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Understaffed Offices During the Holidays

8 Tips to Manage an Understaffed Office During The Holidays

The holiday season often brings unique challenges for offices already grappling with limited staffing. During holidays, team members are more likely to take time off and the workload may increase. This can increase the stress levels of an understaffed office.

In this blog post, we address the critical need for effective strategies in handling understaffing during the holiday season. Businesses often find themselves navigating the holiday season with a reduced workforce, resulting in employees taking on extra work and potentially impacting their work life balance.

We cover 10 practical tips aimed at allowing employers and managers to successfully navigate the challenges of an understaffed office. These tips offer essential guidance for surviving the short-term with fewer staff members available, making the holiday season more manageable and productive. 

The Effects of Being Short Staffed

Understaffing during the holiday season leads to a series of consequences that can affect various aspects in the workplace.  

 Productivity Challenges: 

Reduced staffing can create bottlenecks in the workflow, leading to delays or failing to meet deadlines. The increased workload on remaining employees can reduce their ability to efficiently handle their responsibilities. 

 Reduced Employee Morale:

The added pressure from increased workloads without enough support can lead to increased stress among employees. This, in turn, affects morale, potentially causing burnout, decreased job satisfaction, and disengagement among team members. 

 Customer Service Impact: 

During the holiday season, businesses might experience slower response times to customer questions, longer waiting periods, or a reduced capacity to provide personalized service. This could result in a decline in customer satisfaction and negatively impact the business's reputation. 

1. Plan Strategically 

Managing an understaffed office during the holiday season requires strategic planning and using resources wisely. To work efficiently in such situations, it's crucial to figure out what task are most important.

A helpful method for simplifying this is the Eisenhower urgency/importance matrix. This tool helps prioritize tasks based on how urgent and important they are. It gives a clear way to decide which tasks to handle first.

Creating a specific plan to deal with staffing issues and workload during the holidays is vital. This involves carefully checking the available resources, understanding how having fewer staff affects different parts of the business, and making a flexible plan to manage changes in the workload.

2. Prioritize Quick Win Tasks

During staff shortages, direct your focus towards tasks that bring quick wins. This approach involves identifying tasks that require fewer people while successfully accomplishing projects. As a result, this can recharge your team during overwhelming times.   

A few successes can act as morale boosters, fostering a sense of accomplishment, especially when facing reduced manpower and increased workloads. By focusing on quick win tasks, teams can maintain momentum, experience successes, and regain control during challenging situations. 

3. Reduce expectations

In times where you're short staffed at work, it's important to reset expectations to handle work better. This means reviewing tasks that need a lot of work. For example, think about delaying, making smaller, or even canceling tasks that need a lot of time, like reports, to manage a smaller team better.

Resetting expectations helps manage work more realistically during this period. By reconsidering what's expected, businesses can smoothly handle these times without losing overall productivity in the long term.

4. Communicate Regularly

In understaffed office, maintaining clear and regular communication is important, even though more meetings might be the last thing you want. Your team needs these regular check-ins, both formal and informal during challenging times. It's equally important not to discourage employees from sharing negative news, having accurate information is key for making informed decisions. 

Having simple yet effective communication strategies is vital to foster open dialogue. Encourage open channels for sharing updates, use collaborative tools for remote communication, and create a culture where employees feel safe to give honest feedback. Promoting clear and open communication allows everyone to stay informed and connected, fostering a productive environment. 

5. Get Help

When faced with a shortage of in-house staff, seeking external assistance may be a valuable option. Explore various external options to find the best option for your business and lighten the workload. Consider working with a 1099 contractor, freelancer, or collaborating with a reputable temp agency. These options provide flexible solutions to support your team during periods of understaffing.

In fact, the National Retail Federation (NRF) stated they expect retailers to hire seasonal workers to meet the holiday demands, which is a common practice. In 2023, the NRF expect retailers to hire between 345,000 to 450,000 seasonal workers. 

Guidance on where and how to find extra help is vital. If you require more strategic advice in handling labor shortages, seeking guidance from a PEO can offer valuable insights and direction. This expertise can improve your approach to effectively managing staffing shortages. 

6. Be smart about PTO request

During the holiday season, efficiently managing vacation schedules becomes paramount. Rather than allowing paid time off requests to become chaotic, establish a structured process. Require early requests and define a fair method for prioritizing requests based on seniority or other factors.

Consider allowing employees to carry over their unused vacation time and paid holidays. This will reduce the pressure of having to use the rest of their time off during the holidays and year end. 

Discussing the significance of managing employee vacation schedules efficiently during the holidays is vital. Provide ways to handle vacation requests fairly while ensuring coverage of essential tasks. A structured approach allows employees to plan their time off while maintaining productivity during periods of reduced staffing. 

7. Stay Positive

Maintaining a positive outlook during tough times can have a significant impact. A positive attitude can uplift morale and enhance the team's resilience in handling workload pressures during the holiday season. Here are some tips to foster a positive work environment during these difficulties: 

  •  Maintain Open Communication: Encourage open and transparent communication among team members.

  •  Flexibility and Support: Offer flexibility in work arrangements where possible and provide support to reduce stress. 

  •  Team Bonding: Organize team-building activities or social events to maintain teamwork and strengthen employee relationships.

8. Try “One-Minus Staffing” 

The idea behind "One-Minus Staffing" is having one less person than what's typically necessary. Bill Gates supports this approach, highlighting its advantages. Gates mentioned, "When you understaff, people jump on the loose ball," as per SFGate.

Gates also noted, "You find out who the real performers are. Not so when you’re overstaffed. People sit around waiting for somebody else to do it." This highlights how fewer staff encourage individuals to take initiative and show their skills, revealing the most effective team members.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about CoAdvantage’s ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.