Why You’ll Never Be Fully Staffed

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For any HR/Talent Pro who lives with the concept of staffing levels, becoming “fully” staffed is a nebulous goal that always seems to be just out of reach.

I’ve lived staffing levels in retail, restaurants, hospitals, etc. I know your pain, to be chasing that magic number of  “37 nurses” and almost always seeming like you’re at 35 or 36, the day that No. 37 starts, one more drops off.

There are three main reasons you can’t get fully staffed:

  1. Your numbers are built on a perfect world, which you don’t live in.
  2. Your hiring managers refuse to over-hire.
  3. Your organization actually likes to be under staffed.

Why staffing forecasting is broken

OK, let me explain.

The concept of being fully staffed is this perfect-case scenario — a theory, really — because in business there is a “perfect” amount of manpower you should have for the “perfect” amount of business that you have at any given moment. That’s a lot of “perfects” to happen all at once!

Usually your finance team comes up with the numbers based on budgeting metrics. These numbers are drawn down to monthly, weekly, daily and hourly measures to try and give you precise number of “bodies” needed at any given time.

You already know all of this. What you don’t know is why this type of forecasting is so broken when it comes to staffing.

These models are predictive of having a fully functioning staff to meet the perfect number needed — fully trained, fully productive, etc. If the model says you need 25 nurses to run a floor, in reality you probably need many more than that. Finance doesn’t like to hear this because they don’t want to pay 28 nurses when the budget is for 25 nurses.

An argument that goes around in circles

But you’re in HR, so you know the reality – staffing 25 nursing openings (or servers, or assembly workers, or software developers, etc.) — takes more than 25 nurses. You have some nurses who are great and experienced, and, you have ones who are as green as grass. Plus, you have ones retiring in a few months, some taking leave, some leaving for other jobs, etc. Because of this, you have a budget for overtime.

Why? Because you need coverage. This why you need more than 25 nurses. And the staffing levels argument goes around and around in circles with finance.

I’ve worked with some great finance partners that get the entire scenario above, and would let me hire as many people as I felt I needed — and it still didn’t work! That’s because hiring managers struggle with one very real issue – what if?

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What if, Tim, we do get all 28 hired and now I only have needs for 25? What will we do? Even when you explain the reality, they will subconsciously drag their feet not to hire just in case this might actually come true.

A stupid little “perfect” concept

I’ve met with HR/Talent Pros from every industry, and all of them share very similar stories. They can’t get fully staffed because of that stupid little “perfect” concept — “what if we actually get staffed?” That’s it.

You can’t get staffed because you actually might get staffed — if your fully staffed hiring managers are now held accountable to being leaders.

If you’re fully staffed, plus some extra, hiring managers have to manage performance and let weak performers go. If you’re fully staffed, being a hiring manager actually becomes harder.

When you’re under staffed, everyone realizes why you keep a low performer, and why you allow your people to work overtime they now count on as part of their compensation and can’t live without. When you’re under staffed, everyone has an excuse.

You’ll never become fully staffed because deep down in places you don’t talk about at staffing meetings, you like to be under staffed, you need to be under staffed!.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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