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How to Retain Casual Event Staff

By Becki Cross
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The event and hospitality industry regularly relies on casual event staff and volunteers but this can often bring challenges. This post looks at how to maximise commitment and performance from casual event staff and volunteers.

How to retain casual event staff

Casual event staff and volunteers are regularly employed in the event industry to give valuable extra support and input as required. They are commonly brought in for specific tasks, short term projects or to supplement the core team on site at an event.

Many staff are worth their weight in gold and do a sterling job, however staffing issues such as absenteeism, late notification of unavailability and poor timekeeping can cause stress to Event Managers when you least need it. This post focuses on some ways to try to encourage and develop a pool of dependable casual staff.

Engage Staff with an Interest in the Industry

Work experience is vital for anyone that wants to succeed in the events industry and many are desperate for relevant opportunities to develop their CV. It makes sense to employ passionate people that want a true insight into the world of events, rather than those that just need the money and quickly realise that events are not always as glamourous as they seem!

If the work you are offering has some relation to the individual’s future career aspirations you are more likely to receive maximum commitment. You always get the best out of people with a passion for their work.

Offer volunteers and staff assisting on live events a personal letter thanking them and acknowledging the role and tasks undertaken which can then be included in their portfolio. For regular volunteers and casual staff make it clear that you are happy to give a reference. If they make a good impression they could even be considered for any permanent posts that come up within your organisation.

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Interview

Staff and volunteers are representing your brand and you need to ensure you have the right people to shine at your event. Never take on casual event staff without interviewing them first, ideally face to face rather than over the phone or a video call. It is easier to gauge how well a person would fit as part of the team by meeting them face to face and you learn so much more even in the first 7 seconds of meeting than you can deduce from their whole resume. You can also judge their energy, enthusiasm, motivations and commitment more clearly. Further tips are available in this post: 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring Event Staff.

Go Through an Agency

It is great to adhere to the point above and develop close relationships with a pool of casual staff however if you are working in a new city or area or on a large or complex event this simply may not be feasible. In these situations it may be worthwhile going through a staffing agency. The agency should be able to provide high quality casual staff that they have vetted on your behalf and if anyone lets you down at the last minute it is up to the agency to field a replacement for you. And quickly.

Communicate

One difficulty of working with casual event staff and volunteers is that you often need them at the most pressurised times, such as for the live event and don’t have much time to chat and get to know them. Strive to value every member of your team and take a genuine interest in them as a person when you can. Ideally this will have been possible at the interview stage but also ensure staff are met and briefed in plenty of time before the event start time and know who to contact if they are unsure of anything at any point. Try to talk to them and find out what motivates them and makes them tick.

Volunteers and casual staff need to feel included and part of the team and the bigger picture. Ensure they are introduced to everyone they will have contact with, including both casual and permanent staff.

Set Clear Guidelines

Ensure staff know how to notify you if they are not able to make their shift or are running late. Make it clear that you would rather have a text or call at midnight so you can try to make alternative plans or arrangements for cover rather than half an hour before they are supposed to start work.

Check with Staff

I like to contact each member of staff or volunteer 24 or 48 hours before the project to touch base and ensure they are still on board. This can sometimes give an early warning light if something is wrong too. Always trust your gut instinct if you have a niggling doubt about someone’s commitment!

Keep a list of staff mobile numbers to hand or programmed into your mobile so you can make contact quickly as required.

Think About Logistics

Try to choose staff based on practicalities or tailor the role to suit their circumstances. If a member of staff can’t drive, lives far outside of the city and you need them on site by 5am it may be virtually impossible for them to get there by public transport. Unless you can pay for accommodation onsite or facilitate a car-share you should question if they are the right person for that specific role or if you are just inviting problems.

Overbook Staff

Most often you are operating on a very tight budget so paying for extra staff isn’t always a possibility but it is always preferred to have too many staff rather than too few. This makes you much more agile to deal with the unexpected but it also gives one less headache if you are a team member down.

This will help with morale on-site too, ensuring that there are plenty of people to assist with the task at hand and that your team aren’t run ragged and stressed out.

Pay Above Average

You may not have this freedom but if you can pay above the average or minimum wage, even slightly, this will help inspire greater commitment and motivation.

Ensure Proper Breaks

However pressurised the event and even if you will not get a break yourself it is important that your staff have time out. This will not only help to ensure their welfare but it will hopefully give them time to absorb the event they are a part of, which can often be quite awe inspiring!

Offer Perks

You would be surprised how much the little touches can mean to people. This may be simply saving some cake for them, letting them keep their event t-shirt or uniform, handing them an event goodie bag at the end of the day or ensuring they personally get to meet a speaker or performer at the event.

Try to Utilise Strengths

You have a set role in mind however if you can find out, encourage and develop a person’s particular interests within the event environment this will be rewarded. For example if you have a budding photographer, film maker or social media superhero in front of you, you may be able to use their skills and ideas somehow in future projects.

Brief Staff Fully

It is important to brief staff so they understand their role and what is expected of them. This will also help to take some of the anxiety away for them. It can be quite daunting being part of a large event and not everyone in the events industry is confident and outgoing, particularly if they are just starting out.

Before the day we always talk through and/or send a briefing document about the event detailing important information and try to think about any key questions they may have. This will include practical and logistical information such as what to wear, directions and public transport information, who to ring in case of problems, which entrance to use and who to report to. We also outline their anticipated tasks with a chronological timeline of the day and their responsibilities. Finally I include a paragraph about our company ethos and brand and what we expect from our staff.

Reward Reliable Casual Event Staff

You need reliable casual event staff. Reward dependable staff by ensuring they are on the A-list and ensuring they have first refusal of any additional shifts that come up.

Understand the Role

To be a rounded Event Manager I am a firm believer that you should experience all elements of your event and the different challenges team members face. To do this you need to spend some time in different areas, such as behind the registration desk and serving refreshments. This ensures that you gain a different perspective and truly understand the role every member of staff is undertaking and the traits required by that task. Every single element of your event contributes to the final tapestry. Lead by example and show how you expect each role to be approached but also take heed of the rich feedback this opportunity gives you.

Team Building

This is difficult when casual staff and volunteers often join the team for short periods and at pressurised times, however try to develop team spirit and the sense of achievement that working together effectively creates.

Value Their Feedback

Let staff and volunteers know that you truly value their thoughts and ask for and listen closely to their feedback and suggestions. Your team will often hear insights from guests and attendees which is vital honest feedback you are not aware of and may inspire ways to do things better and differently in future.

Recognition and Praise

Event days are often long and hard. Thank the team and feed back praise from the client, attendees and so forth. Try to ensure casual event staff leave on a high and feeling proud of their contribution!

Is staffing one of your biggest headaches? How do you keep and motivate casual staff and volunteers? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

about the author

Becki Cross
Becki Cross is Managing Director of Events Northern Ltd, a UK event and conference management company established in 2004. Becki set up the business in her early twenties and is particularly passionate about conferences, innovation, entrepreneurship and the legacy of events. Becki is also the Deputy Editor, Community Manager and Contributor to EventMB, her dream job alongside event planning! Follow Becki via @beckitrain.
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