But knowing that calculation is not the answer to the question. Because the answer is "It depends." But if the CEO is asking you the question that is not what you say. Because you should know what the "DEPENDS" factors are for your company, your company size, your leadership, your industry and your sophistication. For example in The HR Scorecard: Linking People, Strategy, and Performance authors Becker, Huselid and Ulrich talk about research that shows that companies that had low quality of HR leadership had a ratio of 1:253.88. Companies that had high quality HR leadership had a ratio of 1:139.51. Research as also shown that the ratio also depends on these following factors:
- Company size. Smaller companies may actually have a smaller ratio because much of the process are not automated and therefore require more people to get them done. (Either that or the person works themselves to death. A situation often expressed to me.)
- Sophistication. Companies that are technologically adept may have smaller ratios due to automation, such as self-enrollment or online performance evaluation.
- Level of Outsourcing. Obviously the more funtions of HR you have outsourced the fewer HR people you need on staff.
- Service model. Your model for delivering HR services to your "customer" base will require different levels of staffing and hence a different ratio. A company I once worked for had 30 HR members for 1000 employees. A ratio of 3:100. That was because we had a "high touch" service model. The more complex or sophisticated your employee perhaps the higher the ratio.
- Dispersion of the employees. If you have a decentralized structure and want to have a decentralized HR department you will probably have a larger ratio than will a centralized structure.
So gather your information. One source of information, and the inspiration for this post, was SHRM's benchmarking reports . They are available to both members and nonmembers. (I get no compensation for suggesting them.)
If you want to read another blog post that does an excellent job of talking about this subject click on HR Ratio versus HR Contribution. This is a well written post by Magdelena Meller of breakpoint HR from about a year ago.
By the way, the answer to the question of "How many employees does it take to screw up an HR department?" is "IT DEPENDS." It is your call.