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The understaffing/overworking conundrum

Today’s society is unequivocally centred on supply and demand, consumerism and capitalism. Not that capitalism in a corporate sense is a bad thing, as we live in the most advanced civilisation to have evolved in human time. However, the obsession of profits, margin and maximising gain is not often felt by those in senior position, but often the ‘oil in the gears’ which are the staff, workers and colleagues doing the work on the ground, far away from the paradise of a private office. In a purely pragmatic, paper-based scenario – it makes sense to minimise staff numbers to maximise the turnover for a corporation and improve the margins from manufacture to selling of any given product. In the dense soup of the corporate real world, however, the detrimental effects of having less staff with a higher workload are often catastrophic and do not form a part of a healthy long-term plan, unless the business itself is looking to downsize.


The straw that broke the camels back however, on top of the understaffing conundrum – is the overworking of staff in times of hardship or high demand for products and profit. This news comes as reports (https://bit.ly/2YZdyPG) suggest just under 33% of all small and medium sized UK business staff will be expected to work throughout the summer and skimp on their own personal holiday entitlement. A report in HR review suggested that senior staff and management expect staff to be ready to ‘deploy’ into the workplace at a moment’s notice, further blurring the work/life balance boundaries which are becoming ever intertwined in today’s world.


Interestingly, the review stated that a large number of staff who refused to take holiday over the summer reported that their inability to lay back and relax in light of a growing workload on their return was a primary reason for delaying their holiday. Anecdotally, our attachment to media and technological devices also play a primary role in preventing the separation of work life to leisure time, with staff who link their work emails to devices feeling a sense of duty to reply to emails and schedule meetings round the clock.





In light of the understaffing conundrum, these issues arise much more readily whereby staff feel their absence will not be aptly or totally covered should they take their leave, with even a small proportion of survey respondents claiming they feel themselves the only member of staff competent enough to complete their job.

An obviously attractive prospect of shrinking the workforce within a business is the propensity for the reallocation of several yearly salaries to other areas of the business, promoting growth, strengthening partnership deals and allowing reinvestment. Cutting the workforce but not modifying organisational expectations on profit and output in any company can cause interpersonal issues in staff and increases feelings of pressure, stress and a need to do more to stay afloat of workload.


However, when the inevitable landslide of output occurs from staff breakdown, communication issues and stress, organisations often look to mend the issues with secondary and tertiary options than employing the adequate number of staff. Often, this comes in the form of locums and temporary staff – who when used for an appropriate period of time, can provide great relief. However, organisations often enjoy the efficiency of the temporary employees and may employ them on a more regular basis, driving back up the costs they initially sought to avoid.


When things reach breaking point, the stress and expectations - so great on the employees – often cause illness, breakdown and a low satisfaction in roles, leading to staff leaving or needing time off. At this point, severe dysfunction has bred into the structure of the business and it is often at this stage that businesses inevitably start to fail formally. The cascade of events leading to this point are often one of resistance and resilience to change from the senior management, but often start from small, honest business decisions to change company directions.


Using management consultants like WorkingWell long before major business decisions are made is crucial to reserve the sanctity of the corporate vitality of the business. Furthermore, the reduction of the need for temporary staff and lay offs can be pre-planned effectively to manage individual employees workloads. Some larger organisations hold meetings and AGMs whereby company decisions can be influenced by the employees, giving greater autonomy in decision making to the staff and preventing a terminal situation whereby motivation and morale is lost.

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