How to Prosper When HR Is Understaffed

The HR department often has many things on its plate when the company as a whole has a lack of staff, but what happens when the HR department has a lack of staff that may be caused due to many situations? Read this blog post to learn more.

One of the hardest parts about working in HR is helping a company's managers succeed when the company is understaffed. But what about when the HR department is understaffed, perhaps due to summer vacations, unfilled positions, or team members working fewer hours as they wrestle with child care or illness during the COVID‑19 pandemic?

HR leaders, whether managing a small or large team, can find the weight of a company's needs overwhelming when their department is short-staffed. But HR experts say there are a range of strategies to help address this situation.

"When an HR team is short-staffed, one of the best things to do is try to understand the goals of the company during this time," said Melodie Bond-Hillman, senior manager of HR and administration at XYPRO Technology Corp. in Simi Valley, Calif. She has had many cohorts reach out and express concern that their jobs have expanded out of scope during the coronavirus outbreak as they attempt to handle a range of new duties amid staff shortages. "They need to try and figure out how long term the staffing issue might be to know how to strategically plan," Bond-Hillman said.

Conversely, it's important not to over-promise when seeking staffing solutions for the department in such an unpredictable environment, said Buck Rogers, a vice president at Keystone Partners, a Raleigh, N.C., executive coaching and outplacement firm. "Don't set your team up for a fall," he said. "You need to keep their spirits up as much as possible, but giving them false hope can make them less likely to trust you in the future."

Rogers recommended against giving the HR team exact dates on when operations will return to normal, because no one can say for sure. Instead, he suggested being supportive—but not unrealistic.

Consider Investing in Automation

One positive step an HR leader can take during a period of uncertainty is to look for opportunities to automate required processes to save time, Bond-Hillman said.

"An important question to research is, how well is your HR system set up? Is it driving a lot of your process so you can automate when possible and give employees a strong range of self-service access?" she asked. "Do you have apps so workers can get their benefit cards and policy questions easily answered without your team being called on to step in too often? From getting their pay stubs to making 401(k) changes, the process needs to give employees a chance to help themselves. These are areas HR may get lazy at when times are easier, but it makes a difference" when times are tougher, as they are today, she said.

Even with shortcuts in place, there are other steps that will help the team operate more effectively. One is to provide new opportunities for team members to broaden their contributions, perhaps by giving responsibilities to HR professionals who are ready for a new challenge.

"This is a chance for them to help you out," Bond-Hillman said. But you can also help HR team members advance their careers or become specialists. "Give them the opportunity to come through for the team and further their career."

And despite potential revenue shortfalls due to the faltering economy, now isn't the time to reduce training. After all, if team members are going to be able to assist you more, they'll need the training to succeed, Bond-Hillman said.

"Yes, there's a feeling you don't have time, but if you don't make the time, it will potentially be a disaster in executing the work," she said. "Many HR people struggle because not everyone is cross-trained."

Seek Inexpensive Support

Seeking part-time help from a temp or college intern is another popular option this summer, said Heather Deyrieux, SHRM-SCP, HR manager for Sarasota County, Fla., and president of the HR Florida State Council, a Society for Human Resource Management affiliate. "We've had an intern just for the first couple of weeks of the summer, and she has been very helpful," Deyrieux said. "You can even look for volunteers—there can be many of those, especially if it's remote work."

Keeping morale up also is important and may be achieved by making sure everyone in the HR department sees team leaders rolling up their sleeves and doing tasks that may have been handled by others before the pandemic. It's also wise for those leaders to keep their office doors open and be available early and late to help answer questions and address issues, Bond-Hillman said. "A team has to be just that–a team."

Debora Roland, a Los Angeles-based vice president of HR at CareerArc, said seeking opportunities to allow the team to recharge is critical. "Your team, however big it may be, is working tirelessly during these times, and showing appreciation can go a long way," she said. "One way to do this is to give team members time off when it's needed. We're all in such high-stress times, and providing days off to recuperate and reset can make a world of a difference."

