The Impact of Overmanning on Construction Productivity

Mike ZimmNews


On average, 35% of construction projects are predicted to experience a major change mid-project which often leads to work inefficiencies hence a decrease in productivity. One such change is overmanning which refers to an increase in the number of labor crews that are above the optimum. This is a resolution that electrical contractors turn to, when a project is behind schedule or needs to be accelerated.

Overmanning is normally a preferred resolution compared to overtime or shift work because it produces a higher rate of progress while eliminating the physical fatigue problems brought about by overtime and coordination problems associated with shift work. However, it introduces additional problems.

There is a false assumption that increasing the manpower on a site will lead to increased productivity. However, overmanning often decreases labor productivity in electrical construction but it is essential to look into issues such as overmanning because decreased productivity affects the profitability of any construction project since labor is the largest non-material cost in any project.

Below we highlight some of the negative impact that overmanning has on labor productivity within the electrical construction industry.


1. Site Congestion

This occurs when there is an unanticipated increase in the crew size on a job site. Several workers end up occupying and sharing the same space causing a stacking of trades— a practice that limits worker mobility on the job site.

Working in a confined space limits movement within a work site resulting in non-productive labor. Restricted mobility can also lead to decreased efficiencies as workers scramble for limited resources because of an increased number of workers.

Other challenges associated with such conditions include difficulty locating tools, increased loss of tools, prevention of optimum crew size, and additional safety hazards. Congestion could also lead to difficulty accessing the work site.


2. Introduction of Unskilled Labor

As project owners demand the same completion time, there comes a pressure to increase manpower. This then leads to hiring workers that may not be as skilled or properly trained to complete the project at hand. The replacement labor may not just be unskilled but costly as contractors are left with no other option but to increase manpower. The cost per unit work hour associated with the increase in labor is normally higher than the initial budget set aside for labor.

Additions to the team also bring about the need to train new workers which may be costly and consume more time, eating into the project time. Replacement workers are usually not familiar with the work site. The new workers do not only require getting familiarized with the size but also learning the work scope, tool locations, work projects, and so on. This affects the original team since they are forced to stop the work they are doing or move at a slower pace to show the new workers what to do or allow them to catch up with the project.

Inefficiencies also arise with the disruption of rhythm as new workers are added onto projects that were already ongoing. When workers are added to a new project, it leads up to breaking up the original team effort and rhythm. Productivity within a project requires that teams are working in sync and cooperate to complete a project by the predetermined completion date. Having new workers means time lost catching up on the requirements of the project as well as re-grouping teams as workers struggle to get on the same page.


3. Dilution of Supervision and Coordination

With an increase in number of workers, coordination and supervision become more difficult. Engineering questions and requests for clarification may not be provided in a timely manner due to greater demand within the originally placed period of the project. Such difficulties could cause errors and omissions within the project which trickle down to the cost of the project. Any errors could potentially bring up the overall cost as contractors work to correct them.

A dilution of supervision could also mean workers failing to show up when required. Absenteeism on some electrical construction jobs has been as high as 20%— a number that could be exacerbated by a lack of coordination with an unexpected increase in workers. With labor costs making up as much as 40% to 60% of an electrical contractor’s overall costs, it is essential to maintain a stable and productive workforce hence the need for a high level of coordination and organization.


4. Higher Accident Rate

Accidents within construction sites are normally direct results of unsafe conditions and activities which could be brought about by overmanning. For example, accidents could happen from working in close proximity to different teams and crafts. This results from noise, dust, exposure to smoke emissions and explosion zones or other hazardous risk. Exceeding noise and vibration of equipment are recognized to be factors that cause accidents within construction sites.

An unexpected increase in the number of workers could also translate to limited protective gear and equipment which potentially exposes the workers to site hazards. Poor site conditions stemming from congestion can cause accidental bumping into other workers or into tools lying around which could lead to injuries.

Higher accident rates cause workers to feel unsafe in their work environment which may lower morale.


5. Shortage of resources

Though the number of workers increases on a project site, the number of resources does not necessarily increase as well. What this means is that workers have to make do with the existing limited resources. An unintended downside of this though is that it can cause worker dissatisfaction due to poor work conditions.

Decreased productivity also results from inefficiencies brought about by insufficient quantity of tools to meet the needs of the project. In other cases, tools and equipment could be available and sufficient but end up getting misplaced or lost and difficult to locate as the site is congested.



Learn more about factors impacting productivity within the electrical construction industry.