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Management clinic

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I’m at my wits’ end because of understaffing in my department. I have explained this to my managers, as have others, but we never get the staff we need. What should I do next?


In a labour-intensive business such as local government, controlling headcount with an iron fist is the main way to limit expenditure. Any case for more staffing has to be irresistible and get wide support. If you get more resources then someone, somewhere will have to make do with less.

If you continue to deliver your service within your current stretched resources, then no wonder your managers are not rushing in with a chequebook. ‘Understaffing’ means too much work for the staff you have, so maybe by thinking creatively about the problems you could:

  • Start to make plans to reduce the service offered and work coming in. Talking seriously about this may provoke a reaction from your managers and service users.

  • Get some concrete evidence and proposed solutions in a proper business case. Facts and figures say more than verbal moans.

  • Look at what solutions technology could offer you.

  • See how you could increase productivity by people working more flexibly, starting visits from home or working different hours.

  • Target staffing levels at times of peak demand so you only have staff when you really need them and get the most out of your budget.

  • Deal effectively with any absence or performance issues in your team.

  • Streamline your processes so workflow is as efficient as possible.

  • Talk to your staff and see what ideas they have.

If all else fails try flattery. Tell your managers and colleagues you would really value them coming to spend a bit of time in your department and giving you some advice on how you could manage workloads more effectively. It is a lot harder to ignore a problem when you see it on the ground and this would also demonstrate to your staff that the issue is getting widespread attention.

Jan Parkinson Managing director, Local Government Employers

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