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How to Tell When There’s Not Enough Work for Employees

Learn how to tell when there’s not enough work for employees and follow these tips to keep people engaged and productive during down times.


By ActivTrak

Employee staring at his computer looking bored because there’s not enough work

With workplace burnout on the rise, managers are often encouraged to help people reduce stress and balance workloads. 

But what about team members who don’t have enough to do?

While the picture of an ideal workplace might involve employees bustling with work, there are times when the opposite scenario occurs. And when there's not enough work for employees, you need to be prepared to react.

What happens when there's not enough work for employees?

Every business is bound to experience slower periods and shorter days as part of the natural ebb and flow of work. It’s not necessarily a bad situation, especially if your workforce is busy at other times. People might need a short break to refresh and refuel.

However, problems can arise when a slow period lasts for weeks or months without any countermeasures in place to prevent potential downsides. Left unchecked, this can lead to:

  • A lack of motivation: Making progress on daily tasks is a powerful motivator — researchers have deemed it the single biggest predictor of how people perform at work. When there’s not enough to do, the result is more than just boredom. People may also be stripped of the psychological benefits they’d otherwise gain from celebrating small wins.
  • Career stagnation: Skills-based organizations are on the rise —  80% of executives say it’s critical to base decisions about hiring, pay and promotions on people’s skills rather than tenure. But with most new knowledge coming from on-the-job experiences, those skills can stagnate when there’s not enough to do.
  • Turnover: One of the top reasons employees leave? The desire for new challenges. While you don’t want to overwork employees to the point of burnout, it can be just as harmful to have extended periods where they’re not experiencing anything new.
  • Wasted resources: If employees are idle, so are your tools and technology. And that's not a minor consideration. According to one study, businesses spend $9,600 per employee each year on SaaS apps alone — and nearly half of those licenses go unused.

How can you tell when there’s not enough work for employees?

Sometimes, it’s obvious when there’s not enough work to go around. This is especially true if your business is seasonal. But there may also be weeks or months when employees don’t have enough work to keep them engaged — and fail to tell you about it.

For this reason, it’s important to watch for common indicators including:

1. Fast turnaround times

If an employee consistently delivers quality work in record time, this may be a sign they’re ready for more challenging work. This is especially important if other members of your team are overworked and need help from underutilized colleagues in the form of workload distribution.

2. Decreased productivity levels

One of the most apparent signs of underemployment is a decline in productivity. When employees have insufficient work or tasks that fail to challenge them, they may become disengaged and lose motivation. Even though they have more time, the end result is often a decrease in output and quality of work.

3. Increased idle time

If you notice employees spending excessive time engaging in non-work-related activities, it could be a sign they need more to do. Idle time indicates that employees are not engaged in meaningful tasks, which can result in wasted resources and decreased overall efficiency.

4. Disengagement 

When employees feel their skills and abilities are going to waste, they may become disheartened and lose interest in their work. This, in turn, can contribute to higher turnover rates and decreased employee loyalty.

What to do when there’s not enough work for employees

If the indicators above sound familiar, there’s a chance your organization is overstaffed. The more likely scenario, however, is that you’re simply in the midst of a temporary slow season. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

In fact, some of the strongest foundations for business growth can be set when managers know how to take advantage of lighter workloads. Here are several steps you can take to do just that.

1. Invest in skill development and training 

An astounding 94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it simply invested in helping them learn. But too often, there’s not enough time to participate in training programs. By offering opportunities for employees to enhance their skills during slow periods, you can prepare them to handle more challenging tasks and support long-term business goals.

2. Encourage communication and feedback 

Establishing a culture of open communication is critical for addressing slower times. Encourage employees to let you know when their workloads are lighter than usual, and ask them to voice any ideas they have to correct imbalances. In addition, ask team members to speak up if there's a project they're passionate about or feel they’re suited for. This will not only help align talents with tasks but ensure each person has the right amount of work on their plate.

3. Take a break

When there’s not enough work to go around, sometimes the best action is to schedule some downtime. Encourage employees to take paid time off to refresh and rejuvenate, especially if you know a busy season is coming. Why? Because taking a vacation during slow seasons can help make the peak times more palatable. Various studies also show a direct correlation between time off and productivity. 

4. Implement effective workload management

If your organization doesn’t already have a robust workload management system in place, use your quieter times to build one. Focus on creating a process for distributing workloads fairly and using resources efficiently. This will help ensure your employees are consistently engaged and have the right amount of work throughout the year.  

If you’re not sure where to start, ActivTrak’s workload management reporting can help. Whether you need to rebalance assignments after a reorganization or are looking for data to help guide decisions during quieter times, you’ll gain all kinds of relevant insights such as:

  • Which team members have capacity to take on more work
  • How your team is working in comparison to similar teams 
  • What kind of coaching will help your employees unlock their productivity potential

Sign up for your free account or request a demo to see what you can achieve with ActivTrak.

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