Short Staffing vs. Safe Staffing: Tips for Handling Both Situations

Short Staffing Should Not Mean Short Service, No Matter What Industry You’re In___


We regularly promise customers relief for some of their short staffing issues. We’re happy to do so, but, in industries like Nursing, with it’s chronic shortages –  or Call Centers with super-high turnover, we can’t promise a panacea. 

Sometimes you may still find yourself facing the shift, the night or the busiest morning without all the personnel you need. Short staffing is a problem in all kinds of industries, but it shouldn’t affect the safe operation of your business, ward, hospital or where ever it is you’re staffing people.

Add in minimum safe staffing laws like those in California, and you may just find yourself in deep trouble. 

These are some fast tips for surviving a short staffing crunch, while planning to reduce the likelihood of another and holding onto the staff you’ve got.


1) Get a Team Together

Any team can better handle any job. Make sure the burden of the missing staff is shared and spread out across the team. Prioritize tasks with all team members and encourage all of them to participate in that process. That way you’re reducing the impact and, as a group, working on minimizing the impact on anyone person. The emotional support is crucial in what can end up being a very stressful shift.

2) Establish a Truly Supportive Environment

In hospital or healthcare settings where Safe Staffing levels really must be maintained, this can be key. A supportive environment can mean something as simple as open communication channels, but it can also mean partnering all of your staff so that those with the most responsibility really are not working on their own. You may need to get creative, find out what people need, and you may need to discover what would really make them “feel better” but don’t underestimate the good that can come from making people feel a little better.

3) Make Better Use of Your Unlicensed and Support Staff

In hospital settings, there are limits on what tasks unlicensed personnel can perform. But like manager, many nurses just prefer not to delegate. Unlicensed staff should be a key subject of that team meeting above. But in many cases, licensed staff can be encouraged to make better use of the surrounding staff, but they often need to learn how to do it in a quick meeting with others.

4) Prioritize – and Communicate Priorities!

We’ve mentioned it already, but it bears emphasis.  Priorities need to be established, explained – maybe argued over – and agreed upon. They then very likely need to be communicated to people up and down the chain of command. Establish a “traffic person” to make sure that all key personnel agree to those priorities or at least that they see how you’ve established them.

Getting adequate staffing is probably some thing already on the discussion table. We’ve written in the past about tackling short staffing with flexible and more voluntary scheduling – but obviously, there’s no cookie cutter solution that’s going to solve everything for everyone.

5) Don’t Let Short Staffing Turn into A Chronic Problem

Make sure that HR and people above you see the contingency plans your putting into place and what you’re doing to minimize the impact of the short staffing on operations. Stress points need to be pointed out and – going back to that list of priorities – the most important priorities may also need to be understood and explained and mulled over.

While we’re big believers in flexible, alternative and voluntary scheduling and staffing, they won’t solve every crisis or true industry-wide shortage. A good schedule is only as good as the planning that goes into it, but that plan can also be an important part of a staff retention plan.

Karin Jakovljevic

About the author

Karin Jakovljevic

Karin Jakovljevic is the head of marketing at Ximble, a powerful, cloud-based workforce management system, simplifying employee scheduling and time tracking for retailers, restaurants and small businesses.

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