Understaffing: What it Is And How it Hurts Your Business

In recent years, understaffing has become a very real issue for many businesses.

As long-time employees begin to retire and staff of all experience levels leave to seek their fortunes elsewhere, businesses of all types and sizes must somehow function with a skeleton crew.

That can cause any manner of problems, ranging from a more immediate drop in work quality to eventual damage to your brand.

If you find your business suffering from understaffing, refocus your efforts on hiring the necessary staff to keep everything running smoothly. Not sure how? Read on to find out.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

What is understaffing?

Office space with understaffing

As the word suggests, understaffing is a situation in which a business employs too few staff members to operate effectively.

Understaffing can occur in one of two ways:

  • Your business doesn’t have enough staff on the payroll to cover all the work necessary for things to run smoothly
  • Multiple employees are away from work (e.g., at a conference, off sick, on holiday) all at the same time

While businesses are more likely to focus on preventing the former, the latter can be just as harmful to your business. In fact, you may not even realize you have an issue until it’s too late.

It’s at this point — when you least expect it — that being short-staffed can damage the way you do business.

How understaffing hurts your business

Empty desks from understaffing

1) High employee stress

One of the first effects of understaffing that your business will experience is higher than normal employee stress levels for those who are there.

Too much work over a prolonged period of time creates ongoing, chronic stress that can lead to mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.

This exhaustion results in a lack of enthusiasm, decreased motivation, and a general sense of displeasure with the job. Eventually, your team will suffer from burnout, which can further exacerbate the issue and cause even more problems for your business.

2) Increased turnover and attrition

Turnover describes the rate at which one employee (or multiple employees) leaves your business and you replace them with a new employee.

Attrition, on the other hand, describes the rate at which one employee leaves your business and you don’t replace them with a new employee. Gone unchecked, both turnover and attrition can lead to your business being understaffed.

What’s worse, understaffing itself can push your turnover and attrition rate even higher than normal.

In fact, these variables can create a self-perpetuating cycle — high attrition leads to understaffing, which leads to even higher attrition, and so on — that can seriously harm the way you do business.

Making an effort to turn this trend around before it’s too late can help save your business from all sorts of issues.

3) Drop in work quality

Flow chart to help with understaffing

When your business experiences understaffing, your team will have more projects to manage and less time to get them done.

This type of situation can cause a significant drop in work quality because:

  • Everyone is more rushed than usual.
  • Team members have so much to do that they lose all motivation to do a good job.

For example, an understaffed sales team will have more customers to handle. This increased ratio of customers to team members means your employees will have less time to provide the high level one-on-one service that you expect.

They’ll be rushing around so much trying to deal with the increased workload that they’ll focus more on checking things off their task list than trying to do a good job.

4) Loss of sales and customers

The results of being short-staffed eventually compound themselves to cause a loss of sales and customers. Even if you rectify the situation as soon as possible, the loss of revenue can continue unchecked for quite some time after.

Such losses can actually become a slippery slope that puts your business in a position in which it can’t afford to hire the necessary staff to cover the work. This, in turn, leads to even more loss of revenue.

5) Damage to your brand

Damage to your brand is another result of being understaffed that you want to avoid in every way possible.

The poor service and loss of sales mentioned in the previous item on this list will eventually lead to a decrease in customer perception, poor reviews, and a deterioration of your business’s reputation and standing within the industry.

One customer’s bad experience due to your business’s understaffing can lead to a tidal wave of negativity.

Damage to your brand takes even more time, money, and effort to recover from than dealing with the understaffing issue that caused it all.

That’s why it’s always better to address being short-staffed right away so it doesn’t get out of control and damage your business beyond repair.

How to prevent understaffing

Meeting about how to prevent understaffing

1) Assess staffing needs

Before your business finds itself understaffed, conduct a careful analysis of your team needs. Then, create a plan to resolve any understaffing issues as soon as possible.

Start the analysis by making a list of the shifts your business operates and the tasks that need to be covered every day during those shifts.

Figure out how much your current employees can handle (usually by talking with them one-on-one and as a group), build in a buffer so you don’t fall victim to overestimation, and then settle on a minimum staff level for your business.

2) Organize your team with technology

Using technology to help organize your team

Keeping your team organized and on task with the right software is one of the best ways to prevent a staffing issue.

Modern scheduling software offers a whole host of features that can help you:

Plus, with tools like Sling, you’ll know if there’s a problem with your staffing from the very beginning, giving you the chance to get ahead of it before it gets out of hand.

3) Hire temporary employees

When you find your business short-staffed, the easiest way to remedy the situation is to hire temporary employees.

If you assess your staffing needs and discover that work levels will return to a more normal level once a certain project is finished, you can bring one or two part-time employees onto the team to get you through.

And, who knows, maybe those temporary employees will do such a good job that you’ll offer them full-time work in the future or approach them once more if you find your business understaffed again.

This approach works better as a short-term plan and doesn’t replace the need for solid, long-term employees. After all, hiring, onboarding, and training new employees gets expensive.

4) Tap the freelance market

Another way to prevent understaffing is to tap into the depth and scope of the freelance market.

Hiring a freelancer to handle some aspect of your team’s responsibilities is a great way to free up time and energy so your in-house employees — and you — can focus on more important issues.

5) Partner with a staffing agency

Staffing agencies are dedicated to helping businesses avoid becoming understaffed. They can provide you with any manner of skilled employees, including:

  • Temporary workers
  • Part-time employees
  • Contract workers
  • Long-term, full-time employees

Partner with a temp agency to get out from underneath the issue as soon as possible.

Managing your team with Sling

Busy office space

Preventing understaffing is an important part of keeping your business on the road to success. Equally important is how you choose to organize and optimize your workforce.

You can make both issues easier to manage with the right software. The Sling suite of tools is the best choice to help you simplify and streamline all aspects of your business.

Sling gives you unprecedented control over your scheduling process.

With our cloud-based features, you can implement employee self-scheduling and quickly and easily build staff rotas one month, two months, even six months or more in advance.

All of this — and much more — will help you prevent understaffing, save money, and increase profits in your business.

For more free resources to help you manage your business better, organize and schedule your team, and track and calculate labor costs, visit our website.

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This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal, tax, HR, or any other professional advice. Please contact an attorney or other professional for specific advice.

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