5 Ways to Keep Employees Engaged When You’re Short-Staffed


Most HR professionals will experience periods of being understaffed throughout their careers. Sometimes, it’s intentional to help the company retool its existing hiring strategy or boost efficiency among its staff. In other cases, it’s just unfortunate timing or greater societal forces at work.

Regardless of the reason, HR managers must be prepared with a strategy to guide their employees through leaner times. Doing so will foster a sense of trust among your staff and guide their focus back to the company’s overall mission.

If short staffing goes unaddressed, employee morale will likely decrease while employee turnover increases. In fact, a CNBC Workforce Survey found 43% of workers who describe their workplace as understaffed have considered quitting their jobs in the last three months.

If you need qualified candidates but just can’t get them in the door fast enough, consider leveraging software to do the heavy lifting for you. The BambooHR® Applicant Tracking System (ATS) can help you keep candidates engaged and speed up the hiring process.

What Does It Mean to Be Short-Staffed?

When a company is short-staffed, it doesn’t have enough employees to handle the workload effectively or meet operational needs each day. It can also mean there are fewer people at work than usual.

For instance, multiple people may be on vacation simultaneously, leaving an organization temporarily short-staffed. On the other hand, a heavier workload, high employee turnover, and slow hiring processes can lead to being short-staffed in the long term.

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Factors That Contribute to Being Short-Staffed

When a company is understaffed, both internal and external factors may be at play. These five scenarios are common reasons a business may end up with too much work and not enough employees.

Downsizing and Economic Headwinds

Whether due to greater economic factors or lower-than-expected sales, businesses experience seasons where money gets tight. Financial strain could result in hiring freezes or even layoffs, leaving the remaining employees to pick up the slack.

Business Growth

While business growth is an exciting milestone, it inherently comes with more work. Without a forward-looking hiring plan, growing businesses will reach a point where employees are stretched too thin and can’t keep up.

Lack of Qualified Candidates

The hiring process can take longer than expected for many reasons, one being there are not enough applicants with the necessary skills and experience. According to a report from The Josh Bersin Company, the average time-to-hire has risen to 44 days. (An ATS can help you speed up the process—more on that later.)

Employee Satisfaction

High employee turnover rates may indicate that your employees are unhappy. This dissatisfaction can be due to a lack of career development opportunities, an inadequate benefits package, etc. (Good news: you can keep tabs on employee sentiment with tools like Employee Satisfaction. More on that later, too!)

Extended Employee Leave

Employees are human; they get sick, get married, have babies, care for family members, and have plenty of other reasons to be away from work. If you don’t make coverage plans well before an employee’s extended leave, other employees will likely have to carry an extra load, which impacts morale, wellbeing, and turnover rates.

How Does Being Short-Staffed Affect Your Business?

Being short-staffed is a hurdle your entire company has to overcome. Beyond inconveniencing your lean workforce, it also impacts your bottom line. Here are a few ways being short-staffed can be challenging for your business:


5 Strategies to Help You Manage Being Short-Staffed

Navigating staffing challenges is generally an inevitable part of being in business. However, with this list of strategies, you can work to either prevent being short-staffed or effectively guide your team through lean times.

1. Implement an ATS

In a 2022 study, 75% of employers reported hiring difficulties, so you’re not alone. Using an ATS can streamline your staffing strategies by automating recruitment and candidate analysis tasks, which can significantly shorten your time-to-hire.

2. Keep a Pulse on Employee Satisfaction

One of the best ways to reduce employee turnover is to understand why it happens. Tools like Employee Satisfaction and Employee Wellbeing help you keep tabs on how your employees are feeling, where you can improve as an employer, and where you’re knocking it out of the park. Taking your employees' feedback to heart and committing to making positive changes can improve team morale, even during periods of being understaffed.

3. Create a Retention Strategy

When working with a lean team, the last thing you need is for your existing employees to become overwhelmed and leave. To avoid making the issue worse, you need a retention strategy that both addresses the current challenges and lays the foundation for long-term employee satisfaction. Key elements include building a fair and equitable pay structure, providing career advancement opportunities, and creating a people-first culture.

4. Shuffle Priorities

When you’re understaffed, it’s best to reprioritize projects and shift deadlines to protect your team from burnout. Decide on parameters, such as completing work in the order of client requests or working on smaller projects before bigger ones. Then, work with your team to align on what’s realistic in terms of their current bandwidth.

5. Be Transparent

In a 2023 survey of 1,500 US workers, BambooHR found remaining employees at companies that conducted layoffs want transparency from leadership. Building a culture of trust reassures employees that you value them and have their best interests in mind. When they know you’re aware of the problem and actively working toward a solution, employees are more likely to keep working hard to achieve shared goals.

Employees want to be heard. Is your organization listening?

With accurate, reliable employee surveys in BambooHR, you'll gain the insight you need to prevent burnout, improve morale, and stop premature turnover in its tracks.

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