HR Staffing: Who Do We Need?

Just as the size of the staff in the HR function presents a dilemma, so does the composition of the staff.  Over the last several years, I have been asked numerous times if it makes sense to use generalists or specialists, more professionals or support staff, or more managers than professionals.  Basically, the questions revolves around how should I organize the workforce, flow, and load of the human resource function.  In the last two or three years, as organizations have dealt with few resources being available and rising cost of HR expertise, the question has become do I need that skill on my team or can I accomplish the same thing another way.

A large health care provider that I worked with recently has this very challenge.  They have a qualified staff, but they need to add two team members due to recent vacancies.  Based on budget cuts, they have one FTE approved to deal with both positions.  The decision has become what skills to emphasize in hiring, what level of employee, and how to be competitive with compensation?  They could focus on gaining expertise in one position only, but that would leave a gap in their team.  The other feasible option is to add a new team member that possesses both abilities.  However, this would necessitate hiring a higher level employee. Clearly, there is a dilemma between skills, level, and cost.  I encouraged the organization to look at staff overall and determine the approach mix of skills and levels for the function as a whole.

Figure 1: Staffing Composition by Size

So, what is the typical composition of an HR function by level of staff? The 2010 SHRM Benchmark Survey found that management is the largest category of employees until the organization reaches more than 1,000 FTEs (see Figure 1).  Professional or technical staff grows incrementally as a percentage and become the largest group for organizations with 1,000 FTEs or more.  Support staff increase in a fairly linear fashion with the size of the organization.

These trends are not surprising since most organizations grow their HR capability around a core individual that becomes the leader of the HR function over time.   Transactional tasks are completed by lower level employees and support staff is generally added to meet this need.  As the work becomes more complicated, more professional staff is needed that understand the regulatory, strategic, and practical nature of human resources.

Figure 2: Staffing Composition by HR Phase

What does this process look like from an evolutionary standpoint?  If we take the phases that we discussed several posts ago, some basic distributional patterns develop.  Figure 2 illustrates the distribution of staff by phase taken from the 2010 HCS Survey of HR Staffing.  As we move through the phases, professionals grow while management decreases.  The only real difference between size (Figure 1) and phase (Figure 2) is the trend for support staff.  As the size of the organization grows, the support staff increases while more strategic phases slightly reduce the support staff.




What questions should you ask in determining human resource staff composition?  The basic questions pertain to:

  • What is the level of service needed?
  • What phase is the human resource operation in?
  • What is the level of automation?
  • What capabilities are needed in house on a full time basis?
  • Where is the function hoping to be in three and five years?
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