Any tips for dealing with staff shortages in an SME?

how to deal with skill shortages


When you’ve a shortage of employees within a small business environment, you feel it especially hard. 👎

And as the business owner, you’re often torn between rolling your sleeves up and pitching in – while trying to recruit at the same time.

Meanwhile, your existing staff are picking up the slack and not always happy to do so. ☹ And what’s more, your customers or clients are getting cheesed off with you too. 😱

Oh Lordy, I totally feel for you!

But fear not, read my blog and you’ll feel heaps better when you start to tackle the issue head-on. 💪


At the time of writing this blog, the UK labour market looks extraordinary. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before!

According to the Office for National Statistics, in May to July 2021, there were an estimated 953,000 job vacancies. This is a record high. A MAHOOSIVELY big growth of 43.8% (290,000) compared with the previous quarter 📈📈📈

There are of course external factors at play. For a start, Brexit has significantly reduced the talent pool, making it harder for British firms to recruit people from outside of the UK. Then there’s the coronavirus pandemic that has forced employees to flee from vulnerable sectors like hospitality. Or, leave other sectors – like healthcare – because of burnout 👎

These outside forces are beyond your control. So, give yourself a break.


When you’re short staffed, you’re less attentive towards your employees, customers, and suppliers.

But, you CAN help to alleviate their feelings of frustrations towards you, by keeping the channels of communication open.

They’re human beings after all. It’s only when they’re left in the dark, that panic ensues!

Yes, it might be hard for you to admit you’re having problems, and you probably don’t want to wash your dirty linen in public, but it’s essential to manage people’s expectations.

I recommend you...

💛 Reinforce how important they are to you

🗨 Explain the challenges you’re having and how that might impact them

👍 Reassure them you’re doing everything you can to fix the situation

😱 Remain your usual affable self, rather than turning into Stressed Eric and taking it out on them!

You never know, they might just exceed your expectations and help you out of a pickle by offering to help?


When resources are at a premium, use them wisely. Make a list of all the critical things that MUST be done in the short-term and move your existing staff around temporarily, to ensure those tasks get delivered.

For example, if your secretary has left you in the lurch, you might want to hold off creating your latest promotional newsletter, and instead get your marketing person to manage some secretarial duties instead, like responding to emails from clients. The ability to communicate well can easily translate from one task to another.

It’s always worth asking your employees to adjust, rather than telling them they must. You may even get employees who volunteer to do certain tasks for you. Be careful not to breach their contract of employment though.

Don’t forget to play to people’s strengths, but be aware of their limitations too – while keeping health and safety at the forefront of your mind.


If your existing employees are helping you to address your staffing shortfalls, then reward them accordingly. The last thing you need is another resignation on your hands.

Express your gratitude in both your words and deeds. After all, thank-you can mean the world. 🌎

Vouchers, a meal out, wine, flowers, chocolates – you don’t need to push the boat out. You just need to show them that you recognise the effort they’re making while you have staff shortages.

And remember, good will is almost always reciprocated. Quid pro quo, right.


Self-employed contractors – or freelancers as they’re sometimes called – are a brilliant option for when you need a professional service on a temporary basis. I’m talking virtual assistants, accountants, HR managers, digital marketing specialists, project managers, or customer support agents.

And what’s more, you can let them go – without any legal ramifications – once you’ve been able to hire somebody permanently.

While their hourly rate will most probably be higher than a permanent member of staff, you won’t have to pay for anything else like equipment or training. Plus, they can usually hit the ground running from the get-go.

For more info on this, check out a blog I wrote called: WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF HIRING AN EMPLOYEE VS. A CONTRACTOR?


You need staff, and you need them quickly. But at the same time, you don’t want to end up hiring the wrong person and getting stuck with them. After all, ‘unfair dismissal’ is one the most common reasons bosses get summoned to employment tribunals and sued! 😱

Here are some tips to speed things up:

✅ Make your job ads as attractive as they can be. Remember, it’s a job seekers market, and you’re selling yourself and your company to prospective employees.

✅ Be super-clear in describing who and what you really want, so all the fluff and flannel is gone from your job ads and negotiation is kept to a minimum. That way, you’re more likely to get the right candidates to apply.

✅ At the same time, you may want to check that what you’re looking for is actually realistic. If you’re asking for the moon on a stick, you’re wasting time.

✅ Make sure your job ads specify that you’re only interested in people who can start right away. Don’t make the mistake of getting excited by a candidate who needs to give their current employer three months’ notice!

✅ Tap into your local and social networks to find talent. Recommendations are a great way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

✅ Cut the time it takes to hire somebody by setting deadlines for applicants. This will force candidates to make decisions faster and keep momentum going.

✅ Use technology to get things moving along more quickly. For example, by using online contracts and video calls for interviews.


With almost two decades of HR experience in hiring, I’ve got tons of templates and guides to make sure you hire amazing talent – even if you do need to move quickly.

Check out these super-useful blogs I’ve written 👓

Go to my shop and buy  THE ULTIMATE HIRING TOOLKIT to help you shave heaps of time off the recruiting process.


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