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Think Your Business Is Understaffed? It Might Not Be As Serious As You Think

Mark Heymann

Mar 24, 2022

Addressing workforce resource issues is as much about restructuring labor-management standards as it is about simply finding enough employees to fill a shift.

For any type of service industry, news outlets have repeatedly focused on businesses across the world experiencing a shortage of labor. With everything else that is occurring because of the pandemic, it's easy to believe that dips in productivity and customer service quality are solely the consequence of operating a business with a smaller workforce brought on by Covid-19.

While it is true that today's labor market is significantly more favorable to employees than employers, it is also more apparent that many businesses are only making limited labor resource issues worse by holding onto historically inefficient labor-management approaches. With so much at stake, including not just service quality and customer satisfaction but also employee retention and loyalty, coupled with underperforming revenue results, business operators are only doing themselves a favor by identifying opportunities to ensure a more efficient work environment.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Closely following news of labor shortages are accounts of large numbers of employees suffering from burnout due to increased workloads and a lack of support. Yet rather than attempting to solve the issue by simply trying to hire more staff, service sector businesses need to take a close look at whether existing operational procedures are causing possibly sufficient overall employee levels to be stretched too thin.

For example, within the hotel sector, housekeeping departments are notorious for creating a tremendous workload that can often be drastically alleviated by implementing more efficient processes. Take, for instance, a hotel operating at less than one-third capacity but having guests stay in rooms on every floor. With guests distributed throughout a hotel on every floor, the hotel staff must service the floor, including housekeeping and other functions such as room service. This means that employees must travel extra distances and spend time servicing a floor while losing productive time.

However, wouldn't it make more sense to close certain floors when stay volumes are down and, where feasible, have guests instead situated on the same floor locations? This simple adjustment in operational standards would do nothing to affect guest experiences but would create a more productive environment capable of completing tasks more efficiently.

The same concept applies to restaurant businesses. Why should a restaurant's staff have to service an entire location when only filled to 25% capacity? Operators should be focusing available employees on catering to a smaller area, improving the speed and quality of service while leading to no potential lapses in customer satisfaction.

Even when operating during peak business periods, there exists a wide range of opportunities to revise labor-management standards to maximize productivity and service quality. Using hotel housekeeping as an example again—countless hours can be spent vacuuming, and while this is an essential role, it means the staff has less time to perform other important tasks. Hoteliers could theoretically sidestep this issue by automating the cleaning process by utilizing robot vacuums for each guestroom.

Other examples that can result in more effective staff utilization may also include ordering pre-prepared ingredients to reduce the number of food preparation steps or redefining job roles by grouping certain responsibilities together to ensure easier and faster completion. Less intensive work means less need for a larger workforce while providing existing staff with much-needed breathing room to accomplish responsibilities more effectively.

Using Employees Effectively Requires Aligning With Projected Demand

Another cause of businesses believing that they are short-staffed simply comes down to the misallocation of available labor resources. Within the service sector, which is directly impacted by service demand patterns, a trend of assigning employees to simply fill a shift continues to be the standard practice for many.

However, this approach often leads to not enough employees being made available during busy periods and too many being scheduled during downturns. As much of the industry uses a minimum shift length structure (four hours for many), it is not uncommon for lost time to occur during slower periods.

A key to resolving this issue is to break out of the mindset that schedules must consist of rigid shifts and that shifts are broken into a.m., p.m. and overnight. Instead, employers should be aligning their employee scheduling processes according to anticipated rises and drops in service demand. Using the restaurant example, this would significantly provide staff with the support they need during busier lunch hours and could use less productive hours during slower periods for cross-utilization.

Anecdotally, I have seen restaurant staff between breakfast and lunch accomplish some basic food preparation functions, thereby reducing kitchen prep staff needs. I've also seen front desk staff host in a restaurant during lunch or assist at peak times. Casinos, too, have done a pretty good job in staggering the start times of staff on the casino floor to meet demand.

One of the leading factors that has seen managers become hesitant to implement a demand-oriented scheduling strategy has traditionally been the amount of time required to gather and analyze service level projections. Add to that the time it takes to manually structure schedules to match anticipated demand, and it becomes clear why managers have taken the easier route with more standardized, inflexible shifts for so long.

Yet with today's labor management and time and attendance technology, such issues should no longer be a concern. Using platforms enabled with advanced AI and intelligent algorithms, businesses can now let the software handle the hard work of identifying busy and slow demand periods automatically, and not just by the day but by the hour. The same technology can then determine exactly how many employees need to be scheduled where and when, while at the same time, facilitating cross-utilization.

In adopting such platforms, many businesses will no doubt soon discover that the challenges they are facing may not be as severe. Rather, the question becomes whether they are effectively using their current teams in a way that allows them to achieve their highest efficiencies and, therefore, potential.

Originally Published in Forbes

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