CommentaryCan we really have Christmas in July? As much as my kids would love it, I think even they know that the arrival of the Big Elf is still months away.

However, even though it’s the middle of summer, the country’s retailers are gearing up for the holiday hiring season, which typically starts in August. In past years, nearly 70% of retailers hired additional staff during the holidays. Last year, major retailers such as Target and Macy’s each hired upwards of 70,000 temps.

If the Department of Labor follows the reporting pattern of previous years, 2014 holiday seasonal hiring estimates will be released in the fall. Right now, we can look back to October, November and December 2013, when retailers added 801,100 jobs, the most since 1999.

Clearly, the numbers are vast.

With the economy being what it is, retailers’ budgets being tight and it being a “buyers” market for good talent, these seasonal hires don’t get paid a lot; they typically earn about $10 an hour. This contributes to the reality that many jobseekers view these positions as “commodity jobs” – they don’t necessarily care where they work because it’s short-term and the pay is similar wherever they go. For employers, that means they can encounter difficulty finding the best talent.

To combat that challenge, here’s a potential solution: Offering temporary holiday workers voluntary benefits. Retailers may not be in a position to offer medical benefits or other traditional group employee benefits to seasonal hires, but voluntary benefits are a cost-effective way to differentiate an employer and gain the attention of prospective workers.

Unlike traditional healthcare benefits, these plans can be offered to part-time, full-time, or seasonal employees, as well as 1099 consultants. Employers can offer traditional voluntary benefits like life insurance, accident insurance and critical illness insurance. They can also offer healthcare discount plans. These are not insurance plans, but instead offer access to quality and affordable medical, dental, vision and pharmacy care.

Offering these employees and consultants access to a Telemedicine plan is a great idea as well because it provides 24/7 access to a medical consultation with a licensed doctor 365 days per year. This is especially helpful for those who don't have a major medical plan or may be enrolled in public or private plans with deductibles and co-pays.

Other non-traditional voluntary benefits that can be offered are legal plans, identity theft coverage, and pet insurance. Voluntary benefits are often completely portable, which is important to staffers who may leave after the holiday sales season.

In a competitive marketplace, voluntary benefits are a great way for companies to show they care, differentiate themselves from other employers, and attract the best talent. And in such a competitive retail environment, it could be the difference between a happy holiday season and a Grinchy one.

Benefits consultant and voluntary product expert Ciro Giué provides consulting services to mid-size and large employer-clients of Corporate Synergies, a benefits consulting firm.

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