Dealing with a Work Avalanche

Posted by Bob Corlett on December 13, 2011

Are you feeling overworked and understaffed right now? You're not alone. Under-staffing is common during this stage of the business cycle. Some people think it is a long-term trend--calling it the "Job Squeeze." Perhaps it is. I do know that work pressure has been building quietly for years in many organizations--like snow falling on mountaintops. And when something small triggers it, you are suddenly faced with a "work avalanche."

Here is how work avalanches are created: When confidence is low, your organization responds to good news differently. You try to grow without corresponding staff growth. Headcount starts to trail revenue growth, and then falls further and further behind. Good news for the organization actually becomes bad news for the team. They were overworked before, and "good news" just makes it worse. Every new contract, new client, and new project just makes it harder to keep up.

How do you know you waited too long to add staff? Your best people are getting sick more often. You are seeing more preventable mistakes being made. Small issues cause tempers to flare, people are less tolerant of each other. They take things personally. Work just seems less fun. And eventually your best people burn out, give up, or quit--triggering an avalanche of work on the remaining team members.

Here's the thing. Often, when you force your team to "do more with less" they are not doing more. They are making trades. They are trading long-term thinking for short term thinking. They trade planning time for reaction time. They stop making deposits into the relationship bank, and start making withdrawals--using up the goodwill they've built over many years. And the cost of that short term focus builds up... like snow building up on a mountain. Eventually the bill comes due in a work avalanche.

Here is what to do about it: When your hiring fails to keep pace with your growth, you can no longer afford to drag out the hiring process. But when confidence is low, that is exactly what happens. "Let's try it first on our own, before we put it out to a search firm."  Three months later the team is exhausted, frustrated, and at wit's end. In your cautious desire to save money, you not only lost time and focus, you created even more risk--from people quitting.

Newsflash: When you are chronically understaffed, nobody on your team has the time or energy to do hiring on their own. When you are running from a work avalanche, you don't want to make your backpack heavier.

If your business strategy requires you to keep staffing levels lean, you must be prepared to hire very quickly when you get good news. Either beef up your internal recruiting capabilities, have qualified contract workers on speed dial, or be ready to call in search firms the instant you know you need help.

Because standing still is not a good strategy when an avalanche  is bearing down on you.

Topics: Candidates, Human Resources, Hiring Managers, Recruiting On Your Own