The Impact of Inadequate Staffing in Leadership

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Inadequate staffing is an issue that harms leadership. It means the employment of too few staff members, which does not match the workload. The effects of understaffing are far-reaching and have the potential to cause devastating consequences such as stress among employees, difficulty in attaining the set goals, and an increase in the chances of burnout (Hudson & Shen, 2018). Experts posit that the degree of stress a leader finds in addressing their tasks impacts the quality of decision-making. In addition, research by Glette et al. (2017) has also found that inadequate staffing makes it difficult for leaders to attain organizational goals. It makes the working environment unconducive for staff and leaders to perform their roles effectively. Therefore, inadequate staffing adversely affects the operations of leaders in an organization.

Experts’ View On the Effects of Understaffing

Understaffing makes it challenging for leaders in an organization to achieve effective leadership. One of the main roles of leaders is to create a conducive environment where workers can perform their tasks and attain organizational goals. Hudson & Shen (2018) claims that there is a relationship between understaffing and increased workload for staff. Inadequate staffing makes leaders assign many roles to existing employees. This increases employees’ burden and stress due to the added obligations. This might worsen if employees are unfamiliar with some of the added responsibilities or if new tasks become too complex. As a result, organizational leaders find it difficult to manage employees and achieve organizational goals effectively. As a result, since overburdened and stressed employees have low energy, leaders may fail to realize the goals of an organization.

One of the main consequences of understaffing in an organization is a rise in employee turnover resulting from unsatisfied employees. Wang (2018) found that understaffed employees are more likely to leave an organization. In an organization, retaining skilled employees is among the main purpose of an organizational leader. Based on this, to counter employee turnover, they must spend on the recruitment and training of new staff. A rapid reduction in existing workers can worsen an already existing understaffing issue. In addition, excessive turnover in an already understaffed workplace might, in extreme cases, bring operations to a halt. Therefore, understaffing increases the burden of organizational leaders because they must handle the threat of employee turnover.

Inadequate staffing is one factor that contributes to decreased productivity in leadership. Glette et al. (2017) determined that there is a relationship between understaffing and patient safety. Individual employees at a short-staffed facility are expected to do more work than is normally connected with their professions. This causes fatigue and physical exhaustion, which results in poor performance. Exhausted and drained staff members rushing to achieve goals are more likely to make mistakes. Moreover, because their primary focus is on fulfilling deadlines and goals, employees’ creativity and ingenuity suffer, posing a serious dilemma for leaders who rely on staff’s problem-solving abilities. Based on this, employees are less likely to perform their roles, resulting in poor performance effectively.

Understaffing is among the contributing factors to low employee morale. As existing employees lose hope of being relieved of their unduly restrictive working conditions, they frequently become dissatisfied with the leaders as well as the profession (Glette et al., 2017). Workers with low morale take more days off, miss deadlines, and lose enthusiasm in their occupations. In addition, employees with low morale are hard to work with because they lack the drive or motivation to perform their tasks. Demotivated employees can influence the overall team, creating a negative atmosphere. With time, understaffing can lead to further demotivation among employees, as they feel overworked and undervalued. All of these issues make the work of a leader difficult, especially in achieving established goals.

Inadequate staffing also harms time management. Goldsby et al. (2020) say, “time pressure bears a high price of energy expenditure as nurses rely on coping mechanisms to bear the increased anxiety that comes with time pressure (p.18).” Leadership involves assigning employees tasks and ensuring they are completed within the set timeline. The more the staff available to work, the faster activities may be accomplished or the more duties an organization can take on to fulfill its goals. In addition, adequate employees enable organizational leaders to keep the promises of relevant stakeholders. In contrast, a lack of sufficient staff stops firms from completing tasks. Therefore, the lack of adequate staff members makes it hard to complete the tasks within the set time.

Research on the impact of understaffing on leadership

The past research links understaffing in leadership to role ambiguity. Hudson & Shen (2018) conducted a study to determine the consequences of understaffing. They concluded that inadequate staffing causes individual and collective tiredness, mediated through role ambiguity and workload. In an understaffed environment, the existing staff must take on more responsibilities. Team members may be unaware of which activities or duties they can execute effectively unless workgroup supervisors or the group begins formal occupation or role reorganization. Therefore, this would eventually contribute to feelings of perplexity and doubt.

