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How to Deal with the Stress of Being Shorthanded at Work

By Edited May 26, 2016 1 4
I have a headache !
Credit: Jarosław Pocztarski on Flickr/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Working in an environment that is short-handed can be a pretty stressful type of place to be every day.  You may feel overworked, overwhelmed and under-appreciated with the constant demands and lack of staff present to help relieve the burden.

Unfortunately, this kind of scenario seems to have become more and more common. Over the past several years a business trend has been to scale back and/or lay off employees, leaving the remaining employees to do the bulk of the work. Another trend is when staff members retire or leave for other positions, management decides not to replace with new personnel. 

Either scenario results in the same consequences, those left working in the organization end up with inherited workloads tasks are reshuffled and redistributed. After all, just because a person is no longer with the employer, this doesn't mean his or her job immediately ceases to need to be done. 

If you find yourself in a situation where you're under the stress of being short-handed at work, here are a few techniques you can try to use to reduce anxiety and help your days become better balanced and happier:

Take Routine Breaks

Even in the best of circumstances, for instance in a non-stressful work environment, people need to take breaks in order to have a moment or two to revitalize and rest. In the stressful workplace that tends to emerge due to having a short-handed staff, taking breaks is an essential part of the day. Even for just a few minutes.

With the high demand on your time in the job, you may not think you have the time to take a few moments for a break. This is backward thinking because over time a fast-paced environment is likely going to slow down productivity levels. Everyone gets tired at some point and, if you're too tired, mistakes are more likely to happen. In the end it just creates more work and potentially more conflict. Taking a break can help you better keep up with demand and still maintain the daily or weekly level of output you need to accomplish. Not to mention help keep your sanity intact.

Napping at work
Credit: Nathan Jones (gemsling on Flickr)/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Eat Well and Rest Up

Keeping yourself in good health will go a long way in helping you cope with stress at work when there aren't enough people to do all the tasks that need tending to each day. Practice good sleep and diet habits on a routine basis. By eating right and getting enough rest at night, you can better prep yourself to meet the high demand that is expected from a short-handed staff. It'll also help you have the energy you need to cope.


Learning the art of multi-tasking can be a terrific attribute to have in a short-handed work environment. Those who can effectively do more than one thing at a time and do it right will see the tremendous benefits that come with the ability to multi-task. While it's true there are some downsides to multi-tasking, in a shorthanded workplace, this skill is actually a big advantage to possess.

Working late

Be a Team Player

Work is often a lot easier when the team approach is utilized. For instance, at certain times of the day, month or even year, an organization may get pretty busy. It is often during the heightened season or busy time of the year that the short-handed factor is most felt.

If members of the organization come together and help one another out, chances are when the time comes with their own struggles, others will come to aid and pitch in. Colleagues who tend to not act as a team player when others are in need may not get support when it comes time for their turn to be struggling with deadlines. If you are able to pitch in when possible, do it. Chances are those you've helped will someday return the favor.

Leave Work at the Door

This is perhaps one of the most important stress relievers of all. When you work in a fast-paced and/or high-stress environment it is easy to become frustrated and maintain this frustration after leaving work for the day. Don't let the stress, and aggravation if any, from the day come home with you. When you bring work home, you neglect providing yourself with the luxury of catching a break.

When you check out at the end of the workday, leave the stress until tomorrow. It won't go anywhere. Also leave the folders, reports and other papers at work if you are able. Truly give yourself a reprieve before hitting the pavement running tomorrow morning.

Coping in a stressful and understaffed workplace can be a difficult burden to bear, but by using good strategies and taking care of yourself mentally and physically, this can go a long way in helping you deal with this kind of job situation.

[Related reading: Why a Positive Attitude Can Help Further Your Career ]



Jan 31, 2015 5:16pm
Good article, thank you. It made me think of my workplace. We are often shorthanded because people call in sick - a lot. In fact the sick call is being abused, but it is difficult to reprimand or terminate the skulkers because they belong to a union. We are a 24/7 operation so if someone calls in sick for the late shift, someone from the day shift is stuck working a double shift.
Feb 3, 2015 3:08am
Awful to end up working 2 shifts like that without notice, you'd think people would be more considerate of their colleagues. I never understood why people feel they "need" to use their sick day. Where I used to work, we were given one sick day a month and rather than build up time, there were those that took it for the sake of taking it (also union). Ends up creating stress for everyone else.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
Feb 15, 2015 5:05pm
Be shorthanded at work can be tough. It seems to happen everywhere.
I really like that photo of the guy sleeping in the office. He's counting on somebody else to wake him up in time for his meeting! Talk about confidence in your co-workers.
Feb 16, 2015 2:50am
The "short-handed" trend does seem to be one that isn't ending any time soon. That's a good point (re: confidence) about the photo. I hadn't thought of it that way, but the photo seemed to fit this topic. Thanks so much for reading and commenting Millsy, very appreciated.

Welcome to IB! :)
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  1. "Why Multitasking Doesn't Work." Forbes. 12/12/2014 <Web >
  2. "Mastering the Fine Art of Multi-Tasking." Psychology Today. 12/12/2014 <Web >

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