Business Type :

While you may not always be able to forecast when you’ll have to suddenly fill a position, having a proper backfilling strategy in place can help minimize disruption to workflows and production processes within your organization.

According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, employee absenteeism due to illness costs employers up to $84 billion annually. These costs are even higher when you factor in lost productivity due to employee termination, vacation, pregnancy leave, and resignations.

So, how do small businesses cope with the temporary unavailability of mission-critical staff?

What Does Backfilling A Position Mean?

Backfilling is the filling of a job position that becomes open after an employee takes up a new role, goes on a leave of absence, or their employment is ended. This can be done through various methods, including promoting an existing employee to the vacant position, hiring from within the organization, or hiring a new employee externally. Backfilling is important to maintain continuity in the operations of the organization and to ensure that there is no disruption in the workflow. It also helps to retain employees by providing opportunities for career advancement and growth within the company.

Effectively backfill a position with strategies that include developing succession plans, establishing clear job descriptions, and providing adequate training and support to new hires.  A new employee with the skills and qualifications of the departing one need to backfill a position in the meantime.

Backfilling ensures continuity of work processes, minimizing costly disruptions and possible downtimes. You may backfill position when an employee is:

  • On Parental Leave:

    Keep in mind that an employee does not lose their employment status when they go on parental leave, and they’ll be coming back to their usual duties and responsibilities once their leave is over. Similarly, it’s illegal for an employer to fire an employee based on their pregnancy or need for maternity leave. So, the hiring manager should make it very clear to a potential replacement that their role is not permanent and that your company just need to backfill the position.

  • Sick Leave or Vacation:

    When a worker goes on a holiday or is sick, they may leave a skill gap that only backfilling can address. Managerial positions and specialties are prone to that problem because employers do not usually build strategic redundancies for these roles.

  • Terminated:

    If an employee is terminated or quits their job, backfilling can produce a short-term or even permanent replacement.

Backfilling Strategies: Ways to Backfill a Position

Backfilling may involve contingency planning before the need to fill a vacancy arises in your organization. The following strategies can help:

  1. Pinpoint at-risk positions/employees: 

    Identify roles that have no redundancies. Typical scenarios would include a small business with only one certified accountant, a web development company with just one PHP programmer, or a restaurant with only one qualified head chef. Likewise, identify positions that are likely to fall vacant soon, such as when an employee has announced that they or their partner is pregnant, or you’re considering firing a worker due to incompetence.

  2. Develop a skills database:

    Recording the skills of each member of your workforce helps satisfy a backfill demand as soon as it comes up. The database makes it easy to compare the available skills with the required abilities at any point in time. For example, an employee who has left sales for another department may still have the competencies needed to fill a vacant position in the sales department in the future.

  3. Cross-train:

    Cross-training employees help develop some in-house redundancies in readiness for backfilling when a worker goes on a vacation or extended leave. You could cross-train salespeople in contact center roles (and vice versa), for instance. Training subordinates for superior responsibilities, such as managerial roles, can also work.

  4. Outsourcing:

    You may need to hire a contract replacement to backfill in case of extended employee absence, for example, due to parental leave or severe sickness/injury.

Backfilling Benefits and Alternatives

Backfilling has many advantages, including minimizing hiring costs if a qualified replacement is sourced in-house. Likewise, cross-training reduces employee onboarding time and expenses. It can also increase employee retention, as skilled workers look forward to taking up more significant responsibilities in an organization.

However, the approach can also lead to costly redundancies, such as training and paying multiple employees for the same role without increasing their overall productivity. In addition, many companies wait until it’s too late to replace an underperforming employee.

Some employers choose a more forward-looking approach to employee replacement, such as conducting informational job interviews regularly even when no positions are open in their organizations. Others hire part-time staff to take up short-term responsibilities at lower costs.

Small businesses backfill job positions to minimize interruptions to workflows. The strategy helps organizations cope with the uncertainties associated with filling emergency job vacancies. It’s just a matter of determining if it’s the right approach for your unique business.

Why Is Backfilling a Position Important?

Backfilling a position is a crucial process in any business. When an employee leaves or is promoted to another role, it creates a void in the workforce that needs to be filled. Hiring managers must take the initiative to find suitable candidates for the position and fill it as quickly as possible. Failing to do so can lead to a decline in productivity and morale, as the workload may become too much for the rest of the team to handle. In addition, top talent may be hesitant to join an organization that fails to fill vacant positions promptly and effectively. Backfilling a position ensures that the organization remains fully staffed, which is necessary for meeting the needs and expectations of clients and customers. It also demonstrates that the organization values its employees and recognizes their contributions.

Backfilling vs Replacement: What’s the difference?

Backfilling and replacement are two terms commonly used in the context of employment and workforce management. When an employee takes a leave of absence, such as parental leave, it’s important for the organization to ensure that their position is adequately filled to ensure continuity of operations.

Backfilling a position refers to bringing in a temporary employee to fill the gap left by the absent employee, without replacing them permanently. This is typically done to keep things running smoothly and avoid gaps in productivity or workflow. Replacement, on the other hand, refers to finding a permanent replacement for an employee who has left the organization. This may involve conducting interviews, recruiting new talent, and onboarding the new employee until they are fully integrated into the team. While both backfilling and replacement have their place in workforce management, it’s important to carefully consider the pros and cons of each approach and to make the decision that is best for your specific organization and circumstances.

When an employee leaves a position, it is crucial to promptly find a suitable replacement. However, the hiring process can be time-consuming, which poses challenges for the organization in managing the workload during the transition period. To address this issue, backfilling the position is a viable solution. There are several methods that can be employed:

1.) Workload Allocation:

One approach is to allocate additional responsibilities to current employees. While this helps maintain the workflow, it carries the risk of overtime or overwork, potentially compromising productivity.

2.) Temporary Worker:

Another option is to engage a temporary worker to fulfill the role temporarily. However, this can be expensive and may not be a sustainable long-term solution.

3.) Reviewing Previous Applications:

Considering previous applicants or individuals who have expressed interest in working for the organization is a time-saving strategy. This approach leverages potential candidates who are already familiar with the company’s culture and operations, saving valuable time and resources.

Backfilling a position requires careful consideration of all available options to ensure the organization can continue to function effectively while actively seeking a permanent replacement. Conducting a thorough evaluation of all possible alternatives is essential to guarantee the continued smooth operation of the organization during the search for a permanent replacement.