how can you convince your employer to hire additional staff?

A reader writes:

What are the best tactics to take to convince The Powers That Be to hire additional staff? For context, I’m a middle manager at a family owned company. The decision maker is the owner and CEO. We would like to hire an additional entry-level associate to fill a position that became available after a more senior person retired and another associate was subsequently promoted. We’ve added other new positions to the department over the past year, and I think the CEO is looking at overall staffing (last year your department had 20 people, this year you have 23, why do you want to hire another person?). In reality, while we created new positions and placed people in those roles, we’re understaffed in the entry-level role (last year we had three analysts, now we have two and the same amount of work).

In general, any tips on getting the green light to hire more people would be appreciated! In my last position, I worked for a very large company, and our hiring was boom or bust. You either had a dozen new hires, or begged for resources for 18 months (before being gifted with a dozen new hires all on the same day…when you only asked for ten). Should you approach things differently when talking to the CEO of a smaller company versus corporate HR?

Do this:

1. Write down what’s currently not getting done as a result of not having that extra staffing slot. You can include things that aren’t getting done as well as they should be (assuming that’s due to competing priorities and not performance issues). This list could contain things that aren’t happening that the new person would do, and it can also contain things that your existing, more senior staff would do if their time wasn’t being spent on the work that the new person would take over.

2. Write down what additional things your team would achieve if they did have that spot filled. (Be realistic here; you’ll ruin the credibility of your proposal if you include pie-in-the-sky stuff. Assume that you’re essentially committing to achieving these things if your request is approved.)

3. Put this all on a single page, two maximum, ideally in bullet points. Make it easy to skim and digest. Don’t assume anyone will read a long memo. This is the business case for making the new hire.

4. Then go and talk to your boss about it. If you have a reasonable boss and you’ve laid out a compelling case, you have a decent chance of getting a yes. Reasons that you might get a no include: unreasonable boss, no money in the budget, higher priorities to allocate funds to right now (this is a big one), or concerns about your management or your team’s effectiveness (probably not the case if you’ve added other positions this year).

In your case, be aware that your boss might be annoyed or concerned that you didn’t bring up the need for this position when you made the case for the other slots you added earlier this year. If this position is necessary because of those additional slots (because you need more support roles when you have more people), your manager could be rightly annoyed that that wasn’t included in that earlier proposal. Or, if position is actually more crucial than the ones that were added earlier this year, your manager would absolutely be right to question why you weren’t thinking long-term when you proposed the others (unless something has changed that you couldn’t have anticipated then). If you think your boss is likely to wonder about any of these things, it’s smart to bring them up proactively and address them.

With all of this, you may need to tweak it for how things work in your company, but these are the basic principles that create a strong argument for adding staff.

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. Yup

    I don’t know about presenting to a CEO versus HR, but I can share what I do to bring the math.

    Look at the metrics for the department: quantitative things like widgets made, reports handled, cycle time, calls received — whichever 3-4 productivity measures are really visible and important to the boss.

    Create a line graph to show the units, # of people, and units/person for the past 3-5 years. Also show the the forecast for the next 2-3 years for the same categories based on current volumes and current headcount.

    Then add a different line with the proposed headcount. If I’m reading your post right, then the graph should show that adding more people will increase both productivity and efficiency.

    Example: 2 people can process 1000 reports per month with 20 errors. That’s 500 rpts/person with a 2.0% error rate. With additional headcount, 3 people can process 2100 reports per month with 3o errors. That’s 700 rpts/person with a 1.4% error rate.

  2. Just a Reader

    You may also think about soft consequences of not hiring–burnout, turnover, lack of growth, etc.

    1. AB

      Not to mention losing the best employees (who always have choices) because they are not willing to stay in an understaffed situation that makes the quality of their work go down, and the stress go up.

  3. Ann Furthermore

    Sometimes, to get your point across, you have to purposely let things slide or not get done to demonstrate the impact that a lack of resources is having.

    This is difficult, because anyone who’s conscientious will have a hard time doing that. You don’t want someone else to miss a deadline or otherwise struggle when you know what needs to be done and how to do it. But there are times when it’s the only answer. When everything is somehow getting done, that’s what upper management tends to focus on. Why should additional money be spent hiring new people when you and/or your team are keeping everything running smoothly?

    The point that people are working overtime, getting burned out, and only have time to do the bare minimum necessary on any given task is often lost. Ideally, I think people should have a workload of about 80 to 85 percent of their capacity, because then there is time to dig into problems when they occur, work on special projects, and so on.

