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What is Seasonal Employment?

Natasha Serafimovska

Career Coach, Professional Resume Writer, Freelance Writer


Depending on where you are in your career, you might have first-hand experience with seasonal employment. Seasonal employment can be a great way to expand your skill set and earn extra cash while helping businesses meet seasonal increases in demand.

Some industries, like retail and hospitality are well-suited for seasonal employment. Others, such as construction and manufacturing, may opt for more temporary work. So, here we’ll give a little insight into distinguishing what is a seasonal job vs. what is seasonal employment. We’ll also discuss the pros and cons of both.

What is Seasonal Employment? 

Seasonal employment is when businesses increase hiring during peak business activity. For example, retail stores, like Banana Republic, hire extra staff during Christmas. These employees will only work for a short, specified amount of time.

More specifically, the Employer Mandate regulations under the Affordable Care Act state that seasonal employees work for a business for six months or less in a given tax year. Regardless of whether they are part-time or full time (working 30 hours or more per week), seasonal employees are not entitled to healthcare insurance and other benefits. 

Seasonal Employment vs. Seasonal Work

First, you have seasonal employment, which tends to recur at the same time of year every year. As mentioned previously, it can last for up to six months. On the other hand, seasonal work can occur at any point in the year based on the business’s needs. This can last for up to four months or 120 days.

Seasonal work is a great option for businesses who either don’t have the need or financial capacity for full time staff. Examples include construction workers who are hired for a few months on a building site or a business who needs a contractor for a one-off project.

Industries Where Seasonal Work is Pretty Common 

Season work is more common in some industries than others. Retail and hospitality see a big uptick in seasonal work during winter, when people are shopping for the holidays. In the summer, hospitality and construction have their busiest months, as people go on summer holidays and builders want to make the most of the good weather. 

That said, if you are creative, you can find seasonal work in other industries as well. For example, many small businesses may not have the budget to hire a full-time accountant but might need one at the end of the financial year. Or, you can look at adjacent services that see an uptick in activities during these periods, like getting a job as a chef at a restaurant or helping a hotel with their admin and operations.

How Does Seasonal Employment Benefit a Company?

Seasonal employment offers many benefits for businesses. The first and very obvious one is that they don’t have to keep employees on payroll for the full year, thus saving hundreds of thousands in unnecessary expenses. 

Likewise, seasonal employees don’t enjoy pension and healthcare contributions, which in most cases, employers have to pay for full-time staff. That said, if an employer has an average of 50+ full-time employees in a given year, then he/she is considered an Applicable Large Employer. In that case, the company has to offer minimum healthcare coverage to at least 95% of their full-time employees. This includes seasonal employees as well.

Finally, seasonal employment is a great way to discover talent without making a large financial commitment upfront. Businesses can use the busy periods to see the working habits of each employee and how well they fit within the organization before offering them full-time employment.

What are the Disadvantages of Seasonal Employment?

While seasonal employment can be a great money saver, the practice comes with its own drawbacks.

The Struggle to Build a Strong Corporate Culture

First, businesses who often rely on seasonal employees can struggle with building a strong corporate culture. This is because seasonal employees can change every year and are less motivated to fully engage within the business. 

Less Commitment

Second, the quality of the work delivered may not be of the highest standard, as there is little time for ongoing, quality training. On one hand, seasonal employees are less likely to be committed to the business. Meanwhile, the business itself may not want to invest in training, as they know the talent will be gone in a few months’ time. 

Legal Issues

Finally, seasonal employment has to be carefully navigated because it can cause serious legal issues if certain rules aren’t observed. Different states (in the U.S.), and different countries can have their specific rules. So, this can become a legal nightmare if a business operates across regions.

How Does Seasonal Employment Benefit an Employee?

While seasonal employment doesn’t offer the same benefits as a permanent job, it does come with its own perks. First and foremost, it’s an excellent way to make money if you’re in between jobs or need additional cash to make ends meet.

If you’re just starting out your career, it’s also a great way to gain valuable experience and learn transferable skills. And let’s not forget the networking aspect. Many of these jobs are client-facing and require collaboration with other people in the business, so it’s an amazing opportunity to meet people and maybe discover your dream job.

Laws & Regulations Regarding Seasonal Employment

Legally, the Fair Labor Standards Act regulates seasonal employment. This Act stipulates minimum wage, overtime pay and other employment standards that employers observe for their permanent and seasonal employees. 

For example, all employees have to be paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour or the state minimum wage, whichever is higher. Also, employers must pay one and a half the standard rate of pay for any overtime work, which is defined as any work done over 40 hours per week. The law comes with provisions for child labor to protect children’s health and wellbeing.

That said, your state could have their own law and regulations. So it’s always worthwhile to check with your state’s equivalent of the Department of Labor .

How to Find Seasonal Employment?

You need to approach finding seasonal employment just like any other job search, paying close attention to your timing. Depending on the type of job you want to land, you have to start your search a month or two before the peak season. That’s when most employers would seek to fill these positions.

Here are the steps you can follow to land your seasonal job:

Look Around your Community

Your community is your best shot at landing a seasonal job. Why? Because you are already part of your local community. Therefore, you are likely privy to information regarding new projects. Instead of browsing hundreds of job boards, you can just print out your resume and visit your local store, mall, restaurants, or business offices before their peak season or projects start. Many employers will appreciate the proactiveness.

Network

Whether you search for traditional or seasonal jobs, networking is your biggest asset. People give people jobs. So, if you’re looking for seasonal employment, tell your family, friends, and associates. You could even join relevant social media groups to help further your reach.

Be Flexible and Professional

During peak season, employers have several openings available. For example, a ski resort may need instructors, ticket booth attendants, ski lift operators and waiters. If you want to gain experience in the hospitality industry, then be flexible on what job you’re willing to work. The goal is to get your foot in the door, be professional, and leave a good first impression.

