Skeleton Staff

A lot of businesses are already running lean, the festive season can be a time of year when staff planning is crucial. Check our guide on skeleton staff.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: November 29, 2022
  • 5 Minutes
what is skeleton staff and how to manage them during weak business periods in UK explained by Papershift

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The festive season is here and most of your staff have run off on their holidays, leaving you to hold the fort until they return in the new year. How will the business ever cope and how will you keep things ticking over until everyone returns? Probably with a skeleton staff is how.

But what exactly is a skeleton staff, how can they be utilized, and what does the UK law say about their employment?

Read on to find out.

What is a skeleton staff?

Definition : Skeleton Staff
The term skeleton staff refers to the minimum number of employees a business will need to keep running during slow periods, holidays, or times where staff availability is low.

A skeleton staff usually consists of a small number of workers who are utilized to keep operations running when the demand for work or the number of available staff is low due to the season/time of year.

Tips for running a successful skeleton staff for small businesses in the UK

When it comes to maintaining a business with skeleton staff, you’re basically assessing what you can achieve with the least number of resources available for a set period. Whilst a lot of businesses are already running lean, the festive season can be a time of year where technology and time management become crucial. Here are a few tips for dealing with a skeleton staff.

Holiday Sales Guide

a. Set priorities and plan

Weeks before the holiday season begins, its important for managers to sit down and define the core tasks which are crucial to keeping the business going. Write down those tasks which must be accomplished on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.

Use a good quality project management or scheduling tool (like the one we provide at Papershift) to plan the responsibilities of the skeleton staff and ensure that all tasks are covered effectively.

Try rota scheduling online now.

b. Know which staff will be part of the skeleton staff and schedule effectively

Get a list of those employees who are going away and those who are unavailable. Review a list of those employees who will be remaining behind and man the pumps. Set up a schedule using a good quality software package that distributes skills accordingly and meets the business’s needs.

c. Assign tasks

Again, using scheduling software, assign tasks to those staff members left behind. To keep things manageable and staff focused, try to give just one or two tasks to each person during each period. 

d. Be realistic about deadlines and work levels

During the period you use a skeleton crew, you need to be realistic about deadlines and set expectations with customers and staff about what is achievable. For example, if your customers’ expectations are that you have a standard two-day turnaround for work, but your turnaround gets pushed out to a week or more, you may end up with some unhappy customers if their expectations aren’t managed. Most people understand that Christmas is a busy period, so they may expect a small delay, but if running a skeleton staff is going to significantly damage your usual turnaround times, you need to reassess staffing levels and notify customers well in advance as they’ll also have timelines they will need to meet. 

Holiday Sales Guide
Check our featured guides for small businesses on ‘Meeting holiday demand & rota staffing for retail‘ and ‘Staffing and staff scheduling guide for restaurants‘.

e. Train up inexperienced staff before experienced staff go on leave

Before experienced employees go on leave, get them to train those who’ve been nominated to cover the business during the holidays. Make sure that all members of the skeleton staff are familiar with what they need to do and have all the information they require. 

f. Schedule breaks appropriately

It’s easy to neglect the needs of skeleton staff when planning. But neglecting the basics like break scheduling can make staff grumpy, especially when they know other people are enjoying a nice holiday rest. 

Make sure that you timetable shifts so employees are able to take regular breaks. This will keep them fresh and happy as well as preventing any legal issues stemming from the Working Time Directive. Check out our e-roster software which can help make break planning and compliance a breeze.

g. Keep in touch (even if you are on holiday yourself)

Don’t leave skeleton staff to their own devices and assume everything’s ticking over nicely. Check-in with employees regularly to see if they’re coping and to pick up early on any unforeseen snags that need to be addressed. Think about using a workplace communication platform like Slack (available on our marketplace) to facilitate discussions and allow workers to connect with designated contacts within all departments if necessary.

h. Reward staff

Don’t underestimate the importance of a kind word or gesture to those working for you whilst the majority of your staff are enjoying the festive period. Whether it’s a personal note of thanks or a small token of appreciation, it’s important to let skeleton staff know how much you value the extra effort they have put in while your business was predominantly closed or short-staffed.

What does the UK law say about skeleton staff?

There are no specific laws in the UK that deal with the use of skeleton staff by a business. In the eyes of the law, skeleton staff are viewed the same as regular staff and as such are covered by the same employment laws.

In conclusion

With the festive season just around the corner, many businesses will be in the process of planning staffing levels whilst dealing with less staff availability and/or a reduction in customer demand (on the main bank holidays for instance). Employing a skeleton staff can help companies keep things ticking over. But, for them to be effective, they will need to be managed correctly. Utilizing a good scheduling software package like the one we provide at Papershift, can make the task easier and with the integration of some of the tools in our marketplace, you may find the festive period far easier to manage.

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We hope you have enjoyed this guide. For more useful workplace information, check out the rest of our website.

Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)