How to Support the Mental Health of Your Seasonal Employees

Seasonal work comes with unique mental health stressors, so HR leaders must support the mental health of their entire workforce — including temp staff.

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The Calm Team

6 min read

Seasonal, temp, and contract workers are a vital and valuable component of your company’s workforce. They provide you with staffing flexibility and serve as air cover for high-intensity seasons in your business, and you depend on them for safety on the packing floor and quality customer service during a shopping surge.

In return, HR leaders have a responsibility to provide seasonal workers with mental health support, because temporary work takes a tangible toll on people’s mental well-being: Nonstandard workers are more likely to experience depression, and when temp workers have their shifts canceled, 64% report psychological distress, and 82% report poor sleep quality, much more than their colleagues with predictable hours.

Employees in this mental state can’t do their best work. They need more support — and as a caring HR leader, you’re in the perfect position to empower them to feel mentally healthy at work.

Providing resources for your seasonal employees’ mental health might be one of the best investments you can make in your company’s success this year — and in a crowded labor market, it’ll go a long way in proving that you value the mental well-being of all of your employees, and not just your full-time team.

Here’s what you need to know about seasonal employee well-being, and how to give back to your temp workers during the holidays and beyond.

Seasonal workers need unique mental health support

Temporary workers face mental health challenges due to their role. Whether they’re lifeguarding at a water park or stocking shelves during the holidays in a retail store, it’s in the term: temp work is temporary and usually comes with an end date, which means that even the most pleasant gig work is inherently stressful.

Not only that, but seasonal workers have to cope with high levels of uncertainty, constant change in their work schedules, and adapting to new environments. The Shift Project reports that about two-thirds of food and retail workers receive their work schedule with less than two weeks’ advance notice, which means it’s harder to plan time to connect with friends and family, rest, and run errands. These workers may also be balancing multiple jobs, schoolwork, or caretaking as well, and struggling to juggle it all at once. This mental strain isn’t great for their long-term health.

Physical exhaustion also often plays a role in the mental well-being of seasonal workers. Many temp jobs require workers to be on their feet, lifting heavy items, or even operating machinery. Sometimes they’ll even get scheduled for the dreaded (and in some areas of the US, illegal) “clopen” back-to-back shifts — requiring workers to close up shop at night and then come in to open early the next morning, often leaving them with only 2-4 hours of free time to sleep before they have to come back to work. Poor sleep impacts cognitive reaction time, which means that over-scheduled, exhausted temp employees can jeopardize their own safety and the safety of others at work.

Finally, seasonal work can be a recipe for burnout. Temp workers are not usually included in onboarding or benefits programs, so they can feel underappreciated, isolated, and left out. And they have plenty of reasons to need organizational and social support at work, since they often deal with frustrated customers while working long hours. Supporting the mental health of your seasonal employees is a wise investment.

Why HR leaders should include temp staff in employee well-being initiatives

Temp workers are a significant expense already, especially if you’re contracting through a third-party agency — so why invest more capital in their mental health?

Here are a few reasons:

  • It’s kind and says a lot about your culture. If your company truly values mental well-being, then that value should extend to everyone who interacts with your organization, including temp workers.
  • Going the extra mile to support seasonal staff decreases the likelihood of injury or accidents on the job. When workers are rested and mentally well, they’re able to make good decisions on the job and be productive without risking their safety.
  • In a competitive labor market, recruiting and retention effectiveness are table stakes, and according to our latest survey, 76% of employees said that mental health benefits were critical to them when evaluating a new job. Having a strong employer brand, where you’re known for offering special benefits or accommodations for seasonal staff, can help your organization stand out to all potential applicants in your talent pool.

How to support the mental health of your seasonal employees

Your employees’ health and livelihood are just as important as getting everything done on time during a busy season, and can’t be overlooked in order to meet a deadline. To meet your business goals, you need a mentally healthy, well-rested, focused workforce. Here are some ideas to help you support your temp workers’ mental well-being.

Give them money

Seasonal workers take on a job for the same reason everyone else does: They need money. Often, people use seasonal work as a way to supplement family income in a pinch, or pick up extra hours through gig work for extra cash. We know that temp work often comes with high amounts of psychological distress, and with 63% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck since the pandemic, your temp talent may be experiencing higher than average financial anxiety.

A surprise bonus or end-of-year gift is an efficient, direct way to boost your seasonal workers’ morale levels. Most people — 82% — say that if they were faced with a surprise $500 expense, they would not be able to afford it, so imagine how much of an impact a $500 bonus can have on your employees’ anxiety levels!

Ultimately, temp work is a transaction, so make it an attractive one that’s consistent with what your company truly values. (Tip: If you can’t give cash bonuses, give the next best thing, like gift cards to widely accessible stores.)

Give them time to recharge

The next best way to support the mental health of your temp workers other than a crisp bill? Give them their time back. Your seasonal employees need adequate time to rest, recharge, and attend to their families and personal lives, but don’t have many of the same labor protections that legally protect full-time workers’ right to rest. As an employer who values mental health, your policies for time off should reflect those values for all of your employees, not just permanent staff.

Coordinate with your internal staffing team or third-party staffing agency to ensure workers don’t get scheduled for “clopen” shifts back-to-back so they have time to sleep deeply. Consider mandating paid days off for mental well-being, or paid, longer breaks during rush periods to prevent accidents.

Burnout can be dangerous, especially during a busy season, so rest is an affordable and simple preventative measure to ensure everything goes smoothly on the job.

Retain them

Show you appreciate your temp workers’ contributions and snag more year-round talent by bringing seasonal employees on full-time. Temporary staff often experience feelings of isolation when they’re not considered a “real” employee — selling them hard on staying communicates that your company recognizes their efforts and cares about including them. Plus, finding and vetting good people who like your company is expensive; hiring the talent who you’ve already brought on board saves a lot of trouble.

Make it as easy as possible for temp talent to apply for full-time roles amid their job responsibilities, such as offering onsite job interviews or hiring events. Referral bonuses are another way to offer a financial thank-you for bringing more great people to your team. If possible, eliminate redundant job application steps that require them to jump through a lot of hoops to be considered for permanent roles — another small organizational change that can have a huge mental health impact on a stressed gig worker.

Give them mental health tools

Employer health benefits and programs are often out of reach for temp workers, who aren’t seen as a long-term investment. But everyone needs mental health support right now, and that includes seasonal staff.

According to our recent survey, 91% of full-time employees are not feeling rested enough, and 87% feel nervous, anxious, stressed. Younger people, who typically make up a large percentage of temp workers, are especially feeling the effects of burnout outside of their 9-5 working hours. One in four noted that work stress bleeds into personal stress, saying that work “consumes their mind” even after they leave the office or wrap up for the day.

To support your temp workers, provide them with mental health tools and resources they can access on their own time to get better sleep and find peace of mind. If you can, give temp workers year-round memberships or access to your mental well-being resources so they can have support all year long — and be more motivated to come back.

Calm is a perfect starting point for supporting your entire staff, both permanent and temporary, with mental health resources they will actually want to use. Book a demo now to learn how you can partner with us to support your seasonal employees’ mental health.

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