Exclusive HR team-size data: how does yours compare?

People Management’s poll finds most functions are 10 people or fewer, but look set to remain so or grow as the profession plays a vital role amid the Covid crisis

The majority of HR teams are comprised of 10 people or fewer, a survey by People Management has found, with this predicted to remain stable over the next few years despite the Covid crisis.

The exclusive survey polled 735 employers this September and found 70 per cent reported an HR team size of 10 people or fewer. Just under a fifth (18 per cent) said their HR team was between 11 and 50-strong, 6 per cent reported 51 to 100, 3 per cent 101 to 250 and 2 per cent more than 1,000.

In terms of whether L&D and OD were counted as part of this overall figure, 83 per cent of respondents said L&D was, while 79 per cent said the same for OD.

When it came to the average ratio of HR team members to number in the wider workforce, the most common was 10 or fewer in the HR team against an employee base of 50 to 249, a category 34 per cent of respondents fell into. Meanwhile, 22 per cent of respondents reported an HR team of 10 or fewer against a workforce of 250 to 999 staff members, while 10 per cent reported this team size for a workforce of 49 or fewer employees.

The same proportion (10 per cent) reported an HR team of 11 to 50 individuals against a workforce size of 1,000 to 4,999 staff members, while 4 per cent said their team was 11 to 50-strong and their wider workforce 250 to 999.

Financial services and legal and businesses services, and the public sector, emerged as the sectors with some of the largest team sizes, with 3 per cent and 1 per cent respectively reporting HR teams of more than 1,000, and 1 per cent and 2 per cent respectively reporting a people team of 501 to 1,000 in size.

Hotel, leisure, sport and tourism emerged as the sector with the highest number of respondents reporting a HR team of 10 or fewer people, with 87 per cent of people teams this size. This was followed by IT and technology, at 82 per cent, and the third sector and manufacturing, both at 81 per cent. By contrast, only 37 per cent of HR teams in the public sector were 10 people or fewer, and 55 per cent in retail.

Regarding the impact that number of locations had on people team size, the most common combinations were shown to be 10 HR staff or fewer for one or two sites, and for three to 10 sites, with 30 per cent of respondents falling into each of these categories. One in 10 (9 per cent) reported a HR team of 10 people or fewer serving 11 to 100 sites, while 8 per cent reported a team size of between 11 and 50 serving 11 to 100 locations – 6 per cent reported an HR team size of 11 to 50 for a business comprising three to 10 locations.

On the issue of whether respondents anticipated downsizing their HR teams in light of the current crisis, half (49 per cent) said their people team would likely stay the same size over the next few years, and 28 per cent said it would grow slightly and 4 per cent significantly. This was despite 58 per cent anticipating making redundancies in the wider workforce over the next few years.

Anna Penfold, head of the HR practice at executive search firm Russell Reynolds, told People Management that HR team sizes staying buoyant was likely a sign of the many vital issues – both immediate and long term – people professionals were helping their organisations contend with in the wake of the pandemic. These included initial redundancies, but also significant changes in estate size and office mix, what that does to culture and engagement and the tax ramifications of a new way of working, she said. 

“This has also meant that talent and learning and development is being invested in over and above many other parts of the HR mix as we seek to retain the best and develop increasing skills in our people in order to innovate and deal with ambiguity, and also in anticipation of further Covid-19 waves and market disruption,” added Penfold.

Rebekah Wallis, director of people and CR at Ricoh UK, agreed that HR had played, and would continue to play, a vital role tackling many of the organisational issues thrown up by the crisis. “HR has supported businesses in pivoting their strategy and supporting employees through the difficult times, all with a smile on their faces,” she said. 

She added that this had meant some tough and speedy reordering of priorities in some cases. “Many strategic activities have been postponed and replaced by day-to-day, operational support,” she said.

In People Management’s survey half of respondents (47 per cent) said their HR team had stayed the same size over the last year, with 22 per cent reporting it had grown slightly and 5 per cent significantly.