Thursday, 21 May 2015

How to avoid being short-staffed, and what to do when you can't avoid it

It happens to all managers at one time or another, when you end up scratching around trying to get shifts covered left right and centre. Holidays, sickness or other factors can sometimes all happen at once and leave you in a situation where you're making frantic calls to people or ending up covering shifts yourself.

So how can you avoid it? If you can't avoid it, how can you manage it?

Firstly, the best way of avoiding it comes with a dual approach - having flexibility in your team and planning long term. I'll look at both in more detail below.

Having a team that's flexible in terms of the hours they are available for work will help in all sorts of ways at all times of the year. And particularly in a time of crisis, where you are really short staffed. Although it starts to go against some of the points I've made in a previous blog, flexibility comes from having a good degree of part-time workers in your team-


The trick here is to have a good mix of both, with perhaps a progression plan for the better part-timers to move into full-time roles as people progress up the ladder or leave for another job.

The benefits of part-timers are clear to see in a short-term basic financial way. The current threshold for employers National Insurance is £156 per week, or £8,112 per year. So if your employee earns under that, you save having to pay a 12% tax on those earning above the threshold. If there are any other areas a business can find a 12% cost saving in one move then I've yet to find it!

So in terms of cost, part-timers can make done sense. And in terms of flexibility, they make sense too. Being able to call on someone who perhaps only works 16 or 20 hours per week presently to cover extra shifts is easier than trying the same with a full-timer. Plus you may have to pay overtime rates, depending on their contract.

It goes without saying that every manager needs to look at the long term as far as their business is concerned. Day-to-day events often take over, but having a long-term plan is essential. One aspect of long-term planning is the organisation of staff holidays. Starting to give out holiday forms and having a holiday planner set up gives you some certainty over when people are away from the operation and when you can allow others some holiday time. It helps here to set up rules for holiday requests being granted. And these rules will depend on the size of your team. I've worked many places where only one full-timer and only one part-timer off at the same time, and at least 3 weeks notice for a holiday request. This allows you cover, and time to arrange that cover.

From the point that you are organised and have set the rules, all you need to do us communicate the rules and remind people who haven't booked their holidays to get their requests in.

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