Article published in Pharma & Bio Ingredients online publication March 2006    
The Right Time to Hire

Patrick B. Ropella

Patrick B RopellaHow do you know when the time is right to hire more employees?  Keeping the correct balance between the amount of work and available staff can be difficult, considering the fact that most companies in the chemical, pharmaceutical and allied industries experience natural highs and lows in demand. Some companies tend to hire unnecessarily, wasting thousands of dollars in the process when they really just need a short-term fix. Others may miss profitable opportunities because they don’t have the adequate staff or the right kind of talent to handle new projects. 

How can a manager assess their staffing situation and make an informed decision about whether or not he or she needs to hire? There are several factors that need to be taken into consideration. Listed below are several tips that will help decide if you need to add to your workforce.

Ability to Meet Deadlines

How many times have you had to extend deadlines in the past few months in order to meet customer orders? If the answer is weekly, or even daily, then you need to take a closer look at why. Although many factors can influence whether or not a product is delivered on time, the most obvious answer is lack of people. When staffing levels are not adequate, projects get extended, staff gets involved in non-primary tasks, and the real business of production gets delayed. If you are experiencing an increase in missed deadlines, then you may need to staff up in order meet commitments.

Employee Wellness

How often are your employees calling in sick or filing health insurance claims? Most employees are exposed to some level of stress in their jobs. However, stress can build to such levels that it leads to more serious conditions. If you notice an increase in sick time, or an increase in the number of employees that have taken a leave of absence because of stress-related illness, chances are your staff may be overworked.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, employees who choose to forfeit or carryover their vacation time may also be heading toward burnout.  In most companies employees are left to determine how and when to use their time off. However, when an individual feels too much pressure to put the needs of the company before their own, or feels that no one is competent to cover their work for them should they choose to take time off, inadequate staffing levels could be to blame.

Overtime Costs

Another cue that offers some insight into whether or not you are understaffed is overtime costs. Have they increased significantly over the past few months? Are they considerably higher than forecasted? If so, chances are there is simply not enough staff to get the job done in a sufficient amount of time.

Overtime can cost companies billions of dollars per year. One way to reduce that cost, while making sure that you are able to meet production, is to hire more people. By bringing fresh talent on board, you may also improve quality that may have been comprised by overworked, overtired staff.

Lack of Talent

Have you had to “pass” on potential opportunities because you lack the right talent on your staff to handle the task? The pharmaceutical, chemical and allied industries are rapidly evolving businesses. In order to stay on top of new trends in the market, companies have to constantly inventory their staff in order to ensure they can handle whatever opportunities come their way. If you don’t have people with the right skills, you risk losing a competitive edge. Smart companies avoid this pitfall by staying on top of the talent market, by knowing who’s available, and what skills and traits are in demand. That way, when a growth opportunity presents itself you will know where to find the people you need to succeed.

Use of Temporary Employees

How often are you utilizing temporary or contract workers? Are you consistently contracting them in the same departments for the same positions? Contract staffing can, at certain times, be a smart move strategically for a company. However, when you require the same personnel for repetitive tasks and keep them on board for more than six months at a time, it may be an indication that there is a more permanent need. You should also consider that each time a contract staffer is brought on to do work, there is a lag in productivity in order to accommodate the learning curve. Making a permanent hire will eliminate that gap and ensure a more productive pace.

Time Logs

Consider asking your staff to track their activities in a daily time log. Although the notion may not go over well initially, they will soon find that it takes a minimal time investment on their part, and is a very worthwhile way to spend a few extra minutes. Time logs provide a very precise way of determining how each member of your staff is spending his or her time.  You’ll be able to evaluate how much time is dedicated to critical  “A” tasks, versus how much time is spent on non-critical or “B” tasks. A time log may also bring to light certain areas in which employees are working that are not generally covered in their job descriptions. For example, if your R&D professionals are spending an inordinate amount of time trying to resolve technical issues with their programs, you may decide that hiring an IT support person for their department will save you money in the long-run. 

A number of online time tracking logs are now available to companies for a small fee that provide specialized reports that breakdown a staff’s time by department, project, or even by individual.

Room for Improvement

Does your management team dedicate time to generate new ways to improve the workflow process, and give constructive ideas for staff improvement? If so, is it difficult to get the staff to accept and incorporate the process improvements into their daily work?

In order to keep competitive, organizations need to periodically re-evaluate their methodologies and make the necessary adjustments to ensure they are functioning at peak performance levels. When new ideas are suggested, but implementation of those ideas fails, usually a lack of time or energy is to blame. Employees who are overworked have to focus their time on simply covering everyday duties, and don’t always have the ability or interest to focus on improvement. Conversely, when a department is staffed at appropriate levels, it allows a little “breathing room” for employees to go above and beyond their routine tasks and dedicate some time to upgrading their practices.

Staff for Success

Making the decision to hire more employees for your staff should not be made without taking a full-scale evaluation of your current situation. If you are lacking in several of the areas discussed in this column, chances are you may be understaffed. An appropriate level of staffing takes into consideration the well being of your current employees in order to avoid burnout, and the ability of your company to succeed. By staying in tune with the changing needs of your company you hill have a better understanding of when the time is right to hire.

About the Author

Patrick B. Ropella is President & CEO of Ropella & Associates. With 20 years of experience Ropella & Associates is an international executive search consultancy specializing in the chemical and allied industries. Ropella & Associates focuses on mid-level management to executive level retained search in sales, marketing, manufacturing and R & D.  For more information on its services, visit www.ropella.com or call Patrick Ropella at (850) 983-4777.