Overworked. Understaffed. And stressed out. Some companies just seem to be always understaffed. But how do you know if you are actually short-staffed? And what to do about it.
High workloads. Extra pressure. And feeling like you can never get everything done. In some organisations, you just get this feeling that you seem to be always understaffed.
And having sufficient staff is important. Research has shown time and again that understaffing lowers overall group performance and causes critical work outcomes failures. But how do you know if you’re actually understaffed? How would it impact your business? And what can you do about it?
Just as important as understanding your company culture and investing in help from a change management company, taking a good hard look at how your people manage their workloads can help you streamline your operations immensely.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU’RE CHRONICALLY UNDERSTAFFED?
It’s a fine line to tread – overstaffing could mean wasteful and unsustainable expenditure, but understaffing can silently “strangle” your business. Generally, it’s accepted that you’ll see some warning signs of being always understaffed:
1. Decreased productivity
It’s a slippery slope. If you’re seemingly always understaffed, your teams will likely struggle to meet their deadlines sustainably. Which in turn discourages your employees and raises stress levels, further increases the chances of them missing details and making errors. It could even lead to growing resentment and a disengaged workforce – get some insights on employee withdrawal.
2. An increase in overtime
It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on just how much overtime your people work. Some overtime during peak times is normal – tax season is a prime example of that! But look especially for teams clocking more hours but delivering the same amount of work, it’s a sign they’re spinning wheels and could burn out. See our post on too much overtime.
3. Customer complaints
Often a direct result of employees feeling overworked, customer service levels drop. In an understaffed team, employees have to shoulder extra loads of work. And they’ll try to get through things faster, leading to errors that inevitably impact your customers. See our info on too many customer complaints.
4. High turnover
Especially voluntary turnover – when people quit their jobs willingly. It’s always a sign that there are some deep organizational concerns that need to be addressed. And, though people might cite a number of different reasons for leaving, feeling overworked due to understaffing is definitely a likely cause.
5. See it in your finances
Logic says that if your productivity drops while overtime, complaints and staff turnover increases, you will eventually see the fallout in your finances.
Also see the silent bottom-line killer, duplicate work.
EFFECTS & IMPACTS OF BEING ALWAYS UNDERSTAFFED
Although many of the warning signs we mentioned above should be indicative enough, there is some actual research on the impact of being always understaffed.
In this 1995 study, for example, researchers found that “moderate” understaffing seemingly rallies your troops a bit – people feel more committed and want to do their task better. But they usually fail. Specifically, the study found that office workers (white-collar) tend to up their productivity only for a very short time, but “blue-collar” workers’ performance doesn’t increase at all, even though they really want to deliver more.
Overall, they found that understaffing decreased group productivity. An important lesson for any business considering restructuring, for sure.
But, much more concrete proof of the dark side of understaffing comes through this 2020 study that found that when a hospital is understaffed (of nurses specifically), instances of multiple organ failure increases. Adequate staffing is thus essential for providing critical care services (which is what the nurses are there to do). So another way of saying it could be: You need adequate staff to do what your company says it does.
HOW TO DEAL WITH BEING UNDERSTAFFED
Look, it happens. Teams are dynamic, and will change over time, so there’s every chance you’ll end up understaffed and stressed at some point. And the obvious thing to do then is to do the work, relook your requirements and get your company sustainably staffed again.
What might be worth looking into is really asking how you got to this point in the first place. There’s an assumption that employers are always looking for ways to save money and thus relish the idea of doing more with fewer people. But that’s not always the case – although it could be worthwhile just looking into the motivations and core beliefs of your senior management, you can imagine this could happen when people’s performance is based on how much costs they can save.
What could be worthwhile is looking into your long-term strategy and vision, your organizational culture. Because those things are commonly known to impact productivity, turnover, employee engagement etc. – all the “signs of understaffing” we mentioned above.
And, if you feel you need help, reach out to professionals that can help you create and instil a balanced and sustainable high-performance culture.
PLUS: HOW TO ENCOURAGE EMPLOYEES WHEN SHORT-STAFFED
It’s always a good idea to create a space for open communication. Say you’ve noticed the understaffing and explain what you’re doing about it. But then allow your teams to voice their concerns and opinions, and find ways to actually help each other. You can’t admit there’s a problem and just expect everyone to deliver anyway, so it might be worthwhile to create a priority system, to help people better understand what work is really crucial (or should be done first).
Try to have regular check-ins. Be supportive. You’re all in this together, so take care of each other. And, of course, work on getting your staff up to the right levels.
Good news! We are a change management company, and we specialise in helping companies discover, change and develop their Company Culture. We help companies get right down to understand their strategy, reality and turn organizational challenges into real opportunities. And we use science-based organizational development to re-energise your people for max growth.
And we WILL SEND a team to your company RIGHT NOW to help you discover ways to get back on track – with no obligation from you! (Just book your assessment below).
Let’s figure out what’s going on, so we can help you get back to high performance.
ABOUT OUR #COMPANYCULTURE PROJECT
The more you look at it, the more of the common, everyday struggles we face inside our companies are related to our organizational cultures. Even the most apparent efficiency and performance obstacles we face come as a result of cultures.
That’s why we’ve tasked our #TeamCompanyCulture to talk directly to the issues we see in our businesses every day. Connect with the team via email@example.com or phone 071 918 3217.
You might also be interested in…
Also see what happens when you have poor communication in the workplace.
And what would happen if your company doesn’t invest in understanding what you stand for, or seems to have no core values?