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Red flags your store is understaffed

Understaffing can spell disaster for a retail business. Learn how to nail shift planning to keep your stores running smoothly.

Understaffing is one of the most common retail pitfalls, one that can have a huge impact on productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee morale. By being alert to the signs and improving your shift planning process, you can find your company’s staffing sweet spot.

Understaffing explained

It might be self-explanatory, but starting with the basics is always good. Understaffing occurs when a business employs too few staff members to meet its everyday demands. This situation inevitably leads to overworked employees and decreased productivity. Naturally, this also negatively impacts the quality of customer service. Addressing the issue before it gets out of hand is the best way to keep your workforce happy and healthy and maintain a positive reputation for your brand.

The dangers of understaffing

Ignoring understaffing can have potentially disastrous consequences for a business, including overworked employees, poor work quality, unhappy customers, and increased operational risk. By sharpening your senses for signs of understaffing and increasing your focus on shift planning and labor optimization, you can create a workplace where frontline workers have the support and capacity to not just do their jobs well but excel at them. 

Some of the more serious effects on understaffing on businesses include:

  • Decreased productivity and efficiency: When the workload outweighs the size of the workforce, it’s the existing staff who suffer. You want to get the most out of your workers, but pushing them to their limits is counterintuitive and ultimately leads to overwork and reduced efficiency.
  • Burnout and bad morale: In the most severe cases, the stress of constant overwork can lead to burnout. For even one employee to end up in this position can deal a huge blow to company morale and employee engagement.
  • Slow response time: Customers expect a speedy reply to their inquiries. When they fail to get this, they quickly grow frustrated and you may risk losing their business altogether.
    Compromised quality of work: With a list of to-dos as long as their arms, workers can find themselves stressed to the brink. They rush through tasks just to make a dent in them, resulting in errors and an overall lower quality of work. 
  • Missed growth opportunities: Without the capacity to meet your customers’ needs, you won’t have a workforce strong enough to support any expansion or improvement initiatives.
  • Stressed staff and higher turnover: We’ve all been on the receiving end of too much work at one time or another and know the impact it can have on our well-being. The pressure to perform multiple roles can increase stress levels and lead to higher absenteeism and turnover as workers seek better conditions.  

How to spot understaffing

The reason behind some of the above issues isn’t always immediately obvious, even if it’s staring you in the face. Start by monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) to identify whether productivity has declined. This can help you to determine whether it’s time to bring in new workers and how many are needed to balance employee costs and workplace productivity. 

Your frontline workers want to feel heard. What better way to make this happen than by listening to them? Ask them for feedback about their working conditions to gain a better understanding of employee satisfaction and workload. It’s a simple but underrated way to gain insight into the reality of their daily stressors.

A spike in turnover is a clear sign that workers are unhappy. If you notice more employees throwing in the towel, it might be because they feel overworked and unsupported. This can manifest in more ways that higher turnover rates; it might be that you notice top performers struggling with their workloads. Take a look at their current performance and compare it with previous periods to evaluate whether this might be the case and adjust the workload accordingly.

Last but not least, customer feedback is the breakfast of retail champions. If your customers aren’t happy with the level of care they receive, it’s often a telltale sign that your frontline teams don’t have the capacity to deliver exceptional service.




Tackle understaffing with tech

The solution to understaffing is simple, but it’s not always easy to know where to start. The good news is, you’re not alone – tech has your back. Using technology to combat understaffing offers several benefits:
  • Demand forecasting: Use data-driven workforce analytics to accurately predict demand for each individual store, employee productivity, and work patterns – from summer shifts to slow periods – to avoid understaffing issues and make better staffing decisions.
  • Labor optimization: Turning to tech for shift planning helps you to create employee-centric schedules to guarantee optimal labor coverage based on both your business’s needs and your workers’ capacity, all while ensuring compliance with local labor regulations. 
  • Happier workers: With features like automated scheduling, your workers get more fairly distributed shifts, reducing the risk of overwork. With tools that allow shift swapping and easy communication through mobile apps, employees have more flexibility and a less overwhelming workload. Not only does this boost morale, it helps to retain your workforce. 
  • Automated scheduling: Simplify the tedious task of managing time and attendance and swiftly roll our schedules, manage absences, breaks, and leave requests in one place.


Understaffing can wreak havoc on a retail business. Recognizing the red flags, such as a dip in productivity, poor work quality, and a spike in turnover, can you help to address the issue before it’s too late. 

Integrating tech into your organization to forecast demand, handle shift planning and labor optimization, and automate scheduling not only prevents understaffing but supports better workforce management in general. Combining vigilance and the right workforce management software helps you to create conditions where frontline teams don’t just get by, they thrive.

Ready to take a more proactive approach to shift planning? Optimize your staffing with Quinyx Workforce Management:

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