching you in the following seasons for temporary work.

How can you engage temporary workers?

The studies and research carried out into this issue, such as those identified earlier, largely focus on permanent employees (albeit cross-sector). However, there are some opinions which suggest temporary employees can be engaged and motivated in various ways.

Set goals

Ensure that your temporary employees have a clear focus on what it is they are responsible for within your organisation so that they can take ownership of it, and provide suitably demanding but realistic targets to work towards. You do not want to set unrealistic targets which are likely to have the reverse effect and actually demotivate staff. Be sure to speak to individuals to congratulate them on their work ethic if they are routinely meeting the goals you set them so that they do not simply feel like another ‘cog in the wheel’.

Offer financial incentives for exemplary work

If an employee’s output and/or goals are easily quantifiable (e.g. to have achieved a specific target within an hour or day) then you could look to make small additional payments to employees if your margins can accommodate this. If employees have an hourly target, you could look to increase their hourly rate by a small amount for each hour they meet their target. Alternatively you could assess this on a weekly basis and provide a lump-sum cash incentive for employees who have consistently met their target over the week. Note that any incentive needs to be properly documented and clearly structured, either in the employment contract or a side letter, to avoid any dispute at a later date.

Stagger training

Rather than front-loading an employee’s training all at the beginning of the season, it has been suggested that employees feel more motivated if you split their training into digestible portions. Keep it as simple as possible for the job in hand. It is easier to retain information which is specific and focused. As an employee progresses, any additional training can be layered up in small future sessions which are directly relevant to the work they are carrying out.

Provide clear job expectations

Ensure that all of your temporary employees know their importance in your organisation and what it is that they are expected to deliver so that they can work efficiently and with purpose – make them feel as though they belong. An employee’s accountability over work and belonging to an organisation increases the likelihood that targets and business goals will be met. If there are opportunities for re-employment in future seasons, explain this to them so that they are motivated to leave a lasting impression.

This article is from the autumn 2019 issue of Food for Thought, our newsletter for those working within the food and drink industries. The content of this article is for general information only. For further information please contact Sam Greenhalgh or a member of Birketts' Employment team. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at autumn 2019.