    I think on a larger scale, this is why unemployment continues to be so high. People were laid off in droves, and those that were not had to absorb all the work they left behind. Just because someone leaves doesn’t mean that their work goes away too. So, grateful to still be employed, people picked up the slack, thankful to still have a job, and hoping to avoid their heads being next on the chopping block. Fast forward a few years, and now there’s no incentive for companies to grow their workforces again. All they see is that the same (or more) amount of work is getting done with fewer people, and hiring more people would eat away at the bottom line.

    1. Anonymous

      ha ha ha ha ha, just yesterday my manager said his preference is ‘I’d rather get to the point where there is too much on people’s plates and then we can look for solutions’. But if everyone has too much on their plate, how can we find a solution?

      1. KellyK

        I would mention to him that once that happens, your best employees will be looking for *personal* solutions—with other employers.

        1. Anonymous

          My problem is that there have been minor errors due to too much overload – and that has resulted in negative feedback in performance review vs. a ‘hey, one person is covering 50% of the team’s needs’ no matter how it is brought up. I’m looking to get out as soon as possible.

        2. Ann Furthermore

          Even then, I don’t think that some companies would care. I’ve actually heard people at my company at the director level and above say that everyone should be happy to just have a job, and that there are plenty of people out there who would be willing to take anyone’s place. So if someone leaves, they think they’ll be able to have their choice from the legions of the unemployed.

          This is such a frustrating mindset, and I see it particularly with people who do clerical/admin type jobs. There’s this idea with upper management types that people are a dime a dozen, like interchangeable parts, and that is just not true.

          My experience is with Accounts Payable. I’ve done AP, and managed the function, so I know that a good AP person is HARD to find. You need someone who doesn’t mind the tedious, repetitive nature of the work, since it requires doing a ton of data entry. But that person also needs to be bright and observant enough to look at what they’re processing with a critical eye: noticing improper account coding, or improper or no approvals, price discrepancies with PO’s, or identifying something that just doesn’t pass the sniff test. It’s hard to find that mix of skills. But people at the leadership levels look at it as being “just” data entry, and that any nitwit off the street should be able to do it.

    2. Jen in RO

      You put it very well, Ann. I left the understaffed company, but I am still friends with my former team lead and I keep telling her that for once they should let something slide. Until that, it’s unlikely that their (remote) boss will realize things are really dire. Despite being repeatedly told that things are not going well, boss decided to just pat us on the back and say ‘there there, just hang tight’… with brilliant results: another coworker and I found new jobs within a month of each other, so they are even *more* understaffed now and everyone left on the team is unhappy.

      As far as I’m concerned, I feel sorry for my ex-coworkers (and I miss them, they were great people), but my boss and company deserve what they got. (And thanks Alison and commenters for realizing that I should not feel guilty about leaving a job, because the company would not feel guilty if I got laid off!)

    3. themmases

      This is so true. My coworker and I had been asking for years to hire a third person in our area. A few times we were even close but then our department head would decide to allocate the money to something else (like using the money we wanted for one more support person for even more doctors and trainees… Smart, no?).

      Finally things got so bad that we made a list of every single thing we were covering and every person we were supporting. It was huge: the two of us support nearly 20 people’s projects. Then we made a smaller list of the projects that our boss had previously agreed had to get done no matter what: stuff we were getting paid for or that benefited a patient, basically. It was still a long list of our most time-consuming work. We showed this to our boss, gave him a chance to agree that our priorities were right, and explained that we couldn’t commit to supporting anything not on the list for the foreseeable future if we were going to do these right. Not only did we get the third person a few months later, but we pretty much had permission to let all those minor projects go until she got here. During all the years before when we just made things work, we got lots of compliments and appreciation but no extra support, not ever.

  4. Jamie

    A lot of people grumble about metrics, or kpis, but they come in handy when proving up needs like this.

    If it were me I’d do a riff on a cost-benefits analysis or ROI depending on position some of the benefits to the company won’t necessarily be added revenue but balanced workload, more detailed projects, etc.

    And do it in the preferred communication of the decision maker. If your boss prefers dialogue and conversation be prepared to have a discussion about it, if they prefer numbers and concrete data make sure your charts and spreadsheets tell the story. People are more receptive to ideas presented in their preferred mode of communication.

    For example, if you want me to rethink something an email with a brief summary and data will put me in a good mood and get my attention. A phone call with a long winded explanation…same idea…but now you have to work a lot harder to make your point because I’m probably annoyed at being interrupted and I’m just going to ask you for the numbers before discussing it further anyway.

  5. Jes

    The timing of this post was perfect for me! I just decided today that I am going to ask my boss to hire another part time employee for my department. I was already thinking of all the reasons to tell her why we need this additional person and this post will help me to present a better case.

