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Seasonal employees: How to treat them right and keep them coming back

March 23, 2022 - 14 min read


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What is seasonal employment?

Benefits and drawbacks of seasonal jobs

How to boost belonging in seasonal teams

For many companies, summers and winters bring an influx of seasonal employees. These people are usually hired in industries and positions that experience seasonal fluctuations. When a person’s need to earn extra income matches an employer’s need for extra help, seasonal employment can be a win-win.

For companies that depend on seasonal staff, building a good relationship with new hires is important. It’s worth paying extra attention to the onboarding process. With less time in their roles, employees can’t afford to take six months to get comfortable.

Ensuring that these individuals feel right at home on day one has benefits for the employer, as well. While not everyone will continue on to long careers with the corporation, others may transition into full-time roles. Their experience working with your company — even if only for a few months — may affect whether they continue to use your product and how they talk about you to others. It can also affect whether they refer others to you (whether as customers or employees) or whether they return when you need help again next season.

Investing in a smooth onboarding and offboarding process can boost employee experience and help create a sense of belonging for seasonal workers. To do that, you’ll need to get familiar with how the government defines temporary work and what labor laws apply to them. Here’s a guide on how to make sure your seasonal employees feel valued and supported.

What is seasonal employment?

The “busy season” can vary from industry to industry. For example, retailers often need more hands on deck in the months leading up to the winter holiday season. Attractions, like zoos, aquariums, and water parks generally need more help in the summer.

These employers balance their changing workloads and employment costs by hiring seasonal employees.

Examples of seasonal employees

  • Customer service roles in seasonal industries, like travel, hospitality, and retail
  • Gardeners and landscapers in areas with a cold winter
  • Front-line workers in attractions like water parks or ski resorts

Examples of non-seasonal employees

If your position is temporary or part-time, that doesn’t mean that you’re a seasonal employee — even if you work for a seasonal business. Some examples of non-seasonal work include:

  • Covering for an employee on sick leave, short-term disability, or FMLA
  • Child care and educators, like teachers, daycare workers, and school support staff
  • Interns, teaching assistants, consultants, and apprentices


Seasonal employees versus seasonal workers

Legally, there are some distinctions to be aware of between seasonal employees and seasonal workers. These distinctions are outlined in the Employer Shared Responsibility (ESR) provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Here are some of the differences between the two:


Seasonal employees
Seasonal workers

Customarily employed six months or less

Employed not more than 120 days in a calendar year

Affects whether employee is considered full-time or not

Affects whether company is considered an ALE (applicable large employer) or not

Generally entitled to some benefits and rights

Generally exempt from benefits

Have employee (W2) status

May have independent contractor or consultant status

Seasonal employees and temporary workers generally have specific clauses relating to minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor regulations, and healthcare. They are covered under applicable laws mentioned in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and ACA.

Laws vary by state, country, and industry. Incorrectly classifying your employees or failing to comply with employment laws can result in penalties. If you have any questions about federal and state laws,  we encourage you to speak with an attorney or the Department of Labor.


Benefits and drawbacks of seasonal jobs

Let’s be clear — your workplace isn’t your family, nor should it be. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be part of a supportive community, whether you work there for six months or six years. A seasonal, temporary, or contingent workforce that’s treated with respect can be just as valued and involved as a full-time employee. 

Moreover, as we begin to sharpen our focus on what the future of work looks like, it’s likely that traditional fixed 40-hours for 50-weeks work arrangements will be less prevalent. Non-traditional, hybrid, and flexible work arrangements are taking their place in a side-hustle economy. 

Here are some benefits — and challenges — of seasonal work for both companies and workers:

For employers

1. Wider access to talent

Not everyone wants a full-time job. By offering part-time, seasonal, and flexible work, you open your talent pool to those who may not be able to make a full-time commitment to your company. This may include working parents, teachers, full-time professionals, students, and business owners.

