Overstaffed organisations are a challenge to manage

Over staffing is the situation which arises when an organisation has more employees on-board than it requires to achieve its goals and objectives. For example an organisation’s plan is to engage 100 staff of different qualifications but the organisation has instead recruited 200 staff of different qualification. That means that there are two staff for each position in the organisation. Overstaffing can also result from a sudden boom being followed by a decline. Organisations tend to recruit more staff during the boom to handle the extra business but take some time to appreciate that the boom is over in order to reduce the staff numbers. An organisation may therefore have to put in place a strategy of dealing with short-term booms when the business volume is high. The common approach is to use casuals or outsource. Overstaffing becomes a challenge when an organisation keeps more staff numbers over long period than is required to achieve its goals. The required number of staff is specified in the human resources plan.  However the staff resources plan like any other plan is not 100% accurate. There are estimation errors which have to be addressed during the implementation of the human resources plan. There are many challenges which results from over staffing and the following are some of them;

Cost of overstaffing

The excess number of staff require extra facilities like furniture, equipment, vehicles among others for the excess staff to use when they are employed by the organisation. The extra facilities are quite expensive and they require to be a write-off when the excess staff are terminated.  The extra staff have to be paid salaries and are also entitled to enjoy other staff benefits during the period they are employed by the organisation. There are also extra costs normally prescribed by the law which an organisation has to pay when employees are being terminated.

Decision making

Overstaffing tends to slow down decision making processes as many staff tend to get involved in the approval process to justify their existence. Overstaffed organisation are fast in justifying the excess number of staff by putting in place unnecessary processes  to get the excess resources engaged in unnecessary checking and approvals.  For example the request for buying   a chair may require many checks and approvals at different levels before a chair is finally bought. During my life as an auditor I came across so May organisations which had processes just aimed at keeping excess resources busy. It is common even today to find a payments being approved by   at least five or more senior staff before payment is made. Management will always deny the existence of idle resources and unnecessary controls until you provide them with process maps which confirm how staff are kept busy through implementing unnecessary controls.


Underutilize staff

There are so many challenges which you face when an organisation is carrying excess staff compared to the available business. The excess staff spend most of their free time on phone, internet and gossiping always at the expense of the organisation.  It is also difficult to keep discipline when staff are idle. There are cases of late coming and even unofficial leave which may go unnoticed. When I was an auditor we were always faced with the challenges of underutilized staff. It is difficult to tell who is idle as staff will make the little work they have to last out for the time they are   idle in the office.

We had an informal guideline in the office of detecting  underutilized staff. We only accepted  less than 30 percent of staff force to be in the office on any given day. In addition most staff did not have a permanent sitting place in the office. Our reasoning was simple auditors are expected to be in the field and not in the office. We would be very worried if for example about 70% of the staff were in the office instead of being in the field.   This meant we were carrying excess resources when compared with the work we had at hand. More pressure would be put on managers to either deploy staff or encourage them to take their leave.


John Muhaise Bikalemesa

Director: Big Drum Advisory Services Limited