Research has also shown that understaffing nurses has an impact on performance. Firstly, Understaffing, according to Hudson & Shen (2018), can result in poor service quality, leading to lower client satisfaction. Clients dissatisfied with the services may switch to a rival, resulting in a loss of lifetime value. Furthermore, disgruntled customers can express their dissatisfaction through various means, causing businesses to be concerned about the word-of-mouth effect. Second, inadequate staffing has been linked to a reduction in store financial results, and understaffing is negatively linked with employee dissatisfaction. (Hudson & Shen, 2018). Thus, there is a relationship between inadequate staffing and the attainment of goals.

The implication of understaffing in nursing

Nurse understaffing has an impact on several aspects of nursing. One of the most significant is the impact on patient quality of care, which relates to consumers (Blair & Rolls, 2019). Poor patient outcomes are more common in hospitals with understaffed nurses. Poor nurse staffing has an impact not just on the patient but also on the employee. Inadequate staffing escalates nurse workload and job discontent and ultimately reduces overall patient care. Job discontent among nurses is four times higher than the national average, and nurses are more likely to quit their jobs. As a result, nurse understaffing results in poor patient outcomes and increased nurse burnout.

Understaffing harms the health of nurses. When a facility is understaffed, the available work is split amongst fewer nurses who work longer hours. If there is little to no relief, this can lead to a breakdown in mental, emotional, and physical health (Blair & Rolls, 2019). Nurses who are ill may be unable to work, thus compounding the staffing crisis. Nurses who are continuously stressed may develop a variety of health problems, such as anxiety, tiredness, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. For example, when nurses work for more hours, they can fall due to fatigue leading to injuries. Therefore, if employees work for longer hours without rest, they are prone to occupational injuries.

The ability to operate ethically is brought into question when nurse staffing is not adequate. Nonmaleficence is an ethical standard that calls for healthcare providers like nurses to act in such a way as to minimize harm to patients and is linked to the code of beneficence (Vearrier, 2019). Beneficence requires a nurse to act in the patient’s best interests. If these ideas are linked, they provide the cornerstone for a nurse’s career. Nurses are expected to behave in these ways both morally and legally. In the lack of regulations and legislation to promote these ethical standards in every way, patient safety and quality of care are jeopardized, particularly in issues like nurse understaffing.

Understaffing is also likely to lead to other problems, such as medical errors, stress, and demotivation among the nurses on the job. Due to a shortage of nurses, they will be forced to spend less time with patients, resulting in poor nursing services (Blair & Rolls, 2019). For example, the set international standard on nurse-to-patient ratio demands hospital leaders to ensure an adequate nurse-to-patient ratio. This means that in an understaffed facility, there is a probability that a nurse might attend to more patients in an emergency room. When this ratio is exceeded due to shortage, the nurses are likely to experience burnout, hence increasing medical mistakes.

The main role of nurses with providing high-quality patient care. Patient satisfaction in healthcare begins when those in need believe they are valued. When patients believe they are not receiving proper care, they will not suggest the medical facility to a friend or family member (Blair & Rolls, 2019). Nurses may not have enough time to complete tasks due to the stress of a severe workload caused by understaffing. A shortage of time can jeopardize efficient employee communication. In the medical field, no single specialist can accomplish everything. There is a constant need to collaborate with physicians and other personnel, yet things can go unspoken when nurses are on a tight schedule.


Inadequate staffing is a problem that harms leadership. It has far-reaching implications that have the potential to be disastrous, such as employee stress, trouble meeting stated targets, and an increase in the likelihood of burnout. According to experts, the level of stress a leader has while completing their job impacts the quality of their decision-making. Furthermore, research has indicated that insufficient personnel makes it difficult for executives to achieve corporate goals. Therefore, understaffing renders the working atmosphere unsuitable for employees and leaders to carry out their responsibilities successfully.


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Glette, M. K., Aase, K., & Wiig, S. (2017). The relationship between understaffing of nurses and patient safety in hospitals-a literature review with thematic analysis. Open Journal of Nursing, 7, 1387-1429. Web.

Goldsby, E., Goldsby, M., Neck, C. B., & Neck, C. P. (2020). Under pressure: Time management, self-leadership, and the nurse manager. Administrative Sciences, 10(3), 38. Web.

Hudson, C. K., & Shen, W. (2018). Consequences of work group manpower and expertise understaffing: A multilevel approach. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 23(1), 85. Web.

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Wang, J. (2018). Hours underemployment and employee turnover: the moderating role of human resource practices. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 29(9), 1565-1587. Web.

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