Backfill Positions: What Are They and Why Are They Important for Companies?

A backfilling colleague learning from the other colleague

Changes within your business’ workforce are common. You need to learn how to mitigate any negative effects of such changes. A solid staffing strategy can help ensure business continuity, no matter which position suddenly gets vacant. Backfilling is one way to manage workforce transitions and minimize disruptions effectively. 


Backfill Positions: What It Is

In backfilling, various methods are used to fill positions with qualified workers as quickly as possible. Sometimes, a replacement will serve temporarily, and other times, a backfill role will become permanent.

HR departments and businesses employ various backfilling strategies to ensure seamless operational continuity when an employee leaves a company. This is managed through internal and external recruitment, outsourcing, cross-training between departments, and employee referral.


Reason for Backfill Positions

There are various reasons why a company will need to backfill positions. There are different considerations for each situation. Here are some common examples:

  • Temporary needs. When employees file for medical, parental, or sabbatical leave, backfilling positions ensures that business will continue as usual. This guarantees that their workload and obligations are properly handled.
  • Resignations. Whether the employees are retiring or moving to another job, backfilling ensures that critical organizational functions are not interrupted.
  • Promotions. Celebrating an employee’s promotion is important, but it can be stressful if your organization is not prepared to fill the newly vacant role. You can avoid this problem by ensuring you have backfill employees ready to take on the role.
  • Termination. There will be times when you have no choice but to fire an employee. When that happens, you must have a backfill plan to ensure continuity and maintain employee morale
  • Death of an employee. When this happens, everyone will need time to grieve. Hence, preventing them from being burdened with picking up a co-worker’s work is imperative.


Backfill and Replacement: The Differences

While backfilling and replacement are both meant to maintain workflow and business continuity during an employee transition, they are different concepts. Replacement positions usually involve a more permanent change in staffing, while backfill positions are often temporary and involve hiring an employee with similar skills and experience.


Why It Is Important for The Company

Organizations can relieve stress on current team members by filling roles promptly and maximizing their productivity. This results in a healthier workplace, higher employee happiness, and more productive and effective teams. 

Here are some reasons why backfilling is important for your company:

  • Reduce overtime costs. An unforeseen absence can cause a company to be short-staffed, resulting in overtime for the rest of the staff. Overtime expenses will impact your payroll budget if you pay your employees by the hour.
  • Avoid burnout. With additional responsibilities, your employees may feel stressed and overworked. Quickly filling in backfill positions avoids employee burnout
  • Operational continuity. Backfilling ensures that vital roles are quickly filled when employees are unavailable. This approach ensures you are not compromising productivity and hindering team performance.
  • Preserve knowledge. Backfilling ensures a seamless transition when an employee leaves. By learning from the departing employee, the replacement employee can avoid knowledge gaps and ensure the continuity of productivity.


The Challenges

Businesses often backfill positions to replace departing employees quickly. But there are drawbacks as well. Here are some challenges you might face:

  • Decrease in productivity. The replacement employee may have a different skill set and experience. You might experience delays and low productivity rates.
  • Increased costs. The problem with backfilling is that you may end up paying two workers for one role. This can hurt your budget and bottom line.


How does HR backfill a position? 

To fill vacancies with top talent, you must identify, attract, and retain talented individuals. Here are some ways HR can backfill a position to ensure continuity and smooth workflow when there’s employee transition:


Internal Recruitment 

For many companies, recruiting internally is the preferred method for backfilling positions. In this method, HR will find suitable individuals ready to assume the role. Since candidates are familiar with the company’s culture, they can easily adapt to their new role and team. As a result, you leverage existing talent in your company and save on recruitment costs.


External Recruitment

Bringing in new talents can encourage growth and inspire innovation by providing fresh ideas and perspectives. You also get to expand your talent pool’s diversity and introduce various skills and new experiences to the team.



The benefits of outsourcing include flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and the ability not to commit long-term to a full-time employee. This is particularly useful when managing workload peaks, covering maternity or medical leaves, or undertaking specialized projects that do not justify a permanent position.



Multiskilling employees from various departments is an effective way to develop your workforce. In addition to providing employees with broader skill sets, this method also equips them with the right skills to fill in temporary vacant positions as needed.



Leveraging professional networks and industry contacts can also be used for backfilling. Attending networking events and conferences can also help identify possible candidates.  


Employee Referral

Your HR department can backfill positions by leveraging employees’ professional and personal networks. Employees can recommend people who match what the company’s looking for in terms of skills and cultural orientation.


In Conclusion

Backfilling a position can be overwhelming without an effective HR team to implement the strategies for you. You can work with a reliable staffing agency like Kilpatrick Executive to help you evaluate the best backfilling strategy.