Join the Club – Everybody Is Shorthanded

Being Short on Headcount Can Cause Both Bad – and Good – Issues.

I honestly cannot remember the last time I met a manager who felt he/she had just the right amount of employees to get the job done well. Everyone, in all kinds of industries, seems to be just a little bit short of having the right amount of employees.

There are a lot of reasons for this – sick leave, vacations, terminations, retirements, etc. Right now, one of the big issues, especially in the aggregates and construction industries, is there are just not enough qualified employees out there to fill the open positions. This current reality is compounded by the age-old problem of schools not providing businesses with job-ready employees.

Being a little short-handed is probably a good thing. It causes everyone to work at their full capacity, and if people can stay motivated productivity soars. In a lot of situations, when everyone pulls together because of not enough hands, there is a bonding that happens, and teamwork is at its best. If a lack of proper headcount starts becoming counter-productive, there are some things to consider.

Output issues. When your team literally does not have enough employees to do the job completely, and well, most of your metrics are going to suffer. Your output will tend to be less, quality will suffer in the rush to get product out, deliveries will be late, reworks increase, etc. When this starts to happen, as a manager it is your responsibility to make sure other departments are aware of your situation so they can adjust their expectations to meet the situation. Nobody likes to tell a customer that quality is going to be off for awhile or shipments are going to be late. But, it is better to tell them proactively than for them to be surprised.

Employee morale. When your team is sharing an inordinate amount of the workload, morale may take a hit and stress will increase. Watch for members of your team showing signs of stress and intervene right away. Spread the work out as much as you can and pitch in yourself where possible. This is the time for you to be a cheerleader and show confidence that your team can handle the situation. Communicate openly with everyone about when you see the headcount situation improving. Working closely with your boss, HR, and your recruiter to keep the pipeline of potential hires will give you a sense of how long your team will be under the gun. Be empathetic to the fact that your employees’ family lives may be suffering a bit with the added workload.

Obstacles and bottlenecks. Things that get in the way of smooth production are always bothersome, but they become even more so when you are short on people. As the manager, work hard at getting out in front of potential obstacles and roadblocks. Do everything you can to make the processes your team works with go as smooth as possible. Meet with managers of other departments to discuss how the teams can work together to minimize problems during this time of limited headcount. If your team is feeling stressed, chances are other departments are too.

HR and recruiters. Take a long, hard look at your job descriptions. These are the tools that your HR and recruiting teams use to look for qualified candidates. Make sure that the job description mirrors what it takes for someone to be successful. Look for areas in the job description that may be a bit over-restrictive. If some of the requirements can be loosened a bit, that may increase the flow of candidates that your recruiter is able to screen. Work with your HR folks to get more internal referrals from employees around the company. Stay in close contact with both HR and recruiters. Always follow up with them after interviews. Make their job easier and they will do the best they can for you in return.

Adjust goals. When you honestly do not have enough employees to do the job, you need to meet with your boss to adjust your goals for the year. It is not reasonable to keep the same aggressive goals you set earlier in the year when now you do not have enough people. Trying to hit aggressive goals when the environment has changed dramatically will cause increases in employee absenteeism and turnover. That will result in even less people to get the job done, more stress, etc. Work with your boss to set some short term goals that people can rally behind.

One of the ingredients in having an organization that meets customers’ requirements is having the right number of employees. When that does not happen, for whatever reason, you must make adjustments to accommodate your customers, other departments, and your employees. Be a cheerleader at these times and show confidence in your employees that you can all weather the storm together.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].

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