Friday, March 28, 2008

Fifty Percent Staffing Level

The following is the experience of an accounting person, SZ, who had to operate with only half the staff due to resignations and retirement - and how difficult she found it, with musings on how well organizations might cope during a pandemic

Fifty Percent Staffing Level

Tomorrow we will be half way through the month of March, and tomorrow I hope to "put February to bed" at work. For those that do not know, or may have forgotten, I work in the accounting department of a Vacation Rental Company that is wholly owned by a publicly traded Holding Company. The department started the year with a staffing level of four, a controller, his "second" (me), and two others.

At the beginning of January one of my coworkers announced his unexpected and immediate retirement and I absorbed his duties in their entirety. Then in February the controller left us. My department has been running with a staff of two. But since we are a subsidiary of a publicly traded company the reporting that we have to generate and submit to our corporate office is federally mandated... and rigidly scheduled to meet those federal mandates.

It is widely suggested, as well as supported, that businesses and organizations will find themselves operating at somewhere around a fifty percent staffing level during a moderate to severe influenza pandemic, something I can relate to personally.

Although I do not work in a business or industry that will find itself operating during a time of pandemic, and accounting is not exactly an "essential service", although, to be sure, money will still have to flow, I thought I would share with you a few of the things that I learned and equally enlightening, what had to happen to support my efforts and success.

I had an existing broad base of knowledge of all aspects of the department, database, and accounting software, however, since I am not the controller there were reporting functions, data collations, and spreadsheets that I only had a basic superficial knowledge of. I found myself hour-by-hour struggling to comprehend how "this or that" fed into "this or that", often getting it wrong any number of times until I finally managed the logic of the data flow and plopped the right number(s) in.

I had adequate basic knowledge of the myriad functions. I had a well established and proven matrix to follow. I had an entire company at my beck and call to support my stupid ill-informed questions. I had our software programmer made available to me at a moment's notice to assist with database malfunctions and miscellaneous support questions. I had a General Manager that "baby sat" me for two weeks, checking on me every other hour offering encouragement, cheerleading, offers of providing anything else that I might find myself requiring (within a business framework of course). At one point in the process the entire company was "booted off" the server for several hours so that I could have its resources all to myself, and lastly, I was determined to succeed.

And even with all of that, with every resource and advantage I could be given, I was only able to just manage. Perhaps a better way to state my point: The only was I could have been in a better position to succeed was to have my former boss standing over my shoulder walking me through the processes.

During a moderate to severe pandemic those who find themselves struggling to perform the duties of two or three missing colleagues will probably not (read surely not) have all of the wonderful support that I had. Many will not have a clear "play book" to refer to as they find themselves struggling with unfamiliar processes and procedures. And, unlike my situation where it was "just numbers" those struggling people may hold someone else's health, or even more frightening, life in their hands with their actions.

After my experiences these past three weeks I have a brand new appreciation about how impossible those tasks will be - and my concern about our critical infrastructure has deepened considerably.

S.Z. Exhausted, but pleased with accomplishing the impossible with a great deal of wonderful support.

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