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How to Increase Your HR Staff

Building a solid business case can get you the help you need.

A woman sitting on a chair and using a laptop.

​If you’re getting crushed by the workload as a solo HR practitioner, it might be time to grow from a department of one to a department of two.

Increasing staff size in the HR department is never an easy sell. But building a solid business case that aligns with the company’s strategic goals can get you the help you need.

Follow these five steps to increase your chances for success.

1. Assess the Need

Is the company growing, and is the growth expected to continue? Do you have specific skills gaps that need to be addressed? Is the quality of work decreasing because of the quantity of work being handled? Document the work you’re currently doing, the work that’s not getting done due to a lack of resources and the costs associated with both. What are the consequences of not hiring help?

“Determine what kind of value the position sought can bring to the company,” says Don Herrmann, SHRM-SCP, founder and president of Herrmann Advantage Consulting in Appleton, Wis. “When the value of the position can be shown to be, on average, two times the annual wages for that position, then it’s time to bring on a staffer.”

Also, consider how much of the work that the new hire would handle is going to be HR work.

“Often, the person responsible for HR is doing work that’s not really HR’s role,” Herrmann says. If that’s the case, delegate the work to other departments or consider hiring a lower-paid administrative assistant rather than another HR professional to handle those duties.

HR department staffing decisions should be analyzed based on risks and rewards to determine which activities should be handled in-house and which ones can be outsourced, says Paul Young, SHRM-SCP, HR manager for the American Association of Endodontists in Chicago. Activities that add the greatest value, such as policy development and performance management, should be handled internally, whereas high-risk, low-reward transactional HR tasks, such as payroll and benefits administration, might be candidates for outsourcing.

“Make sure you’ve offloaded all feasible administrative functions and automated all you can before requesting staffing,” says Young, who also teaches HR courses at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. “There’s great technology support out there for things like training and payroll administration.”

Melanie Parrish started conducting staffing assessments shortly after joining Quicksilver Scientific as its HR director in 2017. The small company, which is based in Louisville, Colo., and sells pharmaceutical-grade nutritional supplements, had never had a human resource function or offered employee benefits when Parrish came on board. 

Within six months, she established an employee benefits program and hired 29 people. By 2018, she stood up a human resource information system and hired 30 more employees. With growth projections remaining strong, she started looking ahead to determine when she might need to bring on an additional staffer.

“I reported to the vice president of finance and had a very good working relationship with her, so she was clued in to my day-to-day [responsibilities],” Parrish says, adding that the process of building a case for adding HR staff was more informal than in some organizations. Still, she had to do her due diligence and create a proper job description prior to hiring a well-rounded HR generalist.

2. Collect the Right Data

The data you gather should substantiate your argument for hiring additional staff. Here are some examples of the data needed to make your case:

  • Company and industry trends. What’s the long-term forecast for your company and industry?
  • Support needed to achieve the company’s goals. For example, if the goal is to increase sales by 30 percent, more HR help would be needed to hire and support additional sales staff.
  • Facts that highlight a need for action. Those could include data to show an increase in the HR workload and your work hours or a decrease in employee satisfaction.
  • The negative business impact if HR staff isn’t added. Is it taking longer to recruit, hire and onboard new employees? Is employee satisfaction down?

Herrmann says it’s also a good idea to work with other business managers to document how adding another HR professional will help them, too.

Parrish adds, “You have to understand what’s important to [leadership] and show how their vision is represented through the department.” 

3. Create a Job Description

Again, details matter. Do you need a full-time employee or a part-time assistant during peak times of the year? Who will the staffer report to, and what specific work will be performed?

Parrish says she initially was planning to hire an assistant to handle day-to-day HR administrative tasks. But as she defined the position’s responsibilities, she determined it was necessary to hire an HR generalist who could oversee recruiting and open enrollment so she would be freed up to handle all negotiating and strategic planning.

4. Build a Business Case

Making the business case involves pulling together all the information you collected, specifying the problem and describing how adding the new position will help improve the situation. Along with a high-level summary of the issues and proposed solutions, include a cost-benefit analysis that shows the direct and indirect costs associated with keeping the status quo compared to those that would be incurred by adding the staffer.

“Keep it simple,” Herrmann says. “What’s it costing to do things now versus the costs of how things can be done? Don’t forget to include the intangible costs associated with things like rework, errors and decreased employee satisfaction, along with the fixed costs.”

Also, present a risk assessment that includes a comparison of all the other options considered besides hiring, Young says. 

“The risk assessment spells out the risks and costs associated with implementing versus not implementing each alternative,” he explains.

Finally, include an action plan and proposed next steps, and propose the metrics you plan to use to measure productivity and improvements.

5. Determine Proper Timing

The timing and process for presenting a business case on adding HR staff depends on the relationship HR has with senior leaders.

Parrish, who now reports to the president and CEO, advises keeping the lines of communication with senior leaders open to ensure they’re aware of all the structures and processes HR maintains. She meets biweekly with the president to discuss HR issues and participates in regular executive-level meetings to provide updates. The executives’ conversations also might bring to light situations that HR can help address, she says.

“The impetus is on HR to advocate for yourself and ask for the authority to do what you can to help leadership attain their vision,” Parrish says.

Hiring approvals don’t always happen the first time they’re submitted, Herrmann notes.

 “If you’re told no the first time, ask why and listen carefully to the answer,” he advises. “Then you can go get help with addressing that and try again.”  

Theresa Minton-Eversole is a writer based in Alexandria, Va.

Image by Dean Mitchell, iStock.


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