There is no free food in understaffed organisations

An effective organization should have a human resources plan specifying the human resources it requires in order to achieve its objectives. The human resources plan is done as part of the organization’s strategic planning   . If human resources plan is not properly done, there are a number of risks the concerned organization may be exposed to.   The organization may end up having either too many or too few human resources to meet its goals and objectives. This article deals with the situation of understaffing where the organization has less human resources than it requires to meet its goals.  Understaffing may either be temporary for a few months or chronic for long period. The temporary understaffing is not so much of concern as they are normally handled within a short time.

Chronic understaffing is a situation when an organization operates with inadequate human resources for a long period. It is important to note that an organization may deliberately operate less human resources than planned in a given location as part of its strategy of cost reduction. The approach may also force the business centers to fully utilize the organization’s support centers and its IT capabilities. Understaffing may also be a result of failure by management to adequately forecast and plan for human resource needs of an organization. It is important to appreciate understaffing when not promptly addressed can inhibit the capacity of the organization to attract, serve and retain customers.

The negative impacts

Understaffing can cause a number of negative impacts on the organisation and the following are some of them;


Performance of the organisation is directly affected by the performance of the staff.  Therefore the organisation cannot achieve its goals if it does not have a right number of staff in place. For example there is a maximum number of customers one staff can adequately handle within a given period in order to attract, serve and retain them. The staff may not attract any customers if for example the number of customers to be attended to during a given period is more than doubled.  Therefore the capacity of a human being to adequately handle work is limited. The organisation will end up with poor performance when it pushes its staff consistently beyond their   limit. Unfortunately understaffing may also be used by some managers as an excuse to justify their poor performance.

Understaffing may affect the health of staff

If understaffing is temporary the existing staff may work extra to meet the target if right incentives are put in place. This approach cannot be used to handle the situation of chronic understaffing.  Overworking over a long period has a negative impact on the health of the staff and the performance of the organisation. Cases of work stress related ailments start appearing among staff.

Checks and balances

Various processes are normally put in place to guide staff in the performance of their work in order to reduce the human errors and also human malpractices. The principle of checks and balances only works if the work of one person is independently checked by another person. This may not be the case when an organisation is suffering from understaffing. Errors and staff malpractices may go undetected for a long time as staff are too busy to ensure the right control environment is in place.

Problem solving

An organisation faces a lot of challenges on a daily basis and its ability to achieve its goals will depend on the capacity it has through its staff to overcome the challenges in order to move forward. Each challenge has to be clearly defined in order to understand it, analysed in order to identify its cause and finally an effective solution has to be found and implemented. It is not possible to effectively follow this approach of solving challenges in the situations of understaffing. There is always a danger of dealing with symptoms of the challenge instead of the root cause during the rush to clear the accumulated work.


An organisation operates within a given regulatory framework which has to be complied with. The regulatory framework includes the laws of the country, sectors laws, the law which brought the entity into existence and regulations issued by various regulatory bodies from time to time. For compliance purposes you need a number of human resources including both internal and external auditors, you need in-house and external lawyers, you need qualified professional including accountants. It may not be possible to have the staff levels in situations of understaffing hence compliance may be a challenge.


In order to achieve the goals of the organisation management should have in place adequate number of staff to enable the organisation to achieve its objectives.  Under staffing has negative impact on both the staff and the performance of the organisation.  Under staffing can also lead to risk exposures which can go undetected for a long time.


John Muhaise Bikalemesa

Director: Big Drum Advisory Services Limited