August 26, 2021

The problem with peaks & troughs, and how to deal with them

It’s a simple fact of doing business that work comes and goes: One week you’re run off your feet with more work than you thought you could handle, only for it to slow down as quickly as it sped up. We call them peaks and troughs, and if you’ve never experienced them you’re part of a very small club indeed.

For the rest of us, the reasons we experience these fluctuations are many: Maybe you just won a few extra contracts, but they finish in the same week. Maybe it’s more complex: Political and economic factors can have effects on industrial trends that lead to sudden and significant growth. Or, as we in New Zealand know all too well, major events such earthquakes, floods, and pandemics play a huge role in shaping supply and demand.

Whatever the circumstances, the consequences of fluctuating workloads can be severe, but they’re also stressful, so when we’re dealing with them, it can be difficult to take a step back and consider the true impact they’re having. Consider the following:

  1. Fluctuating workloads are an attention thief that require managers to constantly playing catchup and focus on problem solving. This prevents them from focusing on strategy, innovation, and marketing, and ultimately, growth.
  2. These conditions do not lead to good decision making: Have you ever made hiring or capital investment decisions based on temporary factors, only to realise later you didn’t need it? Yeah, us too.
  3. Consider your staff: What’s the impact of an employee who is constantly working overtime? Or who is placed on a project that is beneath their skill level because there isn’t enough work for them? Good people want to grow, if this happens too much, they won’t stick around for long.

You get the picture. Now unfortunately there’s no silver bullet to the fluctuating workload blues, but there are ways to make it more manageable and reduce the harmful effects:



  1. Consider the 80/20 principle when thinking about contracts. Are a large amount of your headaches caused by a small number of your clients? They usually are - and often they’re the clients that bring the least revenue. If they’re more trouble than they’re worth, consider dropping them. It will free you up to focus on delivering more value, faster to the clients that matter.
  2. When things are quiet, consider secondments: Giving your staff opportunities to work with other great companies, even for a short time can be invaluable to them, and can result in enormous cost savings for you.
  3. When things are busy, try borrowing staff from others - just because you’re busy doesn’t mean others are, and often they’ll be happy to be relieved of the cost of paying staff who are temporarily surplus to needs!

Workable is a next generation shared workforce. It helps companies address peaks and troughs in workload by facilitating connections between companies with surplus staff, with those who have shortages of staff. Download or get in touch for more information!