Understand how we got here — and how to move forward.


May 19, 2022

Is your team understaffed? Here's how to make the best of it.

Daily Briefing

    Amid the Great Resignation, many employees are struggling to find ways to manage their increased workloads. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Margaret Luciano, an associate professor of management and organization in the Smeal College of Business at Pennsylvania State University, offers three suggestions for managers with understaffed teams.

    Reconsider project calendars

    According to Luciano, one of the quickest ways to turn high-performing employees into low-performing employees is to divide their time between so many different tasks that they do not have time to think deeply.

    For instance, when Luciano was working with a global insurance company with a decreasing number of treasury managers, one historically high-performing treasury manager was suddenly spending 10% of her time on 10 major project teams, leaving her no time to allocate to her individual job responsibilities. As a result, she was faced with "weekly calendars full of double-booked meetings, multiple frustrated teams, and poor results," Luciano writes.

    In particular, Luciano notes, "[i]t's critical to prioritize projects and defer what you can. For example, does there really need to be a system upgrade every year, or is every other year actually fine? What you can't defer needs to be implemented more strategically and scheduled more carefully — preferably sequentially."

    For example, if the treasury manager was given four weeks to focus on each project, with an extra week in between for overages and project revisions, each of the 10 projects would still have been completed within the year.

    "Although it can be tempting to fight over scarce resources and demand your projects are the priority, as a manager, it's more important to get employees' focused effort rather than clock time. Stated differently, don't just grab for whatever you can get — help employees be their best," Luciano writes.

    Prioritize critical client needs

    Traditionally, businesses are taught to build a diverse portfolio of clients and products to mitigate risk and create a stronger business.

    "Indeed, focusing on only a few big clients is potentially precarious," Luciano notes. "However, when you're in a situation where you can't manage your entire client base well, giving everyone a little may prompt important unsatisfied clients to move on."

    According to Luciano, prioritizing clients can sometimes mean firing clients. However, there are less-dramatic measures managers can try. "Ideally, a mid-range solution will be effective at reducing employee workload while maintaining your client base. But if not, you may need to prioritize your core clients over having a large portfolio of clients," Luciano writes.

    Look for quick interventions

    Luciano urges managers to search for interventions that can significantly improve their team's daily work and be mastered in under a week. For example, Luciano suggests looking for ways to automate and streamline processes—like data entry—by teaching their team strategies that could save hours of unnecessary work. 

    "If you can, bring in external consultants or human resources to manage much of the design and rollout of the interventions to avoid further overwhelming an already overstretched workforce," Luciano writes. "Although investing in process improvement may be expensive, it's likely much cheaper than recruiting, training, and managing a revolving door of employees who are all frustrated by broken processes."

    Ultimately, as employees' workloads continue to grow to "untenable levels," Luciano argues that "now is the time to implement process improvement interventions, prioritize your core clients and products, and assign your employees to fewer concurrent projects — not more." (Luciano, Harvard Business Review, 5/17)

    Have a Question?


    Ask our experts a question on any topic in health care by visiting our member portal, AskAdvisory.