The Dangers of Understaffing and What to Do About Them

By Michael J. Martin | May 10, 2023 | 4 min read
Understaffed security

The physical security industry continues to be understaffed in 2023, according to a recent survey. Half the respondents to Genetec’s State of Physical Security report indicated that they’d experienced HR challenges in the last year. The top issues? Staff shortages and hiring difficulties.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Great Resignation, which began in late 2021, has been ongoing for about two years, with an average of 4 million people leaving their jobs every month through 2022. Although the quits have started to slow a little this spring, labor shortages have affected every industry. The resulting vacancies mean fewer security officers, fewer workers on site in general, and more holes in organizations’ security.

It also means understaffing is actively causing security problems.

How does understaffing increase risk?

Take the example of an understaffed restaurant. The restaurant has a large dining area and there’s a line of people waiting to be seated, but the host is just seating people in one small section. The waiting people are hungry and frustrated and demand to know why they can’t be seated at one of the empty tables. There simply isn’t enough waitstaff to cover the tables, the host tells them. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, brand new hires who haven’t been trained yet are trying to plate the food. They make mistakes, and the food takes longer to come out of the kitchen.

Customers are angry, the employees are stressed, and there’s more of a chance of accidents than usual. It’s just the lunch rush, but there are several safety and security issues caused by simply not having enough staff.

How does understaffing impact security at your company?

A lack of staff impacts security in a number of ways. Understaffed organizations aren’t just light on security personnel, they’re also more prone to security issues in general.

  • Overworked staff: Understaffing means that existing staffers are working more days and longer hours, which can cause serious safety issues. When staff members burn out, their chances of accidents, illness and injury increase.

  • Mistakes at work: Overworked staff are likely to overlook things and miss deadlines at work. Depending on the worker’s job, this can mean a safety or security issue.

  • Increased risk: A site that’s nearly empty because of staffing shortages is a better target for criminals than a fully-staffed, bustling building is. By the same token, a site guarded by fewer officers is likely to attract more crime.

  • Lower customer satisfaction: Don’t underestimate the anger of a customer. Customer violence has been rising at fast food restaurants and on airlines. When customers become frustrated because of understaffing, some customers can become violent.

  • Unmet compliance requirements: If you don’t have enough staffing, you might be violating safety and security compliance regulations. Certain tasks need to be completed no matter how few staffers you have, but if your employees are overtaxed, it’s possible everything is not being done.

What can you do to remain safe despite staffing concerns?

You can’t do anything about the job market, but there are some steps you can take to secure your organization even with a staffing shortage.

  • First, acknowledge the reality of the situation: In some cases you truly cannot do more with less. Understand that just as a small waitstaff can’t cover a full dining room of tables, a small security staff can’t cover the same territory a full staff can.

  • Make the job easier for the staff you do have. If you have four parking lots that need to be patrolled, can you consolidate it into one or two? Can you close some entrances to a building and create a single point of entry? You have fewer officers, so you may have to give them less work.

  • Communicate with the workforce: If entrances are closed and parking lots are shut down, there may be some grumbling. Make sure you explain what you’re doing in advance and why so that everyone is prepared. Be sure the workforce knows you’re making these changes for their safety.

  • Consider employee wellness initiatives: When you are understaffed, you need to be more in tune with employee wellness. Give them breaks, make sure they aren’t stressed, and help them with their work-life balance. An investment in wellness isn’t difficult, will be appreciated by workers, and insurance companies sometimes reward them.

  • Do not lower your standards when it comes to hiring: During staffing shortages it’s tempting to hire whoever applies, but resist doing this. By lowering your standards you open yourself up to more risk, and you might lose good employees who don’t want to spend their shifts cleaning up after poor workers. Always ask yourself if you would have employed a person before the staffing shortage. If not, don’t start now.

Staffing shortages are stressful for everyone, but they are manageable, and even better: they are temporary.

If you’re not sure where to start with your shortage, contact us. Circadian Risk can help you rethink your security and safety program so that it fits the staff you have.

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