Higher Pay but Lower Job Satisfaction: Christmas Hiring in the UK in 2021


November 23, 2021

Key Findings

  • Average salaries for UK-based Christmas seasonal workers have increased by 9 percent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, from an average of £8.69 in 2019 to £9.47 per hour in 2021. Much of this salary increase has been driven by a COVID-caused shift in workers from the hospitality to the warehousing, manufacturing, and transportation sectors, which pay higher wages.
  • The share of workers making £10-12 per hour has increased by 46 percent from 2020 and 164 percent from 2019.
  • Seasonal workers’ Glassdoor review ratings initially increased favourably during the pandemic but have since decreased from last year.
  • An analysis of seasonal workers’ reviews reveals increased discussion of work-life balance, flexibility, taxing work conditions and coronavirus, but decreased discussion of many elements of in-person socialisation.

After a much-dampened 2020 festive season thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year has seen the return of Santas in grottos and in-person Christmas shopping across the UK. But how has this impacted the many workers who are hired for the Christmas season each year? We analysed thousands of Glassdoor reviews from UK-based seasonal workers to discover how COVID-19 has affected the employee experience for these workers even as the Great Resignation continues and labour shortages grow.

Seasonal Workers’ Salaries on the Upswing

We first looked at the average salary for 19,876 UK-based seasonal workers over the past five years, as shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Average Salary for UK-Based Seasonal Workers

Festive SeasonSeasonal Worker Average Salary (in £/hour)Average Salary YoY Percent Change
20167.69N/A
20177.953.34
20188.314.57
20198.694.50
20209.216.08
20219.472.77
Note: Festive seasons are defined as September 1 to January 31 of the following year. Data for 2021 only includes salaries up until October 31, 2021. YoY stands for year-over-year. All YoY changes are significant with p< 0.01.

Although the festive season has only just begun to reach its peak, UK Christmas worker salaries have already shown a statistically significant increase from both two years ago, the most recent ‘normal’ festive season, and last year’s COVID Christmas. While salaries have increased by 9 percent from 2019 – far outstripping the two-year inflation rate of 4.9 percent – they have only increased by 2.8 percent in the past year, below October’s year-on-year inflation rate of 4.2 percent. 

Much of the rise in pay, particularly in 2020’s festive season, appears to be driven by a pandemic-caused broader movement towards e-commerce. This shift has resulted in a higher proportion of jobs in shipping, transportation and warehousing.

Table 2 below shows the shift in employee salaries in our data; during the 2020 COVID Christmas, there was an increase in warehousing/manufacturing and transportation jobs. Although both categories have since fallen as a share of total reviews, they still represent a higher proportion than in 2019 – emblematic of the broader shift towards online retail. 

Since seasonal jobs in transportation and warehousing are higher paying on average than those in retail, this pushes up overall wages and presents more potential high-paying job opportunities for seasonal workers.

Table 2: Percentage of All UK Christmas Seasonal Salaries Left by Selected Employee Categories 

Festive SeasonRetail & Food Services Employees Percent of All SalariesWarehouse & Manufacturing Percent of All SalariesTransportation Employees Percent of All Salaries
201622.248.141.64
201719.488.602.06
201821.057.962.22
201921.2910.002.02
202021.5814.484.19
202125.8012.423.03
Note: Numbers will not add up to 100 as other categories of employees exist that are not included in the table.

However, the rise in pay cannot be solely attributed to a shift to transportation and skilled labour jobs from retail. As Table 3 below shows, seasonal jobs in all three categories — retail, skilled labour and transportation — are paying increasingly higher wages, in line with the broader labour market.  

Table 3: Average Pay of UK-Based Christmas Seasonal Employees By Selected Employee Category (in £/hour)

Festive SeasonRetail & Food Services Employees Average PaySkilled Labour & Manufacturing Average PayTransportation Employees Average Pay
20167.567.898.51
20177.768.629.14
20187.989.0810.02
20198.399.199.81
20208.759.9510.71
20218.9810.2511.00

We also examined the distribution of hourly wages across seasonal employees. Chart 1 below shows the percentage of salary reviews in each one-pound bracket (e.g., £7-7.99, £9-9.99, etc.). A rightward curve move means that salaries have shifted upwards.

