Backfill

Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich

Table of Contents

Your top performer has given their notice that they will be leaving to pursue their degree full time, and you’re now in full-on panic mode. Who will be able to produce numbers like that? Where do you even begin to look for candidates for this role? How do you keep business running smoothly in the meantime? Read on for these answers and more on backfilling positions.

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What Does It Mean to Backfill?

Merriam-Webster defines backfill as to “refill” something. In the workforce, this definition still applies. Backfilling is when you replace an employee. That employee may have left the organization, been promoted, or gone on a leave of absence, but the position still needs (re)filling.

Why Is Backfilling a Position Important?

Preparing your organization to backfill positions can be difficult, so evaluating why it’s important can be helpful to justify this extra effort.

  • Cost. When an employee is out for any reason, their work falls to other employees. These costs add up over time, either through a temp worker, who may cost more, or overtime as your current employees pick up the slack. Should this position require a specific level of expertise, other employees may not be able to pick up the additional work, therefore requiring assistance from a higher-level employee who costs more, and creating a domino effect in that person’s workload, which must be picked up by someone else.
  • Decreased productivity. Should the current team assist in picking up the extra work, eventually they will feel undervalued and overworked. They may start to resent the employee who is out, or even the organization as a whole, creating a negative work environment all around. Morale will decline, and so will productivity.
  • Neglected tasks. Despite all your efforts, ensuring all tasks are completed and all deliverables turned in on time can be near impossible. The time-sensitive tasks may get done, but the longer-term equally important items may begin to pile up, making it hard for the rest of the team to function efficiently. Without a backfill, these items will be eventually dumped into a new employee’s lap, creating an immediate disadvantage to them in their new position.

Reasons Companies Need to Backfill  Positions

While backfilling may be commonly associated with someone quitting or getting fired, it happens for a number of other reasons too. Let’s review why your company might need to backfill a position.

On Leave

Jury leave, military leaves, and other scenarios may happen without much notice. Your organization may or may not have some time to prepare and backfill accordingly. You should be able to estimate the amount of time an employee will be gone, and therefore the amount of time you’ll need to backfill the position for, which is helpful.

Sickness or Vacation

While sickness can strike at any time, it can sideline employees for extended periods, leaving their team members to pick up their slack. Vacations, while merited by employees and important to foster work/life balance, can leave a department short-staffed and overworked. Ensuring your organization has a backfill plan in place mitigates these potential risks.

Promotions

The employment lifecycle is exciting. Watching an employee work hard for a promotion and receive it is what it’s all about—and is a great example of the need for a backfill plan. An employee promotion should be celebrated, but if your organization is not prepared with a backfill for the newly vacant position, it can be a stressful time instead. Keep promotions positive in your organization by ensuring you’re prepared with a backfill employee for this scenario.

Terminations, Resignations, and Retirements

When an employee leaves for any reason, whether they are fired, laid off, or have resigned or even retired, this situation calls for a backfill. The amount of notice you have for each of these scenarios may vary, but they are similar in that the previous employee will no longer be within your organization. They are not out sick, on leave or simply on vacation; they are officially gone, and the information they possessed about their role is gone with them. Having a backfill plan in place can be key to your success as an organization.

Best Practices for Backfilling a Position

Maintaining a backfill program can feel overwhelming. With all the potential reasons an employee can vacate a position temporarily or permanently, it seems backfilling and preparing to backfill will be never-ending. Let’s evaluate some best practices you can put in place that will help alleviate the backfill burden.

Practice 1: Passive Recruiting

A different way to say this is networking. Spend time connecting with potential employees, be that on approved social media platforms or at networking events. Always be on the lookout for potential candidates. Never underestimate the strength of a connection. You may not have a position open in your organization right now, but in order to effectively backfill, networking/passive recruiting is a skill you should master in order to keep that pipeline of candidates strong and full.

Practice 2: Proactive Sourcing

You may be thinking, But with no open positions, how can I source for anything? Knowing the importance of backfilling and understanding the reasons your organization may need to backfill will catapult you into proactive sourcing. As your employees grow within your organization, other organizations could be looking at that growth as well and want that on their team, so focusing your abilities on doing the same is important to continually backfill a position.

Practice 3: Professional Development

Potentially the most important practice when it comes to backfilling is considering the professional development of your current employees. This sets your organization up for success when it comes time to backfill because in developing your current employees, you’re able to cross-train them in a variety of skills that will benefit their progression in the company and allow them to step in to backfill when needed. Continually investing in your employees also boosts morale, increases job retention, and allows for smoother transitions when backfilling.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Backfill

If the position is not backfilled, depending on your organization, you can lose the allocated funds for the position in the future. Keeping employees in actively needed positions alleviates the need to request more budget allocations for new positions that previously existed.
These words could be used interchangeably, but usually backfilling refers to the position itself and replacement refers to the employee. You backfill a position, but you replace an employee.
Utilize the tips in this article to assist from the HR side in backfilling a position, and be sure to encourage training with your managers to keep the conversations that need to take place about backfilling open and proactive.
Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich

Shalie has over 4 years of experience working in a variety of HR positions and organizations including: working as an HR department “of one”, working with a start-up based in Europe, to working in a fully established robust USA based HR department. Shalie has experience in multiple states and countries with all aspects of the HR spectrum. She has a passion to share her knowledge and experience to benefit the HR profession!

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