PartTimer | Overstaffing vs. understaffing: An employee’s perspective

Overstaffing vs. understaffing: An employee’s perspective

Dec 18 2017

Managing employees is a balancing act many employers struggle with. Sometimes there are too many employees on your team, resulting in complaints from staff that there aren’t enough shifts. Or, you might be understaffed, and you find that when you need to call someone in at short notice, there aren’t enough staff to choose from. Is it better to have too many employees or not enough?


Being understaffed:


Pro: Employees get more hours

Depending on the employees’ needs, they may prefer being part of a smaller team as they can be guaranteed more hours than if there is a large group of staff for you to choose from. This creates stability for your staff, as they know they are needed and will be able to rely on their hours. It’s frustrating for employees to feel like they’re fighting over hours with their coworkers.

Pro: You get to know your employees better

A smaller team means a more intimate team. They’ll get to know you better and you’ll learn more about them. This strengthens work relationships and means your employees are more likely to be reliable and motivated to produce a high quality of work for you.

Con: Increased overtime hours

When you have a large workload spread over a small team, efficiency will often be sacrificed. In some cases, deadlines may not be met if employees don’t work overtime, and even though getting employees to work overtime may seem like an easy fix, it isn’t the answer. Although it might lower your initial overhead costs because you aren’t hiring a new staff member, it decreases productivity and employee retention. In the long run, it is, therefore, more effective to manage the workloads efficiently, to avoid increased overtime hours.

Con: Low quality of work

If you have a large workload and not enough employees to complete it, staff will be put under a constant time pressure where they will rush to complete work. Sometimes even the best employees can produce a low quality of work due to being rushed and a lack of support from their coworkers. A low quality of work also means managers will spend longer correcting errors. Errors can be costly - especially if it reaches the customers; if a customer notices a drop in the quality of work, they may decide to switch to a competitor. To ensure this doesn’t happen, it’s important to be realistic about the tasks you are setting employees. So, if the workload is too high, it might be time to hire a few extra pairs of hands.

Con: Employee stress

If employees are constantly stressed - perhaps because they have to work overtime - they’re less likely to have a healthy work-life balance. Cutting into an employee’s personal time is unfair and leads to a resentment towards work and a lack of motivation. Expecting employees to finish an unrealistic workload also creates a stressful work environment and can lead to low employee retention rates. Forbes revealed that 42% of workers in a U.S. survey had switched jobs due to high-stress levels. It is, therefore, better to hire and train more staff than to have a high staff turnover and a stressful environment.


Being overstaffed


Pro: Workers can afford to take time off

If there is a small group of employees who work a certain amount of hours per week, it may be difficult for staff to take holidays, or ask for time off when not planned well in advance. When there are a larger number of employees, they can ask for leave more easily, meaning you avoid the risk of having employees unexpectedly quit or call in ‘sick’.

Pro: You have a greater choice of staff

It might be that you have some staff who are great at customer service but not so good at staying focused when it gets quiet. When you have a larger team you can choose which workers you want on at certain times, and play to their strengths. You also have more of a range of people to choose from, meaning a variety of skills.

Con: Employee dissatisfaction

Many restaurants and retail stores have a large employee base, with mostly part-time workers. This is generally to cover the busy periods such as weekends, where they may need almost all of the staff working. This is great when it’s busy, but on the weekdays when it isn’t busy, you may only need one or two workers. This is where it causes problems. Employees will start asking for more hours because generally, it will be their main form of income. If you have a large number of employees, it becomes difficult to share the hours out, whilst giving them enough to satisfy them. While you may need all the help you can get on the weekends, it’s unfair to then expect them to only work a couple of hours the rest of the time. In the end, you’ll find employees will leave to find more regular, stable hours. A high staff turnover is difficult to deal with as it means finding new recruits and training them.

Con: Increased wage spending

It’s quite often that there are more employees rostered on than what is needed for the level of busyness, as it’s hard to predict how many staff you’ll need a week or so in advance when the rosters are written. Sometimes it might become unexpectedly busy, or very quiet. To be fair to the employees you must honour the hours they were expecting to work, however you as an employer waste money on wages. Paying an employee for their time when they’re not needed is frustrating, so it’s best to be careful about the number of workers rostered on.

Con: The risk of putting off customers

Customers can tell when the shop is busy or dead. When it's too quiet, customers know they might get hassled by the workers who are bored and looking for something to do. It also isn’t a good look when your workers are chatting amongst themselves with nothing else to do. This may put off customers from coming in at all.  


So, is it better to be overstaffed or understaffed? Well, the answer is that there is no set answer - it all depends on how the pros and cons relate to the way your business works. However, the question you should try to ask yourself is “which of these two options are going to make my team the happiest?”. After all, your staff are the lifeblood of your business, so keeping them happy means better business for you.


- CR