Staffing to Workload: Operational Needs

In my previous post, we discussed one of the often overlooked components of a staffing-to-workload analysis—indirect effort. In summary, indirect effort is accounting for all of those other things we need to do each day that doesn’t directly touch the sample, the test data, or the patients themselves. These tasks can take up quite of bit of our time and can sometimes get left by the wayside if we don’t properly staff to account for them. If we’re not careful, understaffing this portion of our work can start leading to direct patient impacts such as delayed test results or revised test results.

With this post, I would like to discuss the other overlooked component of a staffing to workload analysis—operational needs.

Operational needs are defined as "non-procedural-based responsibilities that consume staffing resources." The difference between these and indirect-effort tasks are these are further removed from the testing process and are much more operational in nature.

Examples include:

  • Planned time off (PTO)
  • Unplanned time off
  • Sick leave
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Jury duty
  • Time to achieve continue education (CE) credits (12 hours per tech)
  • Lunch (if lab needs to continue to work at full capacity during lunch)
  • Breaks (if lab needs to continue to work at full capacity during lunch)
  • Training (new procedures, updated procedures, new instruments)
  • Laboratory management

Calculating Operational Needs

First, we need to create a list of these needs and define the approximate time each full-time equivalent (FTE) is allotted each year. If you have access to your time-keeping system, you may be able to get actual averages versus estimates. It should be noted that there are two types of PTO: the amount of PTO taken and the amount of PTO accumulated. You will need to decide which you will plan for, as often the amount taken will be less than the amount accumulated.

In this example, we will be assuming that the lab can run at reduced capacity during lunch and break periods, and thus, these hours don’t need to be accounted for.

Operational Need Allowance per FTE
PTO 240 hours per year
Unplanned Time Off 20 hours per year
FMLA 40 hours per year
Other Away-from-Work Time 10 hours per year
CE Credits for Certificate Maintenance 12 hours per year
Training for Updated Procedures 45 hours per year
Lab Meetings 70 hours per year
Total 437 hours per year

If our direct and indirect calculations show that we need a total of 10 FTE to complete all of those tasks, we now need to add 437 hours per year of operational needs to each one of those FTE. To do that, we calculate:

10 FTE X 437 hours per year per FTE = 4,370 hours per year

4,370 hours per year ÷ 2,080 hours per year per FTE = 2.1 FTE

The second thing we need to do is determine how often we are training new staff in the laboratory. This is a bit different from the calculations above, as it typically means there are two staff members involved: the trainee and the trainer. Outside of planning for how many new staff members you will have each year, you need to approximate how long it takes to train them. You may concentrate all of that training into one event, or you may spread it out over time. In either instance, an estimate of total training time is needed:


  • 3 weeks of training, followed by 2 weeks of bench work, followed by 3 weeks of training is considered 6 weeks of training (even though it took 8 weeks to complete).
  • 1 week of training, followed by 1 week of bench work, and then repeated 6 times is considered 6 weeks of training (even though it took 12 weeks to complete).

Now, we need to calculate how much FTE is needed to add to accommodate this training.

Example: If we average 2 new employees each year, and it takes us about 6 weeks to train them, we get:

6 weeks X 40 hours per week = 240 hours per training event

(1 trainee + 1 trainer) X 240 hours per training event = 480 hours per training event

2 training events X 480 hours per training event = 960 hour per year

960 hours per year ÷ 2,080 hours per year per FTE = 0.5 FTE

Finally, we need to add it all up and complete our staffing-to-workload analysis:


Direct Effort: 7 FTE

Indirect Effort: 3 FTE

Operational Needs: 2.6 FTE (2.1 + 0.5)

Total FTE Needed: 12.6 FTE

Lab Management

Lab management is a subjective value and is typically defined using the same methodology outlined for indirect effort. In fact, one could consider the management tasks to be an extension of the indirect effort calculation and include it there. My preference is to treat it like indirect effort but call it out separately so that we don’t confuse the indirect effort associated with the bench work with that of running the lab. In either case, outline what it is you expect lab management to do, how often these employees should be doing it, and how long it takes.


The example above highlights how, if we’re not careful, we can get ourselves into staffing shortages. If we use traditional methods, we would have said the lab needs 7 FTE to complete the work before us because that is the work that is the most obvious/direct. However, the lab actually needs 12.6 FTE, so we can schedule 10 FTE, so that 7 FTE worth of direct work can be completed.


Mike Baisch

Mike Baisch is a Systems Engineer within the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic. He partners with the various testing laboratories on their quality and process improvement projects including staffing to workload, root cause analysis, and standard work & training. Mike has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2005 and holds a degree in Industrial Engineering. Outside of work, Mike enjoys cooking and sampling cuisine from around the world, home brewing, and gardening.