Chart 1: Percentage of UK-Based Christmas Seasonal Salaries in Each Pound Bracket by Festive Season

Note: the x-axis labels represent a £x-x.99 range, e.g. £6: £6-6.99.

Chart 1 shows that the most common seasonal employee salary band prior to 2018 was under £8 per hour, but salaries have risen significantly since then. The most common salary band in 2018 and 2019 was £8-9 an hour, but it rose to £9-10 in 2020, where it stayed in 2021.

We also found that the proportion of employees earning between £10-12 in 2021 (28.5 percent) is significantly (p < 0.01) higher than the proportion in 2020 (19.5 percent) or 2019 (10.8 percent). This means that employees’ salaries are continuing to shift upwards, which we expect to see continue as the labour market continues to tighten.

Seasonal Review Ratings Down from Last Year

We also looked at the average ratings and sub-ratings posted on Glassdoor by 5,088 UK-based seasonal employees, as shown in Table 4 below.

Table 4: Average Ratings and Sub-ratings for UK-Based Seasonal Employees

Festive SeasonOverallCareer OpportunitiesCompensation & Benefits Senior Leadership  Work-Life Balance Culture & Values 
20163.413.093.083.083.103.10
20173.623.273.283.293.303.29
20183.663.303.303.323.353.33
20193.673.213.233.243.243.24
20203.843.443.473.493.503.47
20213.763.383.443.443.473.45
Note: Each rating is out of 5.

Interestingly, average Glassdoor ratings rose in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the difficulty of the 2020 festive season for both employees and employers due to lockdown uncertainty and a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases prior to Christmas. This rise may have occurred due to a combination of factors: a ‘survivorship’ bias, where less-satisfied employees quit or were laid off from their jobs, thus leaving more satisfied employees behind to leave reviews; relief at not being laid off during an economic downturn; or the impact of the government’s furlough scheme, which paid employees 80% of their salary while furloughed.

However, as employees have returned to work in 2021, with many feeling burnt out after the impacts of the pandemic, ratings have dropped, both overall and across all sub-ratings. Notably, this ratings drop is not due to the comparison of different time periods. Although this analysis did not include any reviews after October 31, 2021, this pattern holds true even when comparing reviews left only in September and October of each festive season, as seen in Table 5 below.

Table 5: Average Ratings and Sub-ratings for UK-Based Seasonal Employees in September and October Reviews

Festive SeasonOverall Career Opportunities Compensation & BenefitsSenior Leadership Work-Life Balance Culture & Values 
20163.413.083.093.073.093.13
20173.653.333.363.373.363.38
20183.703.353.343.353.383.38
20193.673.263.313.313.323.31
20203.793.383.423.433.453.42
20213.753.393.433.453.463.45
Note: Each rating is out of 5.

Seasonal Workers’ Discussion Shifts Towards Work-Life Balance and Flexibility 

Using the pros and cons section of reviews left by UK-based seasonal workers, we also looked at how discussion in reviews has shifted since before and after the pandemic. 

The phrases with the largest increases included ‘work-life balance’ and ‘flexible’ (in both pros and cons), ‘relaxed’ (in pros), and ‘covid’, ‘parcel’, ‘understaffed’, ‘fast-paced’, and ‘tiring’ (in cons). Those that decreased once the pandemic began included ‘socialise’ (in pros) and ‘makeup’ (in cons) — indicating that perhaps in-person socialisation with coworkers has declined, even as in-person work has continued for many seasonal employees.

These changes demonstrate that seasonal workers are not only increasingly concerned about coronavirus, they’re also feeling the negative impacts of a tighter labour market in which their workplaces are understaffed and employees are overworked. They, like many other workers, are becoming more interested in work-life balance and flexibility, even though these characteristics may not historically have been associated with seasonal work. This means that seasonal employers wishing to improve their employee experience, an important way to attract and retain talent in today’s tight job market, can help by offering flexible shift scheduling or spreading out mandatory weekend or evening shifts among staff, both of which are frequently cited in Glassdoor’s seasonal employee reviews. 

