Signs your organisation is over or understaffed

By Memory Nguwi

THE ability to spot signs of over-staffing and under-staffing in your organisation is crucial, given that staff costs represent a bigger part of the company’s operating costs.
If you fail to spot these signs your business will suffer in the long run due to high costs or generally poor business performance.

Before we discuss the signs of under-staffing or over-staffing, I need to define clearly what we mean by these terms. When your business or department is overstaffed, it means it has more people to perform certain duties than necessary and that translates directly to wasted resources.

When a business or department is under-staffed, it means the business has fewer people to do certain tasks to the satisfaction of the manager, thereby costing your business revenue and customers.

At this stage, it is important to note that sometimes requests for more people may not necessarily be an indication of understaffing but, instead, it could be a sign that the people in those roles are not competent enough to raise their performance to the required level.

Whenever any department requests for more people to do the work, the first thing to do is to interrogate if they are really under-staffed. The first analysis you need to do is to ascertain if the people currently in those roles have the competencies to raise performance to the required standard. It is poor management to want to bridge a competency gap by adding more people.

You also need to check if the people in those roles have not been elevated to roles that are their capacity. If the above scenarios are correct, the current incumbents are incompetent and or have been elevated to role above their competencies you need to restructure your business or your department.

Do a proper objective capacity assessment of each individual and those who have no capacity should be reassigned to roles where they can add value? In cases where you find that some individuals cannot be utilised anywhere in the business you need to be bold and part ways with them.

It is bad leadership to accommodate incompetent people in your business under the guise of being “compassionate”. If you do that you demotivate your good performers and eventually they will leave.

Once you have cleared the competency hurdle for the current incumbents, you then need to look at the numbers you have versus the output you are producing. Ordinarily the higher the number of people you hire in a role the higher the output produced.

This link between headcount and output per role can be achieved through proper scientific headcount analysis. Such an analysis can show you the gap that exists in terms of headcount required per role. A word of caution, though, all the statistical methods used tend to use historical data. That process may not highlight if there are any areas of inefficiency in how people are deployed. Headcount analysis, without delving deeper into staff optimisation, may not give you the full picture but it is a good starting point.

Once you have done projections and predictions of the number of staff you need, the next step before you start hiring is to check the current utilisation of staff. Do a time utilisation analysis for each staff member for a period of a month. You may be surprised to note that some staff members are not being fully utilised thereby putting pressure on those staff members who are diligent. You may also be surprised to note that staff members are spending a lot of time on non-core activities.

In addition to this, it is possible that some staff member may be working after hours to cover up for time lost during the day. All of the above deficiencies can be traced to poor supervision and to laziness on the part of the concerned staff members. Therefore, before you add more people you need to fix these problems.

You need to periodically assess staff capacity and headcount alignment so that your business does not lose money on staff issues that can be corrected. When you properly align staff capacities and headcount you get better business outcomes.

Nguwi is an occupational psychologist, data scientist, speaker and managing consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm. — Phone: 481 946-48/290 0276/or mobile 0772 356 361, e-mail: or visit