What are Staffing Levels?

By Sabrina Munns | Absence | 6 min read

Staffing levels can be a challenge for any business of any size. When we talk about staffing levels, we’re talking about the number of people working at any one time. If your staffing levels are too high, your business will be plagued by costly inefficiency. But if they’re too low, productivity will decline and stress levels will rise.

An intelligent approach to staffing levels involves finding the perfect balance: You don’t just need the right number of people. You also need a good mix of skills and a company culture that champions teamwork, support, and open feedback.

Signs That Your Staffing Levels Aren’t Right

If your staffing levels are too low, your team may have to work extra hard to make up for the shortfall. This can result in overwork, fatigue, and stress. And stress is very bad for business.

Stressed workers tend to get ill more often. They may even call in sick just because they need a break. Also, perpetually overworked employees probably won’t stick around. So if your staffing levels aren’t right, your business may suffer from high staff turnover and increased absenteeism.

Other signs that your staffing levels aren’t up to scratch can include:

Because of all of these unwelcome effects, businesses with poor staffing levels will struggle to grow. But overstaffing can be just as damaging to growth and productivity as understaffing. If your staffing levels are too high, inevitably some members of your team will have too little to do. This is a huge waste of resources. It’s also bad for motivation – nobody wants to feel like a spare part.

How Do Staffing Level Issues Develop?

For small businesses and start-ups, staffing level issues can be inevitable. If you’re just starting, or if you have an extremely limited budget, you may not be able to afford to hire as many staff as you need. And if you work in an industry marked by high staff turnover, your staffing levels will occasionally suffer.

But some cases of poor staffing levels are self-inflicted. Sometimes businesses downsize without properly considering the risks. They simply assume that the remaining staff will be able to pick up the slack. But as we’ve seen, this sort of attitude can lead to overwork, exhaustion, and stress.

How to Avoid Issues with Staffing Levels

So something’s not right in your business. You keep missing orders. Your customers are unhappy. The atmosphere seems off, and people keep calling in sick or leaving.

There might be an issue with your staffing levels. Here are some steps you can take to correct the issue.

Talk to Your Team

Schedule a series of one-to-one meetings with every member of your team. Ask them about their workload. Maybe they feel like they have too much to do. Or maybe they feel like they’ve too little to do, and they’re not being challenged.

Informal, confidential chats like this should be routine in any business. They can make staff feel trusted, respected, and heard, so they can make a huge contribution to employee wellbeing. But the insights you glean from these talks can also shape your policies and guide your decisions. If too many members of your team feel overstrained, for example, then obviously it’s time to act!

Set A Minimum Staffing Level

What’s the absolute minimum number of people your business needs to function? Define it, and keep to it.

You’ll have to put a lot of thought into this. You’ll have to spend some time monitoring and measuring productivity and workloads. Who does what? And how well do they do it? You can read our complete guide to measuring employee productivity here.

Once you’ve defined your minimum staffing levels, you’ll have to develop several policies and procedures. What will you do if you ever fall below the minimum staffing levels? You’ll have to think about recruitment. But in the short term, you may have to redeploy some members of your team or delay certain projects.

It may also help to think about additional training and development for your current team. This will help you ensure that everyone’s equipped to deal with any shortfalls and that every team has the right mix of skills to get the job done. You can read more about identifying training and development needs here.

Set A Fair Employee Rota

So you’ve talked to your team about their workloads. You’ve measured productivity and output, and you’ve defined a minimum staffing level. You’ve thought about training, development, and recruitment to fill the gaps. It’s finally starting to feel like you’ve got a grasp of this whole staffing levels thing.

But it’s one thing to have the correct staffing levels. It’s equally important that you ensure that your team is put to the best possible use. You need to assign roles, responsibilities, tasks and hours in a way that’s fair for everyone.

Setting your employee rota can be a complicated task. You need to get the balance just right. For every single shift, there must be just the right number of hands-on-deck: Not so many that some people are left with too little to do. Not too few that people are overstretched and key processes are overlooked. Some days are busier than others. Some months are quieter than others. Your employee rota needs to adapt to reflect this.

You can read our complete guide to setting a fair employee rota here.

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