Using seasonal recruitment to deliver parcel industry success

Using seasonal recruitment to deliver parcel industry success

With the parcel industry’s peak season underway, Ian Tranter, Partner and Head of Employment at JMW Solicitors, discusses the issues involved with using temporary staff to boost capacity. Across the retail and delivery industries, the start of November brings with it more than just a changing page on the desktop calendar.

There will be a sense of release – and no little apprehension – that the start of the peak season is now upon them.

Considerable amounts of time, energy and money will have been invested to ensure that they are able to cope with the huge anticipated increase in packages, a surge which one reliable estimate suggests will be 15% higher than the same period in 2013.

The business generated during the final two months is vitally important to how shippers and carriers view their performance over the entire year. Success arguably comes down to four factors: stock, systems, service and staff.

Vendors need the stock to sell and, between themselves and their delivery partners, the systems to meet consumer demand. They need to adhere to high service standards both to protect their reputations by avoiding possible complaints and to generate repeat business.

I firmly believe, though, that the final element of the four is the most crucial of them, all. It’s not just that stores and warehouses need individuals to manage them or that parcels won’t deliver themselves but that if things do go wrong, effective customer service is essential to put things right and that requires additional staff.

It’s why both retailers and the delivery industry recruit so many additional staff to process the workload. Last month, Amazon, Royal Mail and Yodel announced that they were to take on nearly 40,000 temporary personnel between them. Many others traditionally follow their example.

Whilst the extra hands might be interpreted as making light of the massive amounts of extra work, they don’t come without hazards of their own – some of which might last long after their employment is over.

Organisational culture

One of the critical issues is how quickly temporary staff can absorb the culture of the organisations which hire them. Commercial clients of the parcel carriers and consumers are unlikely to excuse poor service on the grounds that the individual guilty of it was not a permanent employee.

The very social and traditional print and broadcast media which now place e-commerce under such scrutiny are also likely to be unforgiving when it comes to commenting on failed deliveries.

Part of the problem is that the normal process of induction extended to ‘permanents’ and the time available for it frequently doesn’t apply. Normally, staff are entitled to receive a statement of their terms of employment setting out their rights and responsibilities within eight weeks of starting work but, in the run-up to Christmas, some of those taken on are often in post for far briefer spells, so receive nothing.

Bosses still need to make sure that those under their management are informed of what they’re meant to be doing, when and – possibly – how. That is not just in relation to the ‘dos’ of the daily job but the ‘don’ts’.

Anyone working on behalf of the delivery firms or the retailers which they serve has a duty to their colleagues and the consumers they’re dealing with. Those responsibilities should be clearly spelled out either in a handbook or contract or both.

Failing to do so is not just an administrative oversight but can be a costly one too, leaving businesses open to the possibility of, for example, being found vicariously liable for staff bullying, harassment or even discrimination.

Even allowing for how busy the post and parcel operators will be in the coming weeks, claiming that there simply wasn’t the time to deal with every single member of the massed ranks of new recruits will cut no ice.

The best time to do it is on their very first day in the job and, given how fraught the peak season can be, it might be the only real opportunity too.

It would be a shame if all the good created by an entire year’s planning was undone by not making some effort in the time available to inculcate seasonal staff into ‘the company way’. The right kind of preparation may make the difference between large scale festive HR activity standing for ‘high risk’ or ‘huge rewards’.

Ian Tranter is Partner and Head of Employment at JMW Solicitors, a law firm based in Manchester, England.

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