3 tips for 'riding it out' when your workforce is reduced

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Boris Johnson’s announcement in early January that we must all ‘ride out the Omicron wave’ was met with a mixed reaction, as daily COVID cases hit a record 200,000, and UK workforces were warned of 25% absence rates. Is it a wave, or a tsunami (as Nicola Sturgeon would argue)?

Sea-based analogies aside, Omicron cases already look to be peaking. But staffing problems caused by COVID absences continue to hit businesses hard. With understaffing already an issue pre-Omicron, many businesses have no choice but to ‘ride out the wave’ and hope that they can cling on.

Surely there are ways to ensure a smoother, less choppy ride?

Here are our top tips for dealing with increased absences.

1. Stay flexible, but proactive

There’s definitely merit in the ‘riding it out’ approach when it comes to staff absences – it suggests that everyone needs to chip in and get through the crisis by being flexible, which feels like the right thing to do. But bosses have a duty to prioritise the wellbeing of staff who are able to come to work, and ensure that burnout doesn’t become an issue. Overworking to compensate for understaffing is never going to be a successful long-term strategy!

Offering longer breaks during quieter periods, and making sure everyone knows they can still ask for time off when they need it are just a couple of options to consider. So yes, there’s a need to ‘go with the flow’ to an extent, while also taking a proactive look at how to ‘ride out’ the crisis. Which brings us to point 2…

2. Utilise technology

Management software and other technologies make it easier to see the bigger business picture, which is crucial when day-to-day operations are massively disrupted. Ditching outdated Excel spreadsheets or paper-based systems and introducing scheduling apps, for example, could save a significant amount of time and money.

We know from when COVID first hit that companies with legacy or no software in place, for example, faced major operational hurdles. No-one could have predicted COVID and hopefully there are no major catastrophes around the corner, but it pays to be prepared and to streamline your business processes. Sometimes, these seemingly non-urgent tasks – the ones that keep getting put to the back of the priority list when everyone is at capacity - end up being make-or-break when there’s a crisis. The moral of the story? Don’t put those tasks off. Take a look, today, at how some of your processes could be better managed.

Our studies show that companies not utilising AI-fuelled workforce management software overspent by an average of 25% on salary costs and lost up to 15% revenue, due to ineffective staff schedules.

3. Prioritise the workers you have rather than focusing on absences

To reiterate from our first point, keeping employee morale front of mind is key. When it’s all-hands-to-the-pump, employee engagement may not feel like a pressing concern, yet it can be vital for business survival.

From our annual State of the Deskless Workforce study, which surveys 11,000 deskless workers in 10 countries, we know that feeling undervalued is an issue for staff across all sectors, even when there isn’t huge pressure from understaffing. If a workforce feels even slightly demoralised, then understaffing will exacerbate the problem, making long-term retention difficult. Staff need to feel valued, so open up communication channels, listen to employee feedback, act on suggestions and reward great performance.

For more advice on employee engagement and dealing with understaffing, download the State of the Deskless Workforce Report.

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