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How To Encourage Your Team When You're Short-Staffed

Motivating a Short-Staffed TeamMotivating a Short-Staffed Team
min read
August 21, 2023

You may have heard about the lingering effects of the pandemic on staffing levels and the "great resignation."

This situation isn't ideal for managers who have to scramble to adjust schedules or workers who have to pick up the slack (and potentially get stressed out in the process).

So how can you stave off burnout in your team and keep your team members engaged in their work? Here we have compiled an easy and effective way to handle these situations. 

Let's take a look at how you can motivate your team during staffing shortages:

1. Focus on the Fundamentals

If you don't have as many employees present as you need, then your team members will likely feel overwhelmed by all the work they need to do. One way to lessen their anxiety and stave off their frustration?

Cut down on tasks that aren't mission-critical. Prioritize specific action items and important projects to make sure you stay on top of your key deliverables.

Make a list of all the things you'd like to accomplish in the day, and then highlight what absolutely needs to get done. Focus on the fundamentals like:

  • Respond to customers within 1 business day.
  • Clean the premises.
  • Make sure orders are fulfilled within a reasonable time frame.

By getting your to-do list down to the basics, you and your understaffed team can weather the storm and ensure your business runs smoothly.

Bonus tip: Be clear about some items that can wait until the storm clears a bit. Understanding what can be deprioritized is just as important as knowing what to prioritize.

2. Explain What's Happening

When understaffed, be proactive in telling your employees about the situation. Explain how you got to this point, what your action plan is, and when you think you'll all get some relief.

That way, your team will know what to expect–rather than wondering what's next (and spending their mental energy on guessing.) 

This will bring anxiety down and help them focus on the major tasks at hand. Plus, if you let them know what's going on, they may have some additional ideas about how they can help in the day-to-day, thus increasing employee engagement.

3. Address Employee Concerns

Your understaffed employees may naturally feel frustrated about needing to take on their co-worker's tasks. 

If this happens, let your team members know you're hearing (and are responding to) their frustrations. That way, they'll feel like you're helping them make things better and won't stew in their feelings. Instead, they'll be able to return to work and focus on the task at hand.

For example, if an employee tells you they're stressed, you could empathize with them by saying, "Picking up extra work is overwhelming, and I appreciate your efforts during this challenging time." This response validates their feelings by acknowledging that it's hard to pick up extra work. It also expresses appreciation.

But don't stop there. Take it a step further—ask them what specifically they find overwhelming and find a way to solve it together. This will help build trust between you and your team members. And if they come across an issue in the future, they'll go to you rather than letting an issue fester before it's really hard to handle.

4. Help Out Where You Can

On an understaffed day, you're going to need all hands on deck. As a manager, you can support your understaffed team by taking on extra work yourself.

This will help you get your important projects done and your team won't be as resentful since they'll see you're doing absolutely everything you can. This helps keep spirits up and reiterates the importance of teamwork, which is crucial at a time like this.

5. Make Sure Employees Know you Appreciate Them

Remember, a tried and true way to motivate employees, even on a short-staffed day, is to simply express your gratitude and appreciation for the work they are doing for you. A little kindness goes a long way.

Why? It feels good to be recognized. And happy employees are more engaged than unhappy ones.

You can communicate your appreciation for your employees by:

  • Simply telling them you are grateful for their efforts
  • Rewarding your team with benefits like free coffee, snacks or a meal to get them through the day
  • Adding some fun into the work environment, whether that's playing music, stopping to play a silly game or stretch, or some other team-building activity

6. Reflect on What Went Well and Where You Can Improve

Once the day is over and you've used these strategies to have a successful day at your business despite the staff shortage, take a moment to reflect on what went right and what went wrong. 

Write down the things that helped you motivate your employees to give it their all. This will help you strategize how to handle these situations in the future.

How to Prevent Staffing Shortages

So now that you know how to manage a day without a full team, you can think about strategies for making sure your team is fully staffed in the future. 

The best way to increase attendance? Keep your current employees happy. Then they'll be more likely to show up to work and let you know when they can't make it. 

Here are some specific ways to build a great company culture.

Reward Rockstar Team Members

Whether it's through team rewards, expressing your appreciation for staff, or bonuses for exceptionally strong performance, there are things you can do to create a resilient team that's excited to show up and do good work.

For example, consider:

  • An employee of the month program to recognize your exceptional staff
  • Occasional team happy hours to lighten the mood and create a team of friends
  • Bonuses or gifts for team members that go above and beyond
  • Reminding your employees that you appreciate their work

Mentor Employees

Employees that get mentored see a path to advancement and a future with the company, which will help them stick around–and help you avoid those days when you just don't have enough people.

Nurturing your top talent is fundamental to handling a staffing shortage because your employees will:

  • Know your business inside out
  • Have better skill sets to use in the face of a staffing shortage
  • Be more motivated to step up when necessary
  • Feel a shared sense of ownership and desire for success

So how do you build this? Here are a few tips about how to be a great mentor:

  • Do monthly check-ins with your team members to discuss how they're doing
  • Ask employees how they'd solve problems they're facing. This develops their ability to fix issues and lets them try a path that they're comfortable with.
  • Ask if they have suggestions on how to make your workplace better.
  • Help employees build more skills with workshops, training and presentations.

Build In Work-Life Balance

A company with a great work-life balance is a great place to work. So why is it so important? 

Employees who are able to easily address their other obligations, like taking care of their health and families, will be less likely to ask for extra time off or miss work at the last minute. 

Steps you can take to build work-life balance include:

  • Flexible scheduling: Allow employees to take off a certain number of hours each month to deal with healthcare appointments and personal issues or let them shift their hours on days when they have other obligations. 
  • Build a break room: A nice, quiet place to sit for 10 minutes is a great way for employees to take a breather, chat with colleagues or catch up on personal tasks. That way, they can stay more focused on the job.
  • Encourage healthy habits: Keep a supply of healthy snacks like fruits, nuts (beware of allergies), yogurt, veggies and hummus, and tea and coffee. A well-fed team is happier, more energized, and more motivated to come in to work and do a great job. 

Nip Short Staffing in The Bud with These Strategies

Although a day without enough employees is always challenging, there are simple and effective ways to deal with understaffing. 

In the short term, you can:

  • Focus on the important projects you need your team to complete.
  • Delegate tasks and help out where you can to pick up the slack.
  • Express your appreciation for your employees' efforts despite the staff shortage.

Once you've managed the day, week, or month with a smaller team, you can work on your company culture so that situation doesn't happen again.

Now that you know all about how to handle staffing shortages, all that's left to do is to focus on your core business and keep your team motivated!

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