Why Will Holiday Hiring Be Tough This Year?

With fewer seasonal jobs predicted, filling them should not be hard. But it likely will be.

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Sep 28, 2023

It’s holiday hiring season, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers will add only about 410,000 jobs this holiday season. That’s not much higher than the 324,900 workers added during the holidays in 2008 when there was a recession.

What’s more, this year’s projected number is lower than in 2022, when 519,300 jobs were added — which itself was a 26% decline from 2021.

The currently anticipated low number is attributed to increased labor costs and lacking consumer confidence. “We have never gone this far into September and not had big hiring predictions from retailers,” Andrew Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in a Reuters story. “It’s really surprising.”

Then again, just days after the BLS prediction, Amazon announced that it will hire 250,000 people for the holiday season.

Then, too, retailers aren’t the only ones who hire. For instance, UPS hasn’t announced its hiring targets, but it has job fairs scheduled and will undoubtedly have a large temporary staff.

All of which seems to imply that with lower hiring rates for holiday jobs, recruiting should be easy this year. Except it won’t be.

Hiring Is Still Hard

Yvette Wallace, HR generalist at Pardini’s Catering & Concessions, hires a considerable number of people for holiday parties. Wallace finds challenges other than competition to be the main roadblocks for her company.

For example, after Pardini’s implemented background checks, the business suffered a drop-off in eligible candidates. “We lost about 10% of our candidates because they never authorized the check in the first place,” Wallace explains.

Additionally, she’s found many people want a given job — but only for a minimal number of hours each week so as not to lose their benefits. As frustrating as this is for employers, it makes perfect sense for job seekers. Why would you want to give up guaranteed income for a temporary job?

Meanwhile, the US Chamber of Commerce reports that hiring will be challenging in certain industries not because there aren’t enough job seekers but because there aren’t enough job seekers with the right skills. It explained in July:

“[D]urable goods manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and education and health services have a labor shortage — these industries have more unfilled job openings than unemployed workers with experience in their respective industry. Even if every unemployed person with experience in the durable goods manufacturing industry were employed, the industry would fill only around 75% of the vacant jobs.”:

Wholesales and retail need more employees during the holiday season, and finding experienced workers even for the lower-than-average number of positions will be difficult. While there are over 600,000 people looking for retail jobs as of August, compared with the expected 410,000 holiday vacancies, it doesn’t mean that all those people will be willing to work temporarily or are matched geographically.

So while there may be less competition for candidates, that doesn’t mean no competition for candidates.

Then there’s the issue of pay. Amazon reportedly offers over $20 an hour for their temporary employees, and UPS had a record-setting contract this summer for their regular employees. But retail sales staff wages average $15 an hour, according to And entry-level hospitality jobs are even lower at around $14 an hour.

What Employers Get Wrong About Holiday Employees

Struggling to find people isn’t just about the wages, though. It’s about the temporary nature of the jobs. With so many entry-level positions available, why would candidates who needed a regular job take a temporary job?

Writing in Harvard Business Review, Joseph Fuller, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, and Manjari Raman, program director and a senior researcher for the school’s  U.S. Competitiveness Project, point out the mistakes that companies make with retail positions.

  • They don’t realize that low-wage workers want to stay with them.
  • They underestimate the importance of location and stability.
  • They underestimate workers’ goodwill.
  • They leave workers to initiate career discussions.
  • They disregard low-wage workers’ strategic importance.
  • They fail workers on the three things that matter the most: mentorship, career pathways, and guidance on learning and development.

With these things in mind, holiday hirers can consider the impact of how they treat workers, including their current regular staff, as a solution for recruiting and retaining season employees. Candidates will have options this year — even with lower overall open reqs — and working to become an employer of choice can make a positive difference.

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