2. Lower employment costs

Seasonal, part-time, and temporary employees generally make less money and don’t have access to health insurance. Because their employment is tied to the busy season (read: higher revenue), this gives organizations a lot of flexibility and control over their hiring costs.

3. Increased morale

Starting a new job is exciting. There’s something refreshing about a change to the routine. And every employee — and employer — is familiar with the end of the honeymoon phase when a new job loses its sparkle. Since the term of seasonal employment is shorter, employees tend to stay in higher spirits. Of course, that means less time to get to know each other or identify potential issues.

4. Constantly looking for talent

With a seasonal team, you have lower year-round costs. But it’s not without it’s downsides. You’re always concerned about having enough employees for the upcoming busy season — and whether the people you hire will live up to your expectations. Constantly searching for new talent adds an element of unpredictability to your staffing that can be exciting — or frustrating.

5. Less risk, but less commitment 

Temporary hires allow you to quickly bring on a large pool of new talent, without the worry of investing lots of time and money into someone who may not work out. However, if you do fall in love with your new team, you may not be able to retain them. On the other hand, if they’re not thrilled with the experience they have at your company, they’ll likely be willing to walk away without a second thought.


For employees

1. Diversify skills and experience

The advice given to many job seekers is that “It’s easier to get a job when you have a job.” Taking a seasonal or temporary role keeps you busy and engaged while you look for a better opportunity. If you’re looking to upskill or get into a new industry, temporary work lets you try your hand at a role without a long-term commitment from either party. These jobs can be valuable resume builders and opportunities for networking.

2. Flexible…unless it’s not

Many temporary employees trade low pay and no benefits for a flexible work schedule. However, this might not be true in all industries. For example, if you work in retail during the holiday season, you may find yourself working overtime, nights, weekends, and through Thanksgiving dinner. 

3. Room for advancement

If an industry or organization is particularly competitive, getting in the door as a seasonal employee could help put you on track for a full-time role later on. Even if you don’t grow within that particular organization, the skills and experience can often translate to other roles.

How to boost belonging in seasonal teams

Because seasonal employees are only with your team for a short period of time every year, they may not feel like “part of the team” in the way that your regular employees do. But temporary workers are still workers, and they’re critical to your business’ success in stressful times. Creating a sense of belonging from their first day can help them do their best work and set them up for success.

Here are some ways to improve connection for seasonal employees:

1. Offer special benefits

Just because they don’t get health insurance doesn’t mean that you can’t offer other, valuable perks. Try subsidizing their commute, offering a higher employee discount, paying for lunch, or offering a bonus after a successful season.

2. Create an amazing experience

Since their employment arc will be short, make every part of it count. Every moment they spend with you — from the hiring process to offboarding —  should be thoughtfully designed. A new hire checklist can help standardize and scale onboarding. Consider providing career coaching to help them grow. Learn how their time with your company fits into their overall career aspirations

For example, McDonald’s knows that a large part of their staff is teenagers and young adults. As such, they’ve designed their employee experience around being America’s best first job

3. Prioritize retention

One of the best ways you can make seasonal employment a win-win is to keep your seasonal employees coming back. Retention lowers your recruiting and training costs while helping to build industry leaders. Creating a great experience and making sure you stay competitive with industry trends helps you keep more of the talent that you foster.

Final thoughts

Seasonal employees are a vital part of what keeps your business functional and profitable. In addition to providing an extra set of hands when you need them the most, they do so with no guarantee of long-term growth within your company.

Like any other employee, your temporary workers want to know that their work is valued and appreciated. Part of creating a world-class experience for them — no matter the number of hours an employee works with you — is to learn the rules and laws that apply to seasonal workers. They may just be with you for a short period of time, but you’ll feel the impact of their work all year long.

This content is made available by BetterUp for educational and inspirational purposes only as well as to provide general information and a general understanding of the covered topics, not to provide specific advice.  By using this website site you understand that there is no direct relationship created between you and BetterUp in regards to the content. This website should not be used as a substitute for competent professional advice.


Published March 23, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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