  6. Joey

    One of the things I always like to address when pitching a recommendation is the obvious challenges. For example, my guess is your boss will likely say you don’t have the money. If you figure out how real of an impact it is and how to minimize those concerns ahead of time you’ll get a lot more traction. Think about it in terms of a P&L statement. Maybe you “settle” for a part timer or temp initially.

    And echoing Yup, metrics usually resonate with CEO ‘s. If you can show (not just tell) that the extra person will result in a net increase in revenue you are much more likel to get what you want.

    1. Zahra

      If your boss doesn’t have money to hire another person, don’t forget to make the case of the cost of overtime, errors in current work, etc.

  7. Leslie Yep

    If you work in a team that has set priorities or annual outcomes (or are doing this now for the next fiscal year, as we are!), I’d also tie this to your priorities, and also share contingencies. I.e. if a key priority for one of my teams is to create a strong partnership with X organization, and lack of capacity or skill is a major reason we haven’t been able to do this so far, I could present my boss with several options:
    – Hiring someone to take on more administrative work so that Susie can build her skills in partnership building
    – Hiring someone with proven history of partnership building to take on this workstream
    – Hiring a consultant, temp/intern/fellow to fill one of these roles
    – Downgrading this priority or another one so that we can focus on where we need to make our biggest impact

    This helps in cases where the priority isn’t necessarily a metric or your work isn’t most meaningfully measured in terms of production quantity, quantitatively.

  8. OP

    Thanks, everyone! I appreciate the advice and figured I couldn’t be the only one in the same boat.

    I’ll give a little more background. I actually wouldn’t be the hiring manager. I’m one of the people hired within the last year while the entry level analyst position was unfilled (I’m a project manager, one of the other hires is a technical resource and the third is a data specialist). I had people management responsibilities at OldJob, so I’m trying to help the potential hiring manager (who is new to managing).

    Our CEO is aware we want to hire someone, the issue is convincing him to approve the request. I do not want to get to the point where we have a candidate we want to hire, but don’t have final approval. This has been an issue in the past, as have some other messy hiring practices (prolonged interview process, unclear job descriptions, changing job titles, etc). Our COO used to be in charge of hiring, but as a direct result of those hiring practices he is not anymore.

    The hiring manager has been focusing a lot on the “softer” concerns people here have mentioned: burnout, turnover, etc. The open position is focused on customer service and administrative tasks, so I’ve been struggling with how to help her quantify a need. It’s not like we’re having trouble making enough widgets to meet demand. We’re a small company, no one has ever tracked metrics (number of calls or tranactions, cycle time, etc) and we don’t have the tools to easily start. Since the role is administrative and support, it’s difficult to work through ROI unless something goes really wrong (“If we’d hired a $40,000 analyst, we wouldn’t have lost that $500,000 account!”).

    Alison’s advice about listing tasks that aren’t getting done, aren’t getting done, or are being covered by more senior people is very helpful, as is documenting what we could accomplish with additional resources. I think I’ll also emphasize the total book of business that is currently understaffed, so there’s some connection to the bottom line.

    1. AVP

      I successfully convinced the owner of my company (also small and very hiring-averse) to add a junior/admin position a few years ago. It really helped to concentrate on the small things that went wrong because we were stretched too thin. I made a list that included things like the time a client came and spilled something and we were out of paper towels, and how we were always getting complaints from one our other staff people that we promised him snacks and never bought any, and projects that were getting screwed up or going nowhere because I had to have the interns do them since I was too busy myself. None of those things were huge on their own (like losing an account), but put in perspective they demonstrated a trend of sloppiness that couldn’t be fixed with our headcount at the time. And then I also focused on projects that I knew he would love that there was no way we would be able to accomplish without another person. And most importantly, when that new position finally got approved, I made sure the sloppiness was fixed immediately, and got her straight to work on those projects.

      1. Anonymous

        projects that were getting screwed up or going nowhere because I had to have the interns do them since I was too busy myself

        I also feel bad for those interns!

  9. Clever Name

    I told a decision maker at my company, “I’m at the point where some things aren’t going to get done. I need to know what has to get done”

    We hired another person two weeks later.

  10. Vitriolic Vixen

    Boy I got a chuckle. A warning that the following doesn’t really help with the problem, this letter just took me on a trip to Flashback World and I am now just getting back.

    Good Luck OP, I want it to work out for you.

    Anyone who did the above – mentioned steps with my boss, risked getting their points reappropriated into their annual targets and/or PIP. Verbatim.

