Supply chain issues and the rising cost of goods means retailers cannot afford operational deficiencies on the part of bad hires this season

With the holiday season rapidly approaching and COVID-19 variants indicating no sign of the pandemic’s departure, retailers are bracing for a labor shortage that will negatively impact both e-commerce and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences. Fulfillment centers and retailers feeling this pressure may try to hire and onboard seasonal workers faster than usual by skimping on background checks, making it easy for a bad elf to enter the workshop and create costly challenges.

In order to meet the demands this year, retailers are expecting to add 700,000 workers during the holiday season, reports Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Walmart is bringing on 20,000 supply chain workers, is adding 125,000 full- and part-time employees, and UPS has announced it’s adding 100,000 jobs. With an extra $233 billion in cost of goods this holiday shopping season, retailers cannot afford operational deficiencies because of bad seasonal hires.

However, there are four money-saving ways companies can mitigate the risk of hiring a seasonal employee already on Santa’s naughty list:

1. Protect people’s safety and health.

Two wellness issues retail employers must address with seasonal employees is COVID-19 prevention and substance abuse mitigation.

Guidance on vaccine mandates is still murky. A less risky and, some might argue, equally viable alternative is to supply employees with COVID-19 testing kits and/or antibody tests. An oral-fluid molecular COVID-19 test can confirm if the coronavirus is detected in a person’s saliva. Some do-it-yourself COVID-19 tests can be produced for less than a dollar. An antibody test shows if a person has been infected and recovered. However, it’s illegal for employers to require an antibody test before allowing employees to report back to the workplace.

Substance abuse rates have also increased dramatically during this crisis. More than 93,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2020, a 30 percent increase from the previous year. Instant or rapid drug tests provide accurate results in minutes at the point of collection and are more private and convenient for applicants or employees. Instant drug testing also saves employers between $20-$25 per collection because there’s no need for applicants to use a clinic to conduct the collection.

Related story: The Turnover Tsunami: Prioritizing Healthy Workplaces as Hiring Accelerates

2. Prevent insider theft.

In 2019, more than 348,000 shoplifters and dishonest employees were caught by 21 large retailers which recovered more than $136 million, reports the 32nd Annual Retail Theft Survey by Jack L. Hayes International.

Comprehensive background checks, including criminal records and credit reports, are an integral piece to any successful pre-employment strategy. Knowing a candidate’s criminal history allows employers to make educated hiring decisions and may not automatically disqualify a candidate from landing a job. However, some retailers find that financial insecurity or distress may make a candidate predisposed to fraud, theft or other deceptions.

Many comprehensive background checks can be completed in less than 48 hours so retailers should still be able to staff up quickly while maintaining best safety practices.

3. Prioritize digital security.

There are several cybersecurity risks seasonal employees, both current and former, pose to employers.

One, large retailers that hire hundreds of thousands of seasonal workers in a short amount of time may have difficulty keeping track of minimum access rights and security privileges. Only 15 percent of organizations are confident in their access control program.

Two, sometimes former seasonal employees can still access company systems and internal data. One 2017 survey showed more than half of ex-employees still had access to company applications.

Three, the latest research from Adobe Digital Insights shows holiday e-commerce will hit a record $107 billion this year. If employees use their corporate emails or passwords for seasonal shopping though, it puts the company at risk of cyber breaches.

The largest takeaway from this is that it’s as equally important to have an offboarding process for seasonal employees as an onboarding process. Employees should be securely offboarded from all company applications, networks and devices they’ve used.

4. Prohibit cultural toxicity.

The average time-to-hire across all industries is three weeks to four weeks, but the holiday shopping season is only between 25 days to 31 days each year. It’s imperative then that employers hire the right people the first time around; there simply isn’t time or money to waste on replacing bad hires. According to the Department of Labor, a bad hire can cost a company more than 30 percent of the employee’s earnings.

One of the best ways retailers can hire safely, quickly and cut down on training time is to tap into a local network of customers who already know the brand, its products, and its culture. Consider remote workers (they may be looking for a people-facing side gig), college students, entertainers, and retirees. Many of these folks are dynamic, short-term workers who will learn quickly, think on their feet, multitask, and need flexible schedules. This is a streamlined recruiting approach that gets knowledgeable hires on the floor fast and still gives you time to complete background checks.

The Immediate Future for Retail

Retail has come a long way since the upheaval during the height of COVID-19. However, if retailers truly want to seize top talent during this seasonal shopping season, they may need to unwrap these new hiring strategies.

RJ Frasca is vice president of marketing and product at EBI Inc., a leading background screening provider.

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