Understaffing causes stress, but managers can help


Leaders and managers whose teams are under resourced could help prevent staff burnout by behaving better, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Salford in the UK and the University of Waterloo, Canada, have just published a paper in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, which examined the impact of understaffing on a group of workers.

The paper found that teams who were understaffed but had a manager who took that into account suffered from less burnout than teams which were understaffed but whose manager showed less consideration.

Professor Kirk Chang, an expert in human resources of the University of Salford Business School described his research and why it is so important.

Professor Chang said: “There is evidence that understaffing is becoming more of a problem all the time, but it hasn’t been studied to a great degree before now, particularly the impact understaffing has on groups of workers. We do know that understaffing causes great stress, burnout and health problems for workers if their workplace is understaffed. So, we thought we would take a closer look.”

The team asked nearly 800 employees, and their bosses, from 96 work groups employed by four technology organisations, about their experiences and feelings. They split the understaffing problem into two categories, one where there are not enough people and the other where there is not enough expertise to get a job done. Both can cause stress in the workplace.

Nearly 80% of the surveyed work groups claimed they felt stressed by understaffing levels and that felt this was impacting on their work performance.

Professor Chang added: “There are some very important lessons to be learned from our study. We found that when there was an issue with managers and the way they reacted when faced with understaffing. They would react in a more emotional, empathetic way when their teams lacked technical expertise.

“But when they simply lacked the numbers of staff to get a job done they reacted differently, with less empathy, and this resulted in more stressful situations for their employees, potentially leading to lower productivity and other issues associated with a stressful work environment such as increased burnout.

“Ultimately the company will suffer in the long run, as staff go on sick or leave the company, potentially making understaffing even worse. Although understaffing causes stress and recently has become a norm in the workplace, managers can still help. Our findings suggest managers should show more empathy in all situation were their teams are not appropriately resourced.”


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