With Omicron surpassing 200,000 daily cases and the government warning that some workforces could see absence rates as high as 25%, many businesses are facing enormous staffing challenges as they begin the new year.
Will it be possible for companies to ‘ride out the wave’, as per Boris Johnson’s aim for the NHS? Only with a crystal-clear employee relations strategy and optimised management processes, asserts Toma Pagojute, chief HR officer at workforce management solutions provider, Quinyx.
“Businesses need to be agile to deal with ongoing uncertainty,” she says. “We know from the first COVID wave that companies with legacy or no software in place, for example, have faced major operational hurdles – which can end up being make-or-break in times of crisis.
“Other changes that businesses can implement fairly quickly to help get through this tough period include ramping up staff engagement activity, such as increasing employee rewards to ensure that existing staff are made to feel valued. And they can look to implement app-based systems that give workers the ability to manage their own shifts.
“When it’s all-hands-to-the-pump, employee engagement may not feel like a pressing concern, when in fact it can be vital for business survival.
“This is certainly not an easy situation to be ‘riding out’ right now – our advice for business leaders is to be proactive and keep employee morale front of mind.”
Toma’s key tips for managers currently navigating staffing crises:
- Prioritise the workers you have rather than focusing on absences
From our annual State of the Deskless Workforce study, which surveys 11,000 deskless workers in 10 countries, we know that feeling undervalued is a key issue for staff across all sectors, even when there isn’t huge pressure from understaffing. If a workforce feels even slightly demoralised, then understaffing will exacerbate the problem, making long-term retention difficult. It’s therefore key that staff feel valued. Open up communication channels, listen to employee feedback, act on suggestions and reward great performance.
- Utilise technology
Management software and other technologies make it easier to see the bigger business picture, which is crucial when day-to-day operations are heavily impacted by staff absences. Ditching outdated spreadsheets and introducing scheduling apps, for example, could save a significant amount of time and money.
Our studies show that companies not utilising AI-fuelled workforce management software overspent by an average of 25% on salary costs and lost up to 15% revenue, due to ineffective staff schedules.
- Stay flexible, but proactive
There’s some merit in the approach to ‘riding it out’ when it comes to staff absences – it suggests that everyone needs to chip in and get through the crisis by being flexible, which feels like the right thing to do. But bosses have a duty to prioritise the wellbeing of staff who are able to come to work, and ensure that burnout doesn’t become an issue – this might be done by offering longer breaks during quieter periods and making employees feel that they can still ask for time off when they need it.