Conclusion

Seasonal work has changed a great deal in the age of COVID-19. A broader shift towards e-commerce has caused a corresponding rise in jobs in those industries, which pay more on average than retail. However, most job categories — including retail and food services — have seen significant rises in the past two years. Unfortunately, recent inflation threatens to undermine much of this strong wage growth, although wage growth in the past two years is still well above the two-year inflation rate.

A return to a sort-of normal festive season has not heralded an increase in employee satisfaction, however, with average job ratings dropping from last year’s COVID Christmas. Employees are also talking much more about work-life balance and flexibility, although these attributes are not often associated with seasonal jobs. Perhaps they, like many other workers, are feeling the strain of burnout after 18 months of coronavirus. As the Great Resignation continues, with the labour market tightening and salaries rising in response, seasonal employees now have more options than they had in many years.

Methodology

To analyse seasonal salaries, we pulled 19,876 salaries, from UK-based employees posting on Glassdoor during each festive season (September to January) with ‘Seasonal’ in their job titles, those who self-identified as seasonal employees, or hourly frontline workers working in the retail or parcel shipping industries. We also included any UK-based workers posting year-round with ‘Christmas’ in their job title. We excluded any employees who reported wages below that year’s minimum wage for those 18 years and above, along with outliers with wages above £25/hour, who represented less than 1% of the total sample. Employees who reported their salaries in monthly or yearly increments were adjusted to hourly wages by dividing yearly salaries by 1950 (37.5, the standard UK working week, * 52 weeks in a year) or monthly by 162.5 (1950/12 months).

To analyse seasonal reviews, we pulled 5,088 reviews from UK-based employees posting on Glassdoor during each festive season (September to January) with the words ‘Seasonal’ in their job titles, those who self-identified as seasonal employees or frontline workers (whether they were hourly or not) working in the retail or parcel shipping industries. We also included any UK-based workers posting year-round with ‘Christmas’ in their job title.

Inflation rates are calculated using year-on-year growth from the UK’s Consumer Price Index (CPI), the headline measure of inflation used by the UK’s Office of National Statistics, in October 2020 and October 2021.

To analyse how reviews have changed over time, we separated both the pros and cons from the reviews into pre- (January 1, 2016 to March 1, 2020) and post-pandemic (March 1, 2020 to October 31, 2021). We then removed common words that do not add much meaning to a sentence, called stopwords, from the reviews and grouped together different forms of the same word (for example, ‘ran’, ‘run’ and ‘running’ would all be grouped together), a process known as lemmatisation. Our stopwords list comes from a list of English stopwords from the python package nltk (used for natural language processing). 

We then estimated the percentage point change in overall word usage for each word, along with several commonly used two-word phrases, in each type of review — pros pre-covid, pros post-covid, cons pre-covid, and cons post-covid, by counting up the number of times each word and phrase appeared, then divided it by the total number of words in each type. In an additional analysis, we excluded the top 5% of words in each section (pros and cons), since these words are very commonly used in Glassdoor reviews and thus do not provide much insight. 

Significance is calculated using a 2-sided Welch test for unequal variance. Variables are labeled as ‘significant’ when their p-values < 0.05 or < 0.01.

To speak with Lauren Thomas about this report, please contact pr@glassdoor.com. For the latest economics and labor market updates follow @LaurenTEcon on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, and subscribe to Glassdoor Economic Research.

Correction: This article originally misstated the most common salary bands. Rather than, ‘Seasonal employee salaries between 2016 and 2019 were mostly under £9 per hour...The most common salary band in 2018 and 2019 was £9-10 an hour, but it rose to £10-11 in 2020,’ it has now been corrected to read, ‘The most common seasonal employee salary band prior to 2018 was under £8 per hour…The most common salary band in 2018 and 2019 was £8-9 an hour, but it rose to £9-10 in 2020.’ Chart 1’s labels have been clarified to reflect this.