How to make sure you always have the right number of employees


by Laura Stack, Contributing Writer, Pittsburgh Business Times

employeesKeeping the proper-sized staff on hand can be quite the balancing act. Too few team members will prevent you from properly serving your clients. Too many employees can result in increased costs and underutilization of your resources.

So, given the need to maintain your staff at a maximal level, how can you tell when things have gotten out of hand either way?

Over and under

Over-staffing situations tend to be fairly obvious. When people regularly have to hunt for new work, stand around the water cooler too much, come in late, leave early or take long lunches, you clearly have too many people on the payroll.

It will be fun for a time, but people will soon start to feel unfulfilled. You have two choices: Find more work to occupy them (rev up your powers of persuasion, creativity and innovation to create new opportunities), or release workers until you have enough business to match your workforce (decide which staff members contribute least, and let them go). Consider not just talent and skill sets, but actual bottom line productivity. These two decisions seem pretty cut and dry.

The biggest problem you’ll face is having too few staff to get it all done.

At one time or another, most of us have had to stretch ourselves thin to make up for downsized colleagues. Over the short term, we usually do well at it, causing the managers who did the downsizing to congratulate themselves for making the right decision. But they miss the fact that stretching implies deformation. At some point, anything stretched either gets warped out of shape, or — like a rubber band — snaps back to its original dimensions.

Stretching a team to fill staffing gaps should be temporary. Otherwise, the workers soon become exhausted, frustrated and disengaged — and things start to break down. Projects go undone and languish on task lists.

Team relations grow terse. No one has time to talk to each other, plan for the long term or bother with anything other than trying to dig out from under their current pile of work. This inevitably results in increased absenteeism, greater error and accident rates, employee disengagement and turnover — all of which damage productivity.

Action step

If you suspect you have staffing issues, sit down and take a hard look at the situation. Talk to your key people. When you have too many people, the solution is simple: Find more work, or trim your staff. Both options require the development and implementation of a quick action plan, whether that means calling up clients looking for more work or finding ways to transfer excess people to understaffed teams.

If you need more people, face the facts — identify the choke points in your work process, and calculate how many workers you need to ease the load. Take a good, hard look at your budget and decide how many you can actually afford, taking candidate searches, interviewing, orientation and training into account.

It’s better to incur costs now, so you don’t have to incur them later as your overworked team falls apart around you — and your valuable employees leave in search of a better life.

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