5 Tips to Avoid Getting Understaffed During the Holidays



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As you drive through your town or city, you’ve probably noticed an increase in “Help Wanted” signs. Or perhaps more businesses are advertising high sign-on bonuses to new employees.

It seems that no matter where you go businesses are suffering from a lack of staff and many have even closed their doors as a result of not having enough employees.

And businesses are feeling the shortage nationwide. In fact, 1 in 4 owners or executive managers believes there will be increases in staff shortages in the coming months.

As a small business owner or HR team, the last thing you want is to be short-handed during the holiday season. The combination of fewer employees on the team and a higher number of customers is a recipe for disaster. Increased customer complaints, high-stress levels, and employee burnout all stem from understaffing and can cause you to lose money.

Before we get into how to prevent understanding, we need to understand exactly what it is and what causes it.

What is understaffing?

Understaffing occurs in 2 ways:

  • A shortage of staff to fill the labor needs of the business
  • Multiple staff employees are out at the same time

The second option sounds less likely, but around the holiday season, it’s entirely possible that several key employees could be out sick, on vacation, or performing remote work at the same time.

You may be thinking that the simple fix to this problem is to just assign more work to the employees that you already have. However, increasing the workload on your current employees is likely to result in burnout and turnover.

If your business has an understaffing issue you may be thinking that the simple fix to this problem is to just assign more work to the employees that you already have. However, increasing the workload on your current employees is likely to result in burnout and turnover. This is especially true if overtime hours or pay are not offered to cope with the additional responsibilities.

To really understand the dangers related to understaffing, here are a few of the ways having fewer people and higher workloads can affect your business:

  1. Loss of revenue. Customer loyalty depends greatly on what type of customer service they receive. When a business doesn’t have enough staff, the customer services performance of the employees that are working drops. This leads to a loss of customers and thereby a loss of revenue. And it’s completely possible that some customers will decide not to come back at all.
  2. Poor reviews. When customers go underserved as a result of staffing shortages, they spread the word by talking about it with others they interact with or by leaving poor reviews online. Ultimately, this will damage the brand and reputation of your business. By not hiring enough workers or properly scheduling available staff members, you could be losing out on new customers in the long term.
  3. Reduced work quality. A shortage of staff puts extra pressure on employees to fill in the gaps by taking on additional tasks. When under this type of pressure, it becomes difficult to pay attention to detail. For example, if a restaurant doesn’t have enough staff, it could lead to a decrease not only in the quality of service customers receive but also in the quality of food they receive.
  4. Employee burnout. When employees are overworked, some may decide that the job isn’t worth the trouble and leave. In turn, this makes would make staffing issues worse and potentially leads to a higher staff turnover rate. Increased turnover means you’re spending more time on energy hiring rather than growing the business.

5 tips to avoid understaffing

First, you need to ensure that you’ve actually hired the right amount of people you need to do the work. To ensure you’re focused on the right hires, you can ask your current employees for feedback on their job satisfaction and what areas need more attention in the workplace.

Ask your current employees for feedback on their job satisfaction and what areas need more attention in the workplace.

Next, you’ll want to create a supportive workplace so employees can get work done efficiently. For example:

  • Are there open channels of communication?
  • Do you always have one senior member on staff for troubleshooting?
  • Have you been given adequate training on technology and procedures?
  • Are employees clear about timeframes for asking for PTO and overtime?

If your issue is a scheduling conflict that prevents you from being able to fill a shift there are some simple solutions to this.

  1. Map out your busiest and slowest times of the day. Then, schedule more workers when business is at its height and fewer workers when it’s not. Considering that the holiday season is coming up, you may want to look back on past holiday seasons as well.
  2. Have a deadline for time-off requests. It’s best to make the deadline a week in advance that way employees have time to switch shifts with each other.
  3. Provide incentives for those who work on holidays. It’s understandable that most people won’t want to come to work on Christmas, Black Friday, or New Year’s. However, they may reconsider if you provide an incentive such as additional pay, discounts, or time off in the future.
  4. Give employees the option to swap shifts amongst themselves. This will allow employees to schedule for unexpected events or emergencies. You can track their activity by having them log their shift switching activity in a logbook or using a digital solution for scheduling PTO.
  5. Let employees know when they can pick up extra shifts to fill in gaps. Sometimes employees don’t ask for extra shifts because they assume the answer will be no.

The holiday season is always a chaotic time. Don’t let the uncertainty of this time lead you to believe that you will repeat the mistakes of other businesses.

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