Dealing with Staffing Shortages

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A staffing shortage occurs when a business lacks sufficient workers to perform necessary tasks. Staffing shortages reduce productivity and efficiency, increase overtime costs, and cause financial losses.

To address a staffing shortage, you must identify the reason(s) for the deficiency. Potential reasons may include these factors:

  • Increased demand — Increased consumer demand creates a need for more workers. Without additional employees, a company must meet the demand by offering overtime or increasing efficiency.
  • Insufficient candidates — This can be a quantity or quality issue. For example, there may be a shortage of candidates, or available candidates may lack the required skills.
  • High employee turnover — Vacant jobs create shortages that affect productivity, morale, and customer service levels.
  • Changes to the competitive environment — If a competitor ceases operation or loses customers by changing its products or services, increased customer traffic may cause staffing shortages.
  • Introducing new products or services — Increased sales caused by new products or services can also create shortages.
  • Other Factors — Unanticipated changes in the business environment (such as the increased pressure on vaccine-producing companies during the pandemic) also cause staffing issues.

If an organization experiences a staffing shortage, what steps can it take to address it?

  • Streamline the hiring process to onboard new employees more quickly. Eliminate bottlenecks and inefficiencies that cause delays.
  • Consider overall staffing levels and determine if particular areas are overstaffed. Then, move employees with transferrable skills (either temporarily or permanently) to understaffed areas.
  • Offer incentives (financial and non-financial) to attract and retain employees.
  • Consider non-traditional recruiting sources. Local social media sites may reach candidates that more conventional approaches won’t. Other good sources include industry association websites.
  • Use temporary or contractor agencies to fill staffing gaps.
  • Consider flexible working arrangements, allowing employees to improve their work-life balance.
  • Provide appealing non-traditional benefits, such as childcare, commute transportation, gym memberships, etc.
  • Consider collaborating with other organizations to share resources and personnel.
  • Fill in gaps with retirees until more employees arrive.

Longer-term solutions to reduce staffing needs include the following:

  • Redesign job descriptions and eliminate redundancy.
  • Conduct efficiency studies to evaluate work processes and eliminate unnecessary steps, outdated equipment, bottlenecks, etc.
  • Explore technology solutions. For example, fast-food restaurants now use ordering kiosks to automate a portion of their work.
  • Address office culture issues that cause inefficiency. Political debates, extended water cooler conversations, unnecessary absenteeism, and other unproductive behavior limit labor output and leave crucial work unfinished.

When staffing shortages occur, you must determine why and creatively take steps to address the current needs.

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