Understaffing - What It Is, Why it's a Problem, and What You Can Do About It (Hiring Manager Series)

Understaffing - What It Is, Why it's a Problem, and What You Can Do About It (Hiring Manager Series)

Posted on 14 March 2022

Working out your manpower needs is not an easy task. It’s a balancing act where a slip can mean losing money, clients, or employees, and any company that is careless with its staffing requirements will soon find itself struggling to maintain daily operations. So, what exactly does being understaffed mean?

Basically, it is a state in which a company does not have sufficient manpower to run smoothly. This can happen for several reasons. Maybe you are experiencing a period of heightened demand, such as over the holidays, or maybe you’re looking to ramp up your output or expand your business. It is also possible to be chronically understaffed, a result of high employee turnover and low employment rates. Whatever the reason, being understaffed can be damaging to your company’s operations and will ultimately affect your bottom line. Do you find yourself constantly trying to hire more people? Are you regularly falling behind targets on KPIs? Is your overtime payroll through the roof? Here’s what you can do about it.

Analyse Your Existing Workforce and Processes

Firstly, where is the manpower crunch occurring? Is there any way to reorganise your existing staff to better handle the workflow? Station your more experienced workers where there seems to be a bottleneck, and leave the easier tasks to the new hires. If you’re ramping up your operations, install a training program that will allow your more junior staff to become more comfortable with the work required of them. That way you will have a pool of capable people ready to take on more demanding jobs when the need arises. Identify who your skilled employees are, and take advantage of their training and experience. Seek their input on how to better streamline your workflow.

Fill skilled and semi-skilled openings quickly

If there is one thing you shouldn’t dally on, it’s hiring for your skilled positions. If you are short on time and your budget allows for it, consider bringing in a recruitment agency to scout out skilled labour for any open positions you have trouble filling. Agencies will know where to look for people with the particular set of skills you require, and they will work as fast as you need them to, allowing you to better concentrate on your operations. If this isn’t an option for you, make sure that your hiring manager (if it is someone other than you) is working hard to fill these openings. Bear in mind, however, that some decisions shouldn’t be rushed. A bad hire can set you back just as bad, if not worse, than leaving a position vacant for too long.

Consider Temporary or Contract Staffing Options

This requires a certain degree of planning ahead, so anticipate periods of increased demand for your services. Again, consider hiring a recruitment agency that deals with temp staffing as they will likely have a ready pool of people looking for contract work. Depending on your industry, certain jobs can be hired for on an as-needed basis, so see if you can establish a labour pool to help you tide over periods of increased demand.

Understand your Employee’s Needs, and Be Flexible with Scheduling

If you’re bringing in temp staff to help manage demand, consider hiring slightly more than required to take the pressure off your full-timers. Doing so will ensure that they are not overworked and will show them that you are sensitive to their needs. Bear in mind that employees are more likely to request time off during school holidays and religious celebrations, so allow them the flexibility to swap shifts or to make up the hours over the weekend, if they prefer. If you don’t already have a provision for it, consider allowing employees a number of ‘work-from-home’ days if the nature of their job allows for it.

Retention Through Motivation

Perhaps the easiest way to mitigate understaffing is to retain the workforce you already have. Create an environment that employees love to work in and will tell their friends and family about. Simple things such as providing drinks and snacks in the breakroom, referral bonuses, and rewarding employees for meeting productivity goals, can do wonders for your working environment. Be mindful, though, that if your turnover rate is high and your workers are quitting en masse, this is probably a symptom of a deeper problem. Examine your pay structure and your overtime scheme to ensure that the wages you provide are fair. While a certain amount of overtime is expected, and even desired, expecting an employee to accept too many extra hours can lead to burnout. Equally important are opportunities for advancement. An employee who feels that their contributions are not valued and that their career path has come to a dead-end is likely to leave for another job that offers a greater sense of fulfilment. 

At the end of the day, an employee who is comfortable, well-rested and happy, is more likely to stay with you through the hard and busy times. Good luck!

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