If providing time off isn't possible given the workload, showing appreciation can help. "Give a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant or something else they like," Deyrieux said. "This way you show appreciation, but you also show them that you pay attention to their interests. People need to know they're not just another employee."

6 Ways to Support an Understaffed HR Team

  1. Identify the company's primary goals during the pandemic and share it with the team.
  2. Ease the team's hours through automation or help from a temp, an intern or a volunteer.
  3. Be in the trenches with team members by taking on menial tasks and arriving early and/or staying late.
  4. Show appreciation, even if just in a small gift.
  5. Give additional responsibility that could lead to a promotion.
  6. Provide training so your team members feel they're in a good position to take on new responsibilities.

SOURCE: Butterman, E. (09 July 2020) "How to Prosper When HR Is Understaffed" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from

The Performance Review Process Can Be a Lot Easier. Here’s How.

The annual performance review has long been a fraught ritual that both managers and employees dread. Now that it's evolved, in many companies, into a less formal, yearlong process often called a "continual conversation," managers face new challenges.

Perhaps most notably, managers are now saddled with more work: conducting check-ins with multiple employees twice a month, holding quarterly meetings that can include feedback from colleagues and subordinates, writing detailed reports, and analyzing feedback surveys. The annual meeting about salary and bonuses remains on the docket as well.

"It can be a big problem," said Brian Kropp, a human resources expert at the Gartner Group, a Connecticut-based research and advisory company. "Managers spend an average of 210 hours per year on performance management, and our data shows their No. 1 frustration with the process is how time-consuming it is."

Experts say there are several ways to make this new era of performance reviews less cumbersome. For example, managers should get employees more invested in the process by having them do the bulk of the prep work for the check-ins and meetings. Managers should also act more like coaches and make the frequent sessions less formal, with an emphasis on keeping them collaborative. And they should use feedback technology to automate more parts of the process.

As far as workload goes, "you don't have to take all that responsibility on yourself," said Dick Grote, a Texas-based management consultant who has worked at General Electric, United Airlines and Frito-Lay. "Put that work on the employee."

Give employees standard templates and frameworks with directed questions to answer. These questions can include "What are my priorities right now?," "What obstacles am I running into?" and "What feedback have I received?"

Managers can also change the dynamic that is typically associated with the process. BJ Gallagher, a Los Angeles-based workplace consultant who has worked with IBM, John Deere and Chrysler, has seen many performance evaluations get bogged down by a judgmental and adversarial interaction. She said managers can improve employee performance more effectively and efficiently by using a collaborative approach, and that can start with the initial conversation in the yearlong check-in process. "The start of the year is when mutual goals can be established as a manager-employee team looking together at the big projects on the horizon," she said. "Use that check-in session to establish three to five goals and stay away from subjective behavioral goals. Make them measurable."

To that end, managers should approach the process like "a great coach, not a traditional boss," said Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy in the workplace management division of Gallup. "It's about changing their lens and thinking about what a great coach looks like."

Studies show that employee performance improves when managers give workers meaningful feedback and make the conversations more team-oriented. For instance, managers can get an employee's peers to give feedback. Peer input can help reduce some of the burden on the manager and emphasize the team aspect of the process.

But Kropp pointed out that there is a downside to peer feedback: It can be vulnerable to bias, especially when the input is given in an "open box" format. "We suggest organizations direct peer feedback with targeted questions about specific actions and outcomes," he said.

Another tool to make the process more manageable is feedback technology. For instance, a manager can formally capture all performance conversations and feedback in the organization's human capital management system, Kropp said.

Ultimately, revamping the process from an annual review to a yearlong conversation should lead to less work for managers, not more, consultants said.

SOURCE: Rosenkrantz, H. (28 April 2020) "The Performance Review Process Can Be a Lot Easier. Here’s How." (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from