Motivating Seasonal Employees


Management theory has not successfully addressed the issue of motivating seasonal employees. It has however, presented a multitude of theories for full-time workers. By far, the bulk of employees today are part-time.

Full-time employee theories include:

  • traditional theory
  • need/hierarchy theory
  • achievement-power-affiliation theory
  • motivation maintenance theory
  • preference-expectancy theory
  • reinforcement theory

These are described in Rue and Byars’ MANAGEMENT: THEORY AND APPLICATION, 1988. 4th ed.

Part-time employees, like full-time employees, adhere to a basic principle of motivation as found in all theories, to wit:


The fundamental difference with seasonal employees has to do with their needs, as these alter motives. And motives that workers bring to the workplace, are determinants of work performance. A place to start, in learning how to motivate seasonal or part-time employees, is an analysis of:

  1. Who they are
  2. What their needs are


Seasonal employees are usually

  • students (high school, college, university)
  • unemployed persons seeking to re-enter the workforce on a permanent basis
  • unemployed persons seeking seasonal work only
  • persons temporarily laid of from a permanent job
  • other…


1. Students need a) sufficient income to pay for education costs (where education is their overall or extrinsically motivated goal; b) a good work record for possible future reference; c) other…

2. Unemployed persons seeking permanent re-entry need a) income to live on; b) an opportunity for skills development; c) access to the right people through the buying of time; d) other…

3. Unemployed persons seeking seasonal work only need a) income to live on; b) sufficient employed time for UIC benefits; c) other…

4. Temporarily laid off persons need income only.


From motivation theory generally, we find there are six elements found in supervisory-subordinate relationships, which positively predict employee motivation:

Recognition, Achievement, Growth, Worth, Advancement, Responsibility.

Supervisors who provide opportunities for their workers to experience these elements of feedback, will extract higher levels of employee performance. Seasonal employees will respond mostly to worth, achievement, recognition, responsibility, due to the relative lack of time to build upon the other elements, i.e., growth, advancement.

A supervisor’s personal style of behaving has an expressed and a latent effect on those around you, particularly with employees whom you spend a lot of time. A key component to the motivating of employees is this personal style. Although everyone’s style is different or effective in differing ways, a central element to motivating others is one’s degree of “behavioural balance”, especially between the following pairs of behaviours:



“Balanced” supervisors who use worth, achievement, recognition, and responsibility (WARR), in performance appraisals or regular feedback with seasonal employees, will achieve the best results. So the optimum combination is: WARR + BALANCE.

An employee’s sense of self-worth is strengthened by:

  1. using praise where warranted
  2. giving him/her status as an accomplished person, as a team member
  3. being courteous to him/her at all times
  4. apologizing when YOU screw up
  5. calling the employee by her/his first name
  6. remembering even trivial but positive things about the person’s background or daily performance.

An employees sense of achievement is strengthened by:

  1. creating realistic objectives with the employee
  2. paying for efforts at self-improvement, e.g., evening or weekend courses, cost permitting
  3. giving informal certificates, memos, letters, of work-level accomplishments in meeting objectives
  4. indicate how she/he has done compared to others’ average (not individual) performance.

An employee’s sense of recognition is strengthened by:

  1. giving daily or regular constructive feedback on performance
  2. promoting (where applicable) on merit
  3. providing a pay increase for consistent performance.

An employee’s sense of responsibility is strengthened by:

  1. vertical job loading (job enrichment) of worthy tasks
  2. increasing his/her span of control over others or over processes, technology, etc.
  3. enriching the same task so as to flatter the person’s intellectual or physical capabilities.

Seasonal employees tend to have lower levels of job commitment due to the knowledge that the job is only of short-term duration. Their ‘time-horizon’ is cut short because they know they will be doing other things after 3-6 months or so; hence, this knowledge can affect their drive or motivation. The task of supervisors of seasonal employees is to therefore create motivating conditions which address more immediate needs. These WARR needs require the supervisor/manager to be more people-oriented, more interactive or communicative. Remember that motivated employees are an ‘investment’ in the future, whether they are full-time or part-time.

Evidence suggests that job satisfaction does not cause performance; rather, it suggests that performance causes job satisfaction. Also, it has been found that rewards are a more direct cause of satisfaction than performance, and that rewards based on current performance cause subsequent performance. Job satisfaction does have a positive impact on turnover, absenteeism, tardiness, accidents, grievances and strikes.

Even if satisfied employees are not high performers, there are numerous reasons for cultivating satisfied employees.

Factors for motivation are different from factors for satisfaction. Satisfaction is more related to the comfort offered by the environment and the situation. Motivation is largely determined by the value of rewards and their contingency on motivation. Hence, the importance with seasonal employees to reward through WARR and BALANCE. Making employees satisfied has more to do with ensuring their work environment (physical and psychological), benefits, job design, perceived opportunities, and compensation are adequate or competitive.

Responses to failure:

  1. loss of interest in work
  2. lower standards of achievement
  3. loss of confidence
  4. tendency to give up quickly
  5. fear of change (i.e., new tasks, etc.)
  6. increased expectations of failure
  7. escape from reality (i.e., defense mechanisms)
  8. decreasing cooperation
  9. increasingly fault-finding

Responses to success:

  1. greater interest in work
  2. increasingly higher standards of achievement
  3. gain in confidence
  4. increasing time horizons (more capable of predicting the future positively)
  5. increasing cooperation
  6. increasing adaptability
  7. increasing emotional control.

Copyright: Terry L. Hill, PhD 1989, 2020

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