Doing More With Less: Workforce Reductions

If you’re looking for ways to grow your business with fewer hands on deck, follow these tips.

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Outsourcing, flexibility, automation — here are creative ways to do more with less employees

At a national rate of 6.2% in February, down from 6.3% in January and December 2020’s 6.7%, the official Bureau of Labor Statistics’ unemployment rate appears to show economic recovery. Some economists suggest, however, that when adjusted for workers who may have been permanently displaced by the pandemic, the rate is closer to 10%. For employers, the higher rate suggests more available workers to be hired, but for many businesses, hiring has become a challenge no matter how you calculate unemployment.

Many employers report they’re struggling to fill open positions as some workers take a “wait and see” approach to determine whether they’re better off continuing to collect unemployment or other benefits that may be offered by the new administration. Many just struggle to find talent in their area. For businesses, the transition period can mean reduced production, diminished services, and a devastating ripple effect on morale and profitability.

Doing more with fewer staff members in the wake of upheavals is challenging. Recovery may depend on how well business is able to adjust and survive with less. Finding ways to do more with fewer hands on deck can be difficult, but creative solutions are often key to dealing with difficult times.

Outsource, outsource, outsource! 

If the time you spend on routine or even challenging HR tasks could be more productively used elsewhere, there are options to outsource almost everything, and at nearly every price point.

Are there jobs within your organization you can outsource? The most commonly outsourced function is payroll processing, but almost all other HR functions can be taken off your plate. You or another staffer may be running the HR function, taking time away from more important tasks. If the time you spend on routine or even challenging HR tasks could be more productively used elsewhere, there are options to outsource almost everything, and at nearly every price point.

If you can’t find time or talent to manage accounting functions, or if you’re struggling to handle them yourself as a business owner, consider whether your time is better spent elsewhere. Unless you’re a business tax professional, you might be missing out on opportunities or putting your company at risk. If you’re having trouble with the math, or filling accounting spots, outsourcing with a professional might be a cost-effective (and smart) option.

Short-staffed on manufacturing personnel can mean slow or stopped production lines. Is there a part of your process that can be outsourced? Often businesses can purchase more finished items than those that need assembly. If there was a vendor you didn’t consider in the past because you could “do it yourself,” they might be worth a second look.

Recruitment firms

If you don’t have time to recruit, but are in need of boots on the ground, a temporary or permanent recruitment firm might be the answer. They can provide everything from as-needed day workers to long-term temp or permanent hires. Potential staff will be vetted, references checked, and for some, provided with healthcare and other benefits coverage through the agency. Like calling in a lunch order, they’ll simply notify you who they’re sending your way and when to expect them. There will be a cost for the service, but when calculating the time and resources you’re taking away from more high value tasks, it might be an investment worth considering.

Be flexible

Front-facing employees and those that serve customers, are often the most difficult to hire and retain, but they may be make-or-break employees when it comes to keeping your business running smoothly. When you’re challenged to fill these positions, you might have to be more creative. Remember these are your brand ambassadors: look for ways to optimize the time they have available to serve customers in creative ways.

Can you reduce the menial tasks these staffers perform? For restaurants or quick-serve locations, can you create a self-serve station for things like drinks, chips, or desserts? Employees who spend time taking orders for sandwiches, for example, can move more quickly if they don’t have to fill soda cups (cans in a cooler that are brought to the checkout can help) or grab the right types of chips.

If your business is a full-serve facility, look for ways to help the staff you have on hand work smarter. The employees who know your clients best are the ones who deal with them the most. Ask for their input: they know which tasks are time drains that can be performed later (when customers are gone), and which they should be focused on while the doors are open. If you typically have restocking going on throughout the day, for example, leave it until after the doors are locked. Optimizing the time that drives revenue is the most important task: other duties can wait.

The employees who know your clients best are the ones who deal with them the most. Ask for their input: they know which tasks are time drains that can be performed later (when customers are gone), and which they should be focused on while the doors are open.

Categorize tasks versus jobs

Shifting the way you optimize staff may result in lower-value tasks being set aside while workers concentrate on the duties that drive revenue. Rather than neglecting them entirely, recategorize them. That inventory restocking that hasn’t been done all week could be an excellent weekend job for a staff member looking for a bit of overtime or a more entry-level worker during the week. Remember that tasks, however important, don’t provide customer service or drive profitability. Filing can wait — customers can’t.

If higher paid staff are doing rote tasks, you may not be maximizing your investment in their time. Consider bringing on someone at a lower, entry-level rate to take on these tasks; Ask your staff members what they’d like to see taken off their plate so they could concentrate more on productivity or customers. You may find new categories of tasks — like cleaning work stations, tools, or machinery — can be more easily filled with less skilled labor. These task-driven slots could even lead to quasi-apprenticeships for newer staff which can help you recruit and build a workforce for the future.

Broaden your reach

You may be able to broaden your reach into the talent market with a friends and family plan. Do your staff members have teens in the household who could use a bit of extra cash? How about friends employees could recommend for occasional work or as-needed jobs or tasks? If you have younger staff, they likely have friends that could use an occasional side hustle: more mature workers may love the opportunity to have their children learn a bit about working and have some of their own cash. It’s worth broadening your reach through the staff you know are capable and have a great work ethic.

Automate where possible

The largest companies are using automation to fill gaps when they can’t hire. You may not be ready to install self-checkout lanes or order/payment kiosks, but you can take their example. Offer a small discount for online ordering that goes straight to the kitchen staff or the stockroom. Customers are getting into the habit of having orders ready when they arrive: if you can leverage that to reduce the amount of time needed to serve them, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Take extra care of the staff you have

When doing more with less, the temptation is to overload top performers with more work. They’re dependable, go-to staff members you can rely on, but you could be contributing to burnout and churn. It’s important to understand while they’re trying to help you deal with the pressure of being short-staffed, they’re under pressure, too.

Make sure to give them the tools to work effectively and the time they need to keep everything in balance. Keep the lines of communication open: let them know you’re there to help when they need to vent, or that they can have time off when they need a break. You can do more with fewer staff if you get creative, eliminate low-value tasks, and take extra care of staff on hand.

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