Why “Speed to Hire” Is Vital This Holiday Season—and Next

With the economy blazing to life like a yuletide log, many retailers have put seasonal workers at the top of their holiday wish lists. They’ve turned to incentives and bonuses to attract more help, and it’s not always enough.

Despite higher pay, seasonal hiring has been more difficult for 48 percent of the companies surveyed by the Hay Group. Top U.S. retailers, who collectively employ 1.1 million people, reported less-than-optimal numbers of regular store workers, and are using employee discounts, flexible schedules, and increased hours to make sure they have enough people to handle the holiday rush.

While most in the retail world are racing towards the end of the year full steam ahead—understandable given the importance of holiday sales numbers—some are taking a step back to consider how they can be more nimble in response to recruitment and onboarding demands next holiday season.

In fact, the Hay Group’s retail survey concludes that if this year’s results are a sign of things to come, retailers need to better prepare for another tough holiday hiring environment next year. With economists predicting that 2016 unemployment will continue to decline, the job market will only get tighter.

“When I talk to retailers, many of them tell me that improving their ‘speed to hire’ is key to their continued growth,” says Keith Lohkamp, Workday’s director of industry strategy for retail, healthcare, and hospitality.

“Speed to hire encompasses everything from the rapid recruitment of new candidates to the best way to bring back seasonal workers from previous holiday rushes,” Lohkamp says, adding that in a competitive job market, the longer the time between when a candidate applies and the employer provides an offer, the more likely the candidate will get scooped up by a competitor.

“Because time is of the essence, I tell CHROs that it’s important to automate and streamline the hiring process—from requisition to onboarding—as much as possible,” Lohkamp says. “This automation lets hiring managers focus on deploying their employees intelligently instead of focusing on paperwork.”

Lohkamp explains that with customers expecting new levels of service—like easy in-store fulfillment of online orders—every second spent by a store manager or associate on administrative tasks like reentering data or manual workarounds is time taken away from customer service.

With the competition for seasonal help continuing to build,  retailers that can quickly find and hire the right talent will have an edge. The rest, it seems, will have to be content with a lump of coal in their stockings.