Short Staffing “We can get away with it…”

The recent CQC report into the care of the elderly has raised quite serious concerns as we are told our complicated world gets ever more complicated and our means to deliver good services weakens by the day – so it would seem.  I just pick on this report as another in a long line of examples that bemoan deteriorating standards among services – across both the public and private sector. As always I immediately look  for the tell-tale sign of “short staffing” and sure enough there it was tucked away in the body of the report.

Do not be fooled “Short-staffing” is a symptom of an underlying cause. It is the number one symptom of a cost cutting management that has reasoned on a balance of probabilities “we can get away with it”. Next time you are stood in that shopping queue think about it, is it really a complicated problem or is it that the one check-out operator really should be three. The principle is just the same when it comes healthcare and nursing, or border control, or policing, or marshalling sporting events, or IT support centres, or staffing that call centre so 80/20 calls get picked up before being ‘slammed’ down.

The business that gets its staffing levels right will maintain profitability and stay in business. If you have not over-staffed and have the right staffing levels to deliver your products or services then you need to be looking at what else is wrong if business is not too good.

The truth is “short-staffing” is a hallmark of mismanagement and in reality you can’t get away with it for long. So what can you do about it. Here are principles that will enable you to get it right:

  1. Staffing levels need to be based on delivering a business model – make sure you understand what you want to deliver;
  2. A line manager, or equivelant, needs to be not only responsible, but accountable for those staffing levels – without a “ruler” the people scatter the saying goes;
  3. Ensure line managers have access to employee scheduling software that is easy to understand – yes they might have to invest 3 or 4 hours to learn a new skill;
  4. Installing software on existing office computers and laptops avoids recurring costs – maximise your existing investment;
  5. Plan and publish staff deployment schedules at least 6 months ahead; 12 months is even better – transform your business into a proactive not reactive operation;
  6. Staff schedules need to be accessible any time from anywhere e.g. email and web schedules – communicate, coordinate, control;
  7. View staff deployment as an operational  management skill – not an administrative IT or HR chore.

You do not have to  invest in expensive corporate software.  Companies have spent millions on corporate enterprise staff scheduling systems only to discover more effective outcomes at a fraction of the cost around a year later. It is not necessarily a fault with the software, but understanding  the staff scheduling problem is resolved at line management level nowhere else.

In fact one rule of thumb I adopted a long time ago is the further away a staff scheduling solution is from ‘frontline’ management and closer to corporate management, the greater the likelihood of it not succeeding

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  1. […] Given  staff shortages are a hallmark of poor management at senior level these revelations are hardly surprising, and neither are the responses which are as predictable as they are going to prove expensive. […]

  2. […] link made between levels of nursing staff and poor clinical outcomes there is now; or if there was, it was kept ‘under wraps’ hence the equally vociferous call for ‘whistle blowers’ to be legally protected from […]

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