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Understaffing problems and how to avoid them

How does understaffing problems affect your business, and what can you do about it? We’ve got the answers.

If you rely on frontline workers, you’ll probably break out in a cold sweat when you hear the words: “understaffing problems.” 

Understaffing can mean two things; either you don’t have enough employees on your payroll (meaning you need to recruit) or you don’t have enough employees working at any given time (meaning you need to schedule better).

The bad news; understaffing is common. According to our research, half of the frontline workers we surveyed in 2021 said they’d experienced understaffing. Out of these, 83% said it makes work more stressful, and 40% said customer service suffers because of it.

But how does understaffing problems really affect your business, and what can you do about it? We’ve got the answers.

1. You’ll have super stressed staff

Like the figures above show, understaffing problems make work more stressful for the vast majority of your workforce. The stress they feel comes from having to cope with a bigger workload than they’d usually expect, feeling taken for granted, and dealing with customers who are experiencing poor service (more on this in a second). 

Your employees’ mental and physical health will suffer from stress, meaning your business will be dealing with more sick days, compounding your understaffing problems. (If managing sickness is a challenge, you should read our blog post on managing sickness absence like a pro!)

Understaffing can also increase risk of work related accidents. The physical exhaustion will likely set in if employees have to put in extra hours and efforts while being tired and overworked. 

2. You’ll risk losing your staff

If your employees think you don’t care about providing a healthy employee experience, it could crush their morale. That’s something you’ll definitely want to avoid, since 2021 was defined by The Great Resignation, a global phenomenon that saw record numbers of employees saying: “I quit”. 

“The Great Resignation is very broad and, while people are leaving jobs in huge numbers, we’ve seen a year-over-year net employment gain. So the question you need to ask is - why are people leaving your business?” says Betsy Summers, Principal Analyst on the Future of Work at Forrester. 

Quoting our previous WFM Show speaker Jim Donald, caring more than others find possible, is what leads your company toward success. Improving your retention rates will help you stop the vicious cycle of understaffing.

3. You’ll be dealing with unhappy customers

Whether you run a thriving restaurant, a busy bar or a bustling store, your customer service performance will decrease if you don’t have the right number of staff working at any given time.

That’s a problem, because your customers want and expect an exceptional experience. Failing to meet these expectations results in a poor experience, and this means your customers will leave. In fact 86% of consumers say they’ll leave a brand after only two (!) poor customer experiences. 

In the long run, your business will therefore get hit too. Like the example above, customers will leave if service is bad or wait times are too long. This smacks you straight in the pocket as you lose revenue.

But it goes even further than this; a poor customer experience will also give your brand’s reputation a hammering. All of us love to rave about a business we’ve had a great experience with. Word-of-mouth recommendations fuel sales growth, but bad experiences from understaffing problems stops it.

It’s why it pays to double-down on employee experience. Did you know that Fortune 500 company Sysco switched to a customer-centric strategy? By focusing on their employees and improving their drivers’ work conditions and skills, they managed to deliver knock-out customer experiences. What a win! 

How to solve understaffing problems?

Understaffing disappears if you can get the right people in the right place at the right time… but this is easier said than done.

Trying to match your scheduled staff to your forecast demand, without the help of tech, is a near impossible task. You can schedule on a hunch, but scheduling with the help of hyperlocal, AI-powered demand forecasting is better because you can get forecasts based on historical and real-time data for different locations and departments. 

Just hear us out… a McDonalds in Times Square has different demand patterns compared to a McDonalds near the suburbs. If you know which shows are planned (it’s Times Square, there’s always going to be a musical!) and what time they’re on, you can schedule around this and estimate the amount of visitors you expect. This way there are always enough staff working to meet demand.

Find out more here or let us show you how.

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