    His reasoning was: “V.V. you seem to know what the problems are, I want to know why you haven’t stepped up to address them? We don’t need more staff, we just have to do better with what we have. Now that you have identified the department’s shortcomings you had better get back to work, you and your department will be measured by these points from now on.”

    True (sniff!) story.

    According to him, the reason everyone was burned out was not because the department was understaffed, and working 12 – 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. They wouldn’t have to do that everyday, if, see, they just worked harder and learned to manage their time better during the first 8 hours.

    People came in at 5 am and wouldn’t get their lunch until 2 pm or later some days due to the schedule, despite the inherent dubiousness of this practice.

    Wednesday I’d be told to go and tell my people to plan for the weekend off, just to be informed an hour before shift’s end on Friday that my crew would to have to stay until dark (14 hour day) and work all Saturday, because something came up.

    (Oh yeah, and we’ve (The Powers That Be) known about it since yesterday, but what we do and why we didn’t tell you (V.V.) until now, doesn’t concern you (or anyone else at your pay grade or below).

    Why are you complaining? An hour is sufficient notice for your people!

    What are you still doing here V.V.? You had better call them now so they aren’t angry that you waited to tell them.)

    Yeah, we didn’t need more staff. That was just an excuse.

      1. V.V.

        Thanx Jen, me too.

        I’m sad somedays that I left a lot of good people behind. A little sad I had other opportunities and could leave, while the others did not have many other choices to pay their bills.

        Worker’s Survivor’s Guilt on both sides: mine for the reason above, them because from their POV I was driven out.

        Ridiculous for both sides: anyone who knows me, knows I cannot be driven anywhere; I left of my own free will. By the same token, the others stayed and I need to remind myself that that’s an acceptable choice.

        Hard to reason with guilt though.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      Idiot.

      The stories on this blog never cease to amaze me. I should get a Best Boss in the Universe award just for not being an idiot! There’s a low bar.

      Over-working and underappreciating people is counter productive to the end goal. You can’t fail to plan and then employ the magical thinking of “just work smarter!” to fix it all up.

      I’ll tell you what I think a lot of this crap is, people who have never done the actual job. I model everything, I mean *everything*, every function that falls under my umbrella, (including having worked in the warehouse for a few days packing boxes). If I can’t do a specific job, like web development, I make sure I have a deep enough understanding of the pieces and the daily flow so it’s not all a black box to me.

      I can then turn around and not be an idiot when setting expectations for people. It’s common sense.

      1. Anon in awe

        Yeah, you deserve the best boss award, with a few other people I know! I have known a couple of people like that, and it makes such a huge difference in work to people who just dismiss it as “your job so do it”. The best, best bosses are also those who, if they are able, will happily pick up the slack and put in half an hour for you if they are quiet and you aren’t for whatever reason, not refuse to help because you’re below them on the hierarchy.

        tl;dr +100!

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        The higher up you go in management, though, the more it’s not feasible to be able to do every job under you. A COO probably isn’t going to be able to do I.T. but she manages the I.T. director.

        1. Jamie

          This. And this is why I never really got the point of the message of that show Undercover Boss. The whole premise is ha ha the CEO can’t load a truck, clean a pool, or make a sandwich seamlessly day one. That doesn’t make them bad executives necessarily…you have to judge them based on how they do their jobs…I.e. running the company.

          And IT is a great example – sure my boss could learn my job if he chose…but he has other things to do and he pays me so he doesn’t have to.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      And one more thing (since I am clearly on a roll), it’s the boss’s job to develop front line contacts/managers that she trusts to give an accurate answer to the question “what resources do you need?”

      The boss may not be an idiot for not trusting certain people, but the boss is an idiot for not having anybody she can trust.

  11. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

    Best pitch?

    Show me the money.

    Adding a salary + benefits to the payroll is a financial decision that has to be offset by either increased revenue, increased production or increased cash flow (if, say, you wanted to add a billing person so invoices could be turned faster).

    Make a case that the new position will pay for itself and more and it’s a done deal.

    1. Anonymous

      There are challenges, though, when you’re in a cost center rather than a revenue center (I used to work in training & development for a large corporation) or in certain other cases (I am currently with a nonprofit). There are definite ways to indicate that a new staff position is necessary, or that an empty one needs to be filled, but they’re going to have more to do with productivity and projects as Alison indicated, rather than with revenue.

  12. anon-2

    One way that lights a fire under management’s rear end — is to have a key employee – who is doing the work or two or three people, quit and refuse any counter-offer.

    When the boss has to miss a couple of tee times, or tell his wife “we can’t take the cruise this year, honey, too much work”…

    That’s when the hiring machine starts working.

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