Organizational Wellness

Backfilling a Position: What HR Departments Need to Know

Feb 22, 2024
Last Updated Feb 22, 2024

At some point, every organization faces the inevitable: a key player leaves, leaving a gap in your staff. You have to backfill the position, and fast. It's a universal challenge — which means its one for which you can prepare.

When handled effectively, backfilling is about more than just plugging gaps. You can leverage this stage of talent management in a way that maintains continuity and fosters growth. Rather than scramble, you can strengthen your company in the long run.

Let’s look at how you can approach backfilling strategically, and how to overcome challenges that can arise. 

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What Is Backfilling a Position?

Backfilling a position is the process of strategically filling a vacant role within an organization, typically due to an employee's departure. This is a basic operational necessity, but it can be so much more. Beyond the surface-level task of replacing an individual, backfilling requires doing so after considering the team's dynamics and skills required for the role. Rather than a hasty response to a staffing vacuum, you can recruit a candidate that’s the right long-term fit. 

Organizations that approach backfilling with the right mindset recognize the opportunity to enhance team collaboration. It can help ensure that the newly filled position contributes to the team's strength.

The Importance of Backfilling a Position

Succession planning through backfilling is one way to mitigate operational disruptions. When key roles remain vacant, it can cause a ripple effect on daily operations and potentially cause bottlenecks. Team members may find themselves burdened with additional responsibilities. Unfortunately, that can lead to burnout and a decline in overall morale. This imbalance in work distribution can also affect the team's efficiency and erode collaboration.

In addition to avoiding disruption, backfilling a position has financial implications. Often, unfilled roles translate to lost productivity, as tasks are delayed or left unattended. This lapse in efficiency directly impacts the bottom line, with potential revenue losses and increased costs due to prolonged understaffing. 

By recognizing the financial interplay between workforce management and operational health, organizations can better appreciate how backfilling maintains seamless operations.

Strategies for Effective Backfilling

Although reducing turnover is a common goal, it is equally important to have a plan for replacing employees when they leave. This can help keep operations running smoothly, but it can also maintain a sense of stability within the organization. These strategic backfilling practices can help your HR team find the right talent.

Be Proactive 

Anticipating workforce changes can make your organization more resilient. Companies can identify positions that will likely require backfilling by identifying turnover-prone roles and potential skill gaps. A proactive strategy often includes cross-training employees and promoting internal mobility for potential successors. This may require assessing organizational needs to provide targeted development opportunities. 

Utilize Internal Talent 

Another way to boost backfilling is to identify and promote skilled employees already at the company. The aim of this strategy is to facilitate a smooth transition that aligns with organizational goals. It does this by fostering loyalty and minimizing onboarding time. 

Leverage External Recruitment 

External recruitment focuses on sourcing candidates outside the organization. Techniques to do so involve targeted advertising and leveraging recruitment platforms to attract qualified individuals for your job opening. Sometimes, these individuals can help you inject fresh perspectives into your team.

Look for a Cultural Add

Prioritizing hires that are cultural adds — people who bring new perspectives and experiences to your team — can help your organization diversify and innovate. That contributes to a positive workplace culture that enhances employee engagement and satisfaction.

Overcoming the Challenges of Backfilling a Position

Navigating the challenge of filling a position, especially under the pressure of sudden departures, requires a strategic approach. These steps can help you handle this situation with confidence.

  1. Keep Communication Open

A consistent dialogue with your employees is vital. This not only aids in identifying potential internal successors but also fosters a culture of transparency and readiness for growth opportunities.

  1. Predefine Hiring Criteria

Establishing clear hiring standards in advance lets you create an efficient action plan. With pre-approved job descriptions and interview questions at the ready, you can move quickly through your hiring process without compromising on quality, even under time constraints.

  1. Leverage Internal Talent Pools

This is where having cross-trained teammates is incredibly useful. If you have people with the right skills waiting in the wings, you swiftly fill immediate gaps from within, maintaining continuity and leveraging existing expertise.

  1. Expedite External Recruitment

Pulling from your existing talent pool isn’t always an option. When this is the case, you can utilize cutting-edge technology to streamline candidate screening. This approach accelerates the recruitment process, helping identify top talent quickly without sacrificing thoroughness.

By integrating open communication with structured hiring practices, organizations can adeptly overcome the hurdles of urgent backfilling. This balanced approach ensures both the integrity of the hiring process and the seamless continuation of operations.

Backfill Jobs Less Often

Some level of backfilling is expected in every organization. Nobody stays at one job forever. But the less often you have to backfill, the better! Retaining employees promotes efficiency and lets your HR department focus on work that moves the company forward.

A strong focus on employee wellbeing can help you reduce turnover. After all, 87% of workers would consider leaving a company that does not focus on employee wellbeing — a sentiment that’s only getting more common over time. 

Workforce wellbeing programs help you provide the wellness your employees are craving. Wellhub is here to help! Our dynamic network includes thousands of wellbeing providers and dozens of apps that can support any wellness journey. Reach out to a wellness specialist today.

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  • Wellhub. (2023, October 18). The State of Work-Life Wellness 2024. Retrieved February 22, 2024 from /en-us/resources/research/work-life-wellness-report-2024/.


Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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