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Staffing Challenges: A Lighter Staff Can Equal Bigger Returns

December 14, 2016
Workforce Planning
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Despite the Wall Street Journal and others reporting that Americans leave $223 billion on the table due to unused vacation time, most of us still have the dilemma of working with a lean staff in December. The holidays and traveling are good reasons for it but it’s also a crunchtime for using up PTO or vacation time that doesn’t roll over into next year.Temps can sometimes fill the void when staff is out but that doesn’t always make sense when the time taken off is over multiple long-weekends or if training a temp would just be too onerous for its cost and the benefit you’d receive. We also know that it makes good sense to encourage or require that everyone takes some time off from a fraud-detection standpoint.Managing the workload can be a challenge but I invite you to look at the silver-lining that happens only when we’re running short-staffed.

Staffing, Training and Efficiency

You can gain some great insight from the person who takes over someone else’s work, even for a brief period.

  • Cross-training your team is always great for the individual’s professional development and for the company’s ability to bounce back when unforeseen absences or separations of employment occurs.
  • Ask them to look for opportunities to increase efficiency and notice any backlog. You can even incorporate fraud detection skill training during this time and use the ‘new’ work they’re doing as the example.
  • It’s not unusual to find that many meetings, phone calls, and presentations that we attend could be done with fewer people, in less time, or even omitted. When duties are pared down for vacations, encourage some of them to not be picked up again.


Acknowledge the additional work and contribution that your team is undertaking. Increase your interactions with team members that you don’t spend as much time working with on a daily basis. They’ll appreciate the attention and you can learn a bit more about their motivators, challenges, and professional aspirations.Dreading returning to loads of work and email can prevent our staff from recharging. Here are some things that might help.

  • Set up access to the vacationer’s email account for the replacement to maintain it just as they would any other task that needs coverage.
  • Offer (or insist) that returning employee work remotely for a few hours on their first day back so they can take that time to re-engage at a reasonable pace. They’ll be more relaxed and fully plugged in when they’re back in the office.

Boost Morale

Parties, music and food can increase our enjoyment this time of year.

  • Be sensitive to cultural and religious differences. People celebrate, or choose not to celebrate, at different times all throughout the year. Encourage input from your team (or better yet, delegate it to them) to make events inclusive to all staff members.
  • Family commitments, children’s concerts, and increased networking are high priorities for many of us. Allowing flexible work schedules that give employees the option of not having to take full days off to attend their sons’ and daughters’ music recitals mid-day will create a lot of goodwill, particularly among employees who don’t have PTO available to use.
  • Fruitcakes and tubs of popcorn from business partners and delicious homemade goods abound in our offices in December. Enjoy them but also be sensitive to dietary needs and preferences.

Encouraging our staff to recharge and the take time off that they’ve earned can be challenging when our plates are already full but the rewards of having an engaged workforce is always worth the effort.

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