More Work, Less Staff

October 9, 2014

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

Photo via Wikipedia commons.
Photo via Wikipedia commons.

We've all heard the mantra of "doing more with less," especially during the challenging economy of the past few years. 

Couple furloughs and not filling vacant positions with more vehicle maintenance needs due to extended replacement cycles, and you end up with a lot more work and less staff time. While changes can often improve efficiencies, you can only do so much by yourself. When does it become so bad that the fleet becomes less efficient, and your staying late still doesn’t get all the work done? At what point does doing more with less result in doing less with less?

A California fleet professional recently told me about this predicament. Following the retirement of the fleet supervisor, the fleet division was turned into a one-man shop. This didn’t happen on purpose — hiring seemed to be delayed, his request for help fell through the cracks, and somehow, Human Resources heard the fleet division didn’t need help. One year later, he’s still running the place by himself under a lead mechanic title. While the fleet is small, it’s diverse, and performing maintenance and doing all the administrative work alone is not easy. Even though he is able to outsource some repairs and maintenance, he’s spending time dropping off and picking up vehicles because no one else is available to help.

There is a discussion by fleet professionals on FleetShare, our online sharing forum, about this topic. They’re saying having to do more with less can sometimes result in the fleet manager wanting to pull his or her hair out. Hiring more technicians can help, but there is also administrative work piling up that office staff need to attend to, and without administrative help, the fleet manager ends up doing all of it, or as much as possible.

As one fleet professional wrote: “Sometimes you can get by with less, but only if your organization can live with less. It’s not always a good thing.”

Those strapped for time may not have time to work on certain projects. They may not have time to crunch data and generate reports in order to fully understand and improve their fleet. They may have to put off important duties, such as purchasing, when they attend other ones.

It’s not about time management — it’s about being asked to do too much.

Prove That You Need Help
You can’t get anything unless you ask for it, or make your thoughts known to the right person. After all, why would your department hire additional personnel if it looks like you’re doing a great job on your own? At a time when everyone is making sacrifices, fleet managers are asked to do the same. But if it gets to the point where fleet becomes inefficient, it’s time for a change, and it’s up to the fleet manager to ask for that change.

When it comes to office staff, the consensus on FleetShare is that data is the best way to prove you need help. Documenting indirect hours, or administrative time, can prove there is more work than can be done by one person. And because it always comes down to money, proving that hiring someone will help you not lose money in inefficiencies will be sure to get attention.

Comparing staffing levels with similar, neighboring fleets can be helpful in making the case for additional staff. For a short-tem solution, hiring temporary help, such as consultants for large projects, or delegating some responsibilities to shop supervisors can also help ease the burden.

The industry learned to work more efficiently during this recession, but people can only run on 110% for so long. Now that the economy is improving and fleet budgets are increasing (as shown in our Industry Handbook this year), things might be looking up. While fleets should still run lean operations, I hope those vacant positions, whether on the shop floor or in the office, get filled.

Have you faced your own challenges with short staffing? How were you able to overcome them?


  1. 1. Dennis Hogan [ October 14, 2014 @ 02:26PM ]

    Utilization of VMU/MRU/VEU is the best solution to define and continually prove staffing levels for garage mechanics/technicians. When you look at office staff you have to look at the hours being spent on administrative functions by a staff member who is not an administrative staff person. Everyone in every organization has a charge or billable rate whether you use it or not the rate has been figured in somewhere. I have used that in the past to show the number of hours a higher level staff member is being paid to execute standard administrative duties. This dollar amount can then be coupled with what work that individual is not getting done. Then you know you have provided data in a quasi-business case format that leaders can understand. After that is comes down to the organization’s pain threshold, are they willing to pay higher level staff to do basic administrative functions. That decision is out of your hands.

  2. 2. Allen Mitchell [ October 20, 2014 @ 12:16PM ]

    I concur with you Dennis. Administrative staffing needs to be rated vs. work expectations or evaluated on historical workloads. The MRU or similar measures are industry standards

    Stores (supply) staff should be rated on a number of factors including volumes of stock inventory vs. non-stock orders. If they are responsible for fuel orders, that should also be factored in.

  3. 3. Steve Kibler [ December 15, 2014 @ 12:41PM ]

    What a timely and thought provoking article; published right after our additional staff needs were requested but denied because of a pre-established limit on additional FTE’s (full time employee). Both Dennis' and Allen's comments are spot on. The challenge I encounter is getting upper management (i.e. Finance/Budget) to even acknowledge the need to use MRU/VMU/VEU when approving fleet additions. I would like to make a suggestion for a presentation at the 2015 GFX: Does anyone have a proven strategy to present the importance/necessity of including fleet support infrastructure to each and every fleet addition? I presented a report using a Fleet Staffing Calculator utilizing avg. age and composition of my fleet to prove that additional staffing or infrastructure was needed before any fleet additions should be approved. The resulting staffing and facility needs were so far off from what we currently have, it was interpreted by upper management as grossly inaccurate. If anyone reading this has used a successful presentation strategy, please contact me.

  4. 4. Gary lykins [ February 06, 2015 @ 11:55AM ]

    Ask any seasoned technician in the medium duty truck industry and they will probably tell you it takes exponentialy more "care and feeding" on tier-3 equipment than they were doing 20 years ago. Ask anyone in the office and they will say "we use to do all this with a telephone, a type writer and a file cabinet".

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Thi Dao

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Thi is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She is interested in maintenance management and alternative fuels.

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Louis Maher worked with Trans-National Leasing. He was the president of AALA from 1968-1969.

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