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South Africa – Doing more with less staff is not always the best solution

18 December 2013

The challenging economy has forced businesses to change the way they operate, to try and do more with less. Sometimes, with less staff, employees are left overworked and exhausted at this time of year. However rather than take some well-deserved time off work to recharge before the new year, many of these people have to work through the festive season. 

The cost of overstaffing is obvious; however, the cost of understaffing is potentially greater, reports business.iafrica.com

Kay Vittee, CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions, a staffing solutions company within the white-collar recruitment industry, commented: "Ironically the very action of cutting back on human resources in an attempt to save money can have the opposite effect on a business. Having too few people to complete the required workload of a company or a department within a company can adversely impact productivity." 

"Research has shown that overworked staff are more likely to suffer from stress, have low morale, be less productive, make mistakes, and negatively influence co-workers and clients. Left unchecked and uncorrected, the situation can easily spiral into the worst case scenario, where staff are trapped in the doldrums of negativity and exhaustion, operating on autopilot with no energy to inject innovation and creativity into the business. This can be summed up in the practice of 'presenteeism', attending to work despite health and personal issues that can negatively impact productivity," she added. 

Typically referring to staff coming to work while ill, under circumstances that should require them to stay at home, 'presenteeism' is fast also becoming associated with working while suffering from stress, anxiety, and exhaustion; all symptoms of work-life imbalance due to overwork. 

"If this sounds familiar either for you personally or is the case within your company, it is important to look at both the cause and the effect of the situation before it results in loss of business," urged Ms Vittee. 

She says: "Looking at the reasons or motives behind why employees are not taking sick leave when necessary and the annual leave they are entitled to by law will identify the weaknesses within your human resources in terms of skills, capacity and organisational behaviour and psychology." 

These may include issues such as:

  • The concern of an increased workload on their return,
  • Failure to have completed current projects on deadlines due,
  • Skills shortage within the business,
  • Lack of human resources to cover their responsibilities while they are off work,
  • Fear of job loss. 

The effects of 'presenteeism' include:

  • Poor performance
  • Lack of focus
  • Negative attitudes and influence on colleagues
  • Inability to problem solve
  • Low morale
  • Increased mistakes
  • Poor communication
  • Compromised teamwork
  • Poor customer service and relationship management
  • Diminished productivity
  • Loss of business 

Ms Vittee continued: "Although not easy to quantify, the cost of these effects are potentially greater and more long-term than the cost of employing more staff. However the difficult economy and South Africa’s complex labour legislation create a challenging situation for employers. Employing permanent staff to match peak business activity creates a staff surplus during quieter times and there are similar effects and costs of underworked staff. Staffing to match your business activity average is also not ideal, presenting companies with the challenges of both being understaffed and overstaffed at various times." 

"The solution is to partner with a staffing specialist who can assist with predicting staffing levels and the planning and budgeting for staffing costs to support the core permanent staff complement at times of high business activity. Ideally the organisation should have the correct experience, expertise and skills to manage an outsourced contingent and flexible workforce, ensuring legislative compliance, quick and effective turnaround and access to the right skills when needed." 

"So whether it is restructuring your human resources to accommodate a contingent and flexible staffing model or to facilitate that your key permanent personnel get their due leave by providing contingent staff to fulfil their duties while they are away from work, a staffing specialist is your Santa Clause for happy holidays," she concluded.

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