Avoid Being Understaffed This Holiday Season

Author: Eugenija Steponkute
Published: 08/07/2024

With the holiday season in full swing, many companies find themselves unprepared and understaffed. In this article, we will discuss why long-term shortness of staff is detrimental to your business and share tips on how to avoid it.

Have you ever encountered the situation when almost half of your team is on annual leave and you’re barely scraping by without them? You’re not alone. There are certain times a year that are particularly popular for people to take time off work, leaving the companies and their remaining colleagues in a bind. But more often than not, it’s not the worker’s fault. In fact, the responsibility for being understaffed and therefore its consequences falls on to the employer. Who has approved their leave request in the first place?

The common theme is that most of the holiday requests will roll in at different times, even if they’re requesting the same time window. It’s easy to double-book and end up with fewer workers than expected. In this article, we will be talking about the long-term impact it can cause and how to minimise the chance of being short-staffed. 

What is the Root Cause of Understaffing?

Staff shortages often occur due to an employer approving too many holiday leave requests simultaneously. If combined with unforeseen circumstances such as sick leave or no-shows, it can put your company in a serious pickle. The solution to this issue is also simple - centralising the view on staff’s availability before granting them time off. 

Other common causes are taking on higher volumes of work than normal, poor management that results in high turnaround and standards that are hard to meet. The solution for these lies within the company’s values or rather changing your approach to them.

The Impact of Being Understaffed

Being short on staff is an issue many businesses are facing, and it’s therefore not perceived as seriously as it should be. However, it is more damaging to companies than it’s given credit for. Since there are already many resources discussing its overall impact, we will only talk about the biggest issues it causes. 

Lower Team Morale

Employee wellbeing remains one of the hottest topics in the post-pandemic era. While being understaffed is surely inconvenient to you as an employer, it’s often overlooked at the impact it has on your team. Being short of the workforce yet expecting the same results and for the deadlines to be met means the staff you have on hand will have to work harder. While this could be expected from time to time, this becoming either a frequent or a long-lasting issue will have a negative impact on your team’s overall morale. 

First of all, overworking is the quickest path to burnout which itself is a source of many problems. Secondly, as humans, we are wired to be more irritable when tired or exposed to stress for extended periods. This means your relationship with your employees is likely to suffer due to them growing resentful, not to mention potential internal squabbles that will result in diminishing alignment and willingness to work together. In other words, being short-staffed is a lose-lose situation for everyone in the company. While it’s bound to happen now and then, it should be avoided as much as possible. 

Impact on Services Provided

This goes together with the lower team morale, as exhausted and grumpy workers aren’t likely to keep up with producing top results. While the overall performance may appear unaffected, just like in the previous case, the cracks will soon begin showing if the issue persists. And while before you were risking internal issues, this is a direct threat to your well-being and reputation as a business. 

Naturally, when your clients pay for your services, they expect to get their money’s worth. Your circumstances, very likely, don’t interest them and should therefore not be used as an excuse. It is a good idea to give them a heads up that you are understaffed and slight delays may occur but don’t mistake it for permission to underperform. The experience and the results you provide are the building blocks of your company’s reputation and trustworthiness - unfavourable internal situations do not contribute to it. It is therefore in your best interest to assure there is nothing compromising the quality of the services you deliver. Being short-staffed included. 

Tools to Help

There are tools out there that can assist you in getting a better hang of your team’s availability. In addition, they can also help you allocate your available workforce better, as well as plan in advance for unforeseen circumstances. 

Holiday Management System

Every business has made this mistake at least once - allowing too many team members to take him off simultaneously. It can be difficult to avoid it, especially when the leave requests come at different times yet are for a similar time frame. Double-booking is easier than we think, especially when there is no centralised view of your team’s overall availability and there are several approvers. But that’s an easily solvable issue. All you need is a holiday management system. They are simple, affordable and filled with benefits. 

The system makes the process of requesting and reviewing leave requests easier and kept in one place instead of subjecting you to email threats that get lost and forgotten. Not to mention, if the holiday is approved, it appears in the calendar right away. Aside from helping you avoid being understaffed, a holiday management system also takes over operations such as holiday accrual calculations and carry-overs. While neither of these tasks is complicated in most cases, they can still steal away a significant chunk of your time.

Shift Scheduling Software

Another useful tool is a shift scheduler. Sometimes, they come as a part of the holiday management system or as a co-joint module of a bigger solution. This tool also highlights the availability of your team members but in greater detail. Namely, how many hours they’ve worked within the specified period, which will be a determining factor in how much more work time you can allocate them when building a rota. 

Most of the shift scheduling solutions will only require minimal involvement. Namely, penning down the information regarding your team’s time rules. From there, it will set up their rotas automatically, with or without the need for you to approve them. When either integrated or functioning as a part of a holiday system, a shift scheduler will automatically take into consideration specific employees being unavailable and exclude/replace them in the rota with the next available worker. 

Navigating the Holiday Season

The holiday season is particularly tricky as this is when most of your staff want to have time off. It requires preparations well in advance, from both parties. As an employer, you need to pay attention to two key things.

Awareness and Visibility

As you might have figured from reading the rest of this article, there are two things that are crucial in ensuring you minimise the risk of being short-staffed. One is having visibility over the general availability of your team. This helps you make sure you don’t let multiple employees take time off simultaneously, leaving the rest of your team struggling. It also allows you to plan in advance for the periods you know you will have a lesser workforce at your disposal. 

The second thing is the awareness. Namely of the fact that even despite your best efforts and the right tools in place, being understaffed is still a thing that happens. People have emergencies, no-shows happen, and many other unpredicted scenarios can diminish your workforce without warning. Being aware there is always such possibility allows you to come up with an action plan for when they occur. Tools such as a shift scheduler can help you navigate these crises easier. What’s important to remember is that they are meant to be very occasional and short-term. Otherwise, you have an issue that needs to be addressed and solved. 

Summary

Being understaffed is something every company encounters now and then, especially during the holiday season. However, while it’s bound to happen now and then, it’s in your best interest to minimise its frequency and how long it lasts. Mainly because it puts a strain on your remaining workers who are under pressure to continue delivering the same results. It breeds dissatisfaction, resentment and misalignment within the team, and in turn, affects the quality of services you deliver. All in all, it’s harmful in many ways.

Occasional cases of being understaffed will happen due to unforeseen circumstances such as emergencies - recognise that and have a plan in place for when that happens. However, quite often you can know well in advance when your workforce will be limited and therefore prepare accordingly. Tools like a holiday management system grant you centralised visibility, and shift scheduling software would be your go-to when delegating the available resources. To reach the best results, we recommend combining them both.

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