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How Many HR Pros Does It Take to Screw in a Lightbulb?

If you're like me, you've probably heard the standard for the size of HR teams - 1 full-time FTE for every 100 employees, right?

Warning - if you move from an environment, where that metric rings true, to a smaller, venture capital held company, especially in the tech sector - you're going to feel bloated from a staff size perspective.Comp force HR staff

Turns out it's OK - everyone feels bloated in that situation, or at least so says research conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). i4cp has released a set of findings from recent research on the future of Human Resources which sheds light on the important and frequently asked question: How many HR employees should a company have?

Hat tip to Ann Bares at CompensationForce, who first wrote about the i4cp research.  Ann was nice enough to her readers (which includes me!  Thanks Ann!) to put together the interactive chart you see at the right from the interactive tables provided by the i4cp research.  Take a look at that chart... Interesting stuff, here's my big takeaways/observations/guesses at what's going on in the field based on my experience:

1. Basic Needs. When you start a company and commit to having a HR staff, you're going to need some basic things before you reach 100 employees: a transactional coordinator to do payroll/benefits, a HR leader who serves as a generalist, a recruiter and a trainer of some sort, all of whom likely fall in the 1-99 bucket seen in the table.  While that's a big spend versus the 1:100 ratio we always hear about, it's interesting that the high performing companies overspend that run rate on HR staff.

2. Fasting. As companies grow from 100 to 1000 employees, they basically hold off bringing in more HR staff as long as they can and start automating things as the ratio comes way down.

3. Turnabout is Fair Play. The ratio comparison between high performing companies and low performers takes a dramatic turn at the 10,000 employee mark, with the relative HR staff size for high performing companies actually falling below staffing levels at low performing companies.  I attribute that to the high performers making smart decisions on what's core to the HR role, opting to outsource everything possible not viewed as strategic, as the ratio continues to come down, as companies grow to 50,000 employees or more.  The low performers hold on to the old models, the high performers figure out the old model doesn't work and isn't cost effective and start outsourcing as quickly as they can.

Pretty cool data.  Those are my thoughts - what are yours?



Seem my org is way low

Veronica Sawyer

What's a "full-time FTE"?

I love how this profession is so unembarrassed about its jargon and acronyms that it pushes ahead even when they make no sense/are redundant. It's like we WANT people to think HR is out of touch.

John Dooney

Hi Kris,

I appreciated seeing your blog discuss the topic about the number of HR professionals an organization should have.I manage the Strategic Research/ Benchmarking group at SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), and would like to offer some insight based on our research, my 15 years as an HR practitioner, and the many conversations I have had with HR professionals over the years about this topic. Although exceptions may occur depending on the scope of work HR is responsible for, we generally find three factors drive HR to employee ratios: employee size, industry type, and profitability of the company.

Employee Size

As organizations become large in total employee size, HR to employee ratios become smaller. Data from the SHRM Customized Benchmarking Service show this.The HR to employee ratios for organizations based on employee size are as follows: Under 250 employees -1.89; 250-1000 employees-.96; 1,001-10,000 employees-.84; over 10,000 employees .44. HR to employee ratios in smaller organizations may be interpreted to mean that it takes a minimum baseline amount of HR FTEs to deliver the primary HR services of recruiting, benefits, employee relations, compensation, etc. But once this baseline is met, the incremental amount of HR staff that is required to support more employees in an organization does not increase at the same rate. This may occur because when there is more staff in HR, there is more flexibility to offset peak work demands in one HR area with staff from another. For example, during the labor-intensive process of performance reviews, if extra help is needed, it is easier to temporarily pull HR FTEs from other functional areas, such as recruiting or benefits for additional support.

In addition, the roles for HR professionals in firms with large numbers of employees usually have a higher degree of specialization. For example, in large organizations, HR departments not only have many benefits professionals, but even within the benefits area there maybe one FTE solely dedicated to managing retirement planning. Such role specificity allows for greater efficiency and economies of scale. From a job analysis perspective, efficiencies are gained when like tasks are grouped together. But when job responsibilities require many different types of tasks to be performed, efficiencies are lost. This is because it takes more effort and more time to switch between tasks that are different from each other. The statement “I’m wearing too many hats” is often heard from HR professionals in smaller departments where they juggle the diverse tasks of recruiting, benefits, and employee relations simultaneously.


Every industry has unique competitive and operational constraints that drive business processes and strategies for a particular industry. Knowledge-based industries such as management consulting , high technology, etc, usually have higher HR to employee ratios than lower skilled industries because they need larger recruiting departments in order to find candidates with specialized skills. For example, when we controlled for staff size, high technology firms had an HR to employee ratio of 1.33; whereas the lower skilled service accommodation industry had a smaller ratio of 1.00.


Organizations that are more profitable tend to have larger HR to employee ratios also. For example, Manufacturing firms (durable and nondurable combined) had an overall HR to employee ratio of 1.18. But manufacturing firms that were at the 60 percentile or higher in profitability had a much higher ratio of 2.38. While research indicates that HR practices often leads to improved firm performance, as organizations become more profitable they continue to invest in HR staff to enact people retention and acquisition initiatives that support their organization’s business strategy.

Thanks again, Kris, for bringing this topic to light on your blog. Please contact me if you would like me to provide you with additional information.


John Dooney
Manager, Strategic Research
Society for Human Resource Management
1800 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-3499
Phone: 703-535-6349
Toll Free: 800-283-7476 USA
TTY/TDD: 703-548-6999
E-mail: [email protected]



I, much like you, have always heard the HR to employee ratio should be around 1 full time HR manager for every 100 employees. My experience though is something altogether different. In fact, experience has shown that a working(profitable) model is actually closer to 1 HR to every 50 or so employees. I know conventional thought may show this to be a little overkill, but I have found this ratio to be especially effective at the lower level. While ratios tend to decrease as the total number of employees increases, it is important to consider the ratios separately for each level. Where personal attention may be required in a culture with fewer employees, automation and outsourcing becomes necessary as a company grows. For instance,in smaller companies, issues like time and attendance may be handled directly with the HR representative. In a company with 1,000+ employees, more than likely an automated system has already been instituted to handle these aspects. Much like anything we encounter in business, as much as we want to categorize and streamline the answers, the best thing to do is evaluate things individually on a case by case basis.

Sheldon McCravits
HR Resources Columnist
Colorado Springs, Colorado

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