Be Prepared

Even if it’s only seasonal, you’re still competing with other people for a position. If you want to get the most out of your seasonal employment, and perhaps land a permanent position down the line, then treat it like a full-time job. Show up with a well-formatted resume, practice interview questions, and dress professionally.

How to Succeed in a Seasonal Job? 

You might think of your seasonal job as just a temporary source of an extra buck, but how much you gain from it really depends on you. Employers are always on the look-out for hard-working people. So, here are a few tips to help you succeed at your seasonal job:

  1. Treat it like a permanent job

You know you’d only be at the job for several months. Perhaps you don’t feel the need to socialize with coworkers or be your best every single day. After all, why go through all that effort when you’d be gone in a few weeks? While you might pass with this type of behavior, you won’t be getting the most out of your job. Instead, treat each employment as a permanent job and as a stepping stone to your next opportunity. Make sure you’re punctual, courteous and proactive in helping colleagues and clients when needed. Good deeds don’t go unnoticed. When you’re reliable and professional, a client, your employer or your colleague could end up leading you to your next employment.

  1. Go beyond your duties

Seasonal jobs are usually well-defined. You’re the pool boy and you’re the bartender. If you like, you could leave it at that or you can go beyond your duties and take on more responsibilities. Perhaps you can offer your boss to check the stock of soft drinks and put in an order for a new batch? Or you can tell the restaurant manager you speak Spanish and you can translate their menu in Spanish (if appropriate)? Think of alternative values you can bring to the workplace. Not only will this make you stand out as an employee, but it’s your chance to also gain more valuable work experience.

  1. Be frugal

There’s a reason you took this seasonal job. Perhaps you’re trying to pay your way through school or want to treat yourself to your first car. Whatever your financial goal, make sure you have a plan in place that will help you save the bulk of your income. Seasonal jobs can offer plenty of opportunities to spend money (think of all the great things you can do at that summer destination), but you have to be intentional about how you spend your money. Depending on the type of job you do, you might have access to free food and accommodation. So, set a daily budget and put the rest towards your savings.

Can Someone Live on Seasonal Employment Only?

You might be the type of person who bores easily on the job or who doesn’t want to work for the majority of their adult life. Seasonal employment can help with both of these things.

Whether you can live off seasonal employment only depends on several factors though. These include your lifestyle, skill set and location. That said, there are several things you can do in your own life to make seasonal employment work for you. 

  • Get several seasonal jobs – perhaps you can work as a scuba instructor during the summer and offer English language lessons in the winter when the scuba diving season is closed? These can keep things interesting for you as you won’t be doing the same job year-round. It will also give you several streams of income to make sure you can cover your expenses.
  • Consider moving to a more affordable place – where you live will dictate how much you spend. Even the most frugal person will need big chunks of cash to live in New York City. However, if you move to a less expensive place you can make your money go further.
  • Reduce your expenses – You don’t want to be stuck in the office so you consider seasonal employment as your main stream of income. Maybe you just want to pursue your hobbies. All of that is fine, but you have to take a good look at your expenses and see what needs to stay and what has to go. Do you like getting takeaway every Friday? Or, perhaps you treat yourself to a new piece of clothing every other month? Well, you might need to reconsider these expenses if you want to avoid getting a permanent job. 

There are other factors to consider whether seasonal employment could work for you. For instance, if you have children or other dependents you need to take care of, then seasonal employment might not be a viable option until they’re a bit older and less reliant on you. Likewise, if you still don’t have many skills you can “sell”, you might need to get a permanent job to grow your skill set before you look at freelancing or other seasonal employment options.

How Should Freelancers Manage Seasonal Employment? 

Seasonal employment isn’t reserved only for jobs requiring manual labor. In fact, many white collar freelancing jobs could feel like seasonal employment, as clients can increase or reduce their workload depending on their needs with little to no notice.

This can make freelancing a less predictable and riskier option for people who crave security. That said, there are things you can do to manage your freelancing work to avoid workload or revenue issues. For one, don’t put all your eggs in one basket! Diversify your client portfolio as much as possible. If all of your income depends on a single client, then you’re at their mercy when it comes to your livelihood. 

Likewise, always be on the hunt! Even if you have a great roster of clients without any capacity for additional work, you need to always look out for more work. That way, if your favorite client happens to drop you tomorrow because of budget cuts, you always have something else to fall back on.

How to Effectively Hire and Manage Seasonal Employees?

There are several ways to go about hiring seasonal employees. Here, you can use the same method you’d apply for traditional jobs or ask for referrals among your existing employees. Referrals are a quick and easy way to fill positions because these candidates have already been vetted by your existing workforce.

Another way is to go to temporary employment agencies who can do this job for you. This does come with a fee, but it can take away the burden of recruitment from you. Finally, you can post job ads on job boards, social media, local newspapers, or on the walls of your restaurant/hotel/office to let people know you’re hiring. This way you can discover local talent who probably knows your business and is more likely to see the job through to the end of the season.

Once you hire your seasonal workforce, make sure you make them feel welcome by giving them proper onboarding. Let them know their exact responsibilities and who they respond to throughout their employment. This will remove any ambiguity from the conversations and make sure everyone’s on the same page.

Bottom Line

Seasonal employment can be a great way to make money, learn a new skill, or even decide on whether you are ready to move for a new job. For businesses, it can help you meet increased customer demand while keeping your costs low. 

Still, seasonal employment can be more than an extra buck in your wallet. If you give it your full attention and prove to be a professional and reliable employee it can lead to bigger and greater things in your career. 

Companies Hiring Seasonal Employees

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