Wall Street Times

Layoffs: Shrinking teams stretch workers

Image Source: HR Daily Advisor

As layoffs happen, teams get smaller, and with fewer resources, the people left are spread thin and have too much to do.

As the head of marketing for a group of restaurants in the UK, James’ job was to develop a long-term plan, build a steady digital audience, and bring in more customers over time. In reality, though, his job differed from what he was hired to do. There always needed more people to do even the smaller, more routine tasks, let alone the job he was hired for.

“Right from the start, there were not enough numbers,” says James, a Londoner whose last name is not being used to protect his career.

Because of labor shortages caused by Brexit, pandemic lockdowns, layoffs and the hiring crisis in the service industry, his team was so small that James says even managers often had to wait tables. And these problems also hurt his job in some way.

James’s job soon became impossible because he needed help every day. He also said that he could see why companies would want to run things with a small staff to reduce risk, especially since the hospitality industry was struggling. But it is very hard on everyone who is involved.

Unbearable amounts of work

Even if work needs are high and the team is small, it needs to be more staffed.

Some teams are made to be small, and employees are expected to do many different things so they can work with few resources. But there is a massive difference between a team that is meant to be small and quick and one that needs more resources.

When an employee isn’t there, if the workload becomes too much to handle and another worker’s tasks must be done by someone else, this is probably a sign of understaffing.

As layoffs worldwide speed up, people still have jobs and find themselves on smaller teams. And because the economy is still being determined, many businesses are trying to do more with less by cutting jobs and stopping new hires. Because fewer people are working, the people still there often have to pick up the slack, take on more work, and do things outside their job description.

All of this costs something. Because of the economy, more workers may find themselves in places that need more people to do the job. With the uncertain market, they may have no choice but to work as hard as possible. The work may still get done in record term, but in the long run, not having enough people to do the job will cause stress, anxiety, burnout, and other less obvious problems.

Teams that don’t have enough resources can, of course, hurt a company’s output. But it also has a human side. Ultimately, the workers have to deal with the effects of insufficient staff, which adds stress to their already heavy workloads. This affects how well they do at work, which can be bad for them, and how they feel about themselves. “Not having enough people on a team causes stress and anxiety, which eventually hurts the quality of work and the employees’ health,” says Maston.

James was shocked by this fact, saying it put him in an impossible situation. “I had a choice: I could either work a lot of hours, which would be exhausting, or I could choose a shorter workday, which would be less stressful but would mean that I wouldn’t get everything done that day.

Will the layoffs persist?

Before cross-sector layoffs were announced, many companies’ employees were already going down.

During the peak of the Great Resignation, for example, workers who stayed on the job were expected to fill in for those who left. Even though teams worked harder than usual to compensate for the lack of workers, many open positions stayed that way because recruiters had trouble filling them. A British Chambers of Commerce survey in October 2022 of more than 5,100 firms showed that 76% needed help hiring staff, and 56% were operating at less than full capacity because of hiring shortages.

Even though a shaky job market can lead to teams with too few people, employers can also make this happen because it makes financial sense for businesses to run as lean as possible.

When compared to workers, management can have a different idea of what “understaffing” means. Chang says that bosses naturally like employees who take the initiative and try to do their best. And when people see that their coworkers’ jobs are being cut, they may feel pressured to accept the lack of resources, keep going, and take on more work.

Often, workers will want to dig in for their safety and help their fellow struggling workers. This keeps productivity high in the short term, which makes bosses happy and gives them a reason to keep teams small, but it also hides the deeper problems of not having enough workers. So even though a lack of resources can have immediate effects, the damage can also be slow and sneaky, hurting a career in the long run.

Experts say that understaffing can only go on for a while. After that, there’s always a breaking point, whether the work’s quality or the workers’ health.

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Even so, because of the economy and the job market, many workers can expect to be on short-staffed teams for now. But these problems aren’t just caused by layoffs. Some companies didn’t participate in the layoffs, but they are still having trouble filling jobs that have been open for years. This keeps teams that need more resources stuck in the same place.

Opinions expressed by The Wall Street Times contributors are their own.