Help Desk Staffing Ratios: Executive Summary

June, 2006

Note: This Research Byte references an older version of a staffing ratio report. For the most up-to-date versions of our popular staffing ratio reports, please visit our IT Staffing Ratios bundle page. You will be redirected there momentarily.  

On a day-to-day basis, the help desk function is the face of the IT organization to users, and it has much to do with user perceptions and satisfaction with the services provided by IT. Yet, many companies struggle with understanding the right staffing level for the help desk or justifying additional help desk personnel. This Research Byte is a summary of our full report, Help Desk Staffing Ratios by User and Desktop which provides useful benchmarks for these staffing ratios by organization size and by industry sector.

The basis for this new analysis is our 2006/2007 IT spending and staffing survey of nearly 200 CIOs and IT executives. Our survey included a question on the number of help desk staff positions, which in our study includes employees whose primary job duties are described as “technical support,” as well as “help desk.” In order to obtain the most accurate help desk ratios, we eliminated organizations that had outsourced any part of their help desk function.

Help desk staffing ratios are provided for the composite sample and are also broken out by organizational size and industry sector. This allows a firm to benchmark its help desk staffing levels and determine any differences between its own staffing and that of other organizations of similar size and industry. However, further analysis will be needed to understand the causes of any differences. For example, if an organization’s help desk is understaffed relative to the benchmarks, it might mean that users are not receiving timely assistance and that employee productivity throughout the organization is suffering. On the other hand, understaffing the help desk relative to the benchmarks might mean that the firm’s IT competence levels are exceptionally high and that there are fewer calls required to the help desk.

Likewise, overstaffing relative to the benchmarks may indicate underutilization of help desk personnel–in other words, waste. Alternatively, it may indicate an excessive number of problems in the IT environment that result in a higher-than-normal level of help desk incidents. Therefore, this study should only be used as a basis for identifying differences between a firm’s help desk staffing levels and typical staffing levels of comparable firms. Whether those differences are a good thing or a bad thing can only be judged through a more in-depth assessment.

Composite Ratios
The composite ratio of users to help desk personnel indicates the norm across all organizations in our study. The full report provides a breakout of the number of users supported at the median, 25th percentile, and 75th percentile. It also provides metrics in terms of the number of desktops supported by each help desk staff member. Again, please note that the definition of help desk staff member includes first level technical support.

Help Desk Staffing by Size of Organization
We next investigated the effect that organizational size has on the help desk ratio. For this investigation, organizations are classified as either small, medium, or large. A small organization is defined as one with gross revenues less than $250 million. A medium organization has revenues between $250 million and $750 million. Organizations with gross revenues in excess of $750 million are classified as large.

The full report shows a significant variation in the number of help desk staffing ratios by organizational size, with larger organizations clearly leveraging help desk staff to support greater numbers of users and desktops. We analyze the reasons for this.

Help Desk Staffing by Industry
In addition to variation by organization size, help desk staffing ratios also vary by industry. In the full report, we break out the help desk staffing ratio for banking and finance, insurance, healthcare, manufacturing, wholesale distribution, retail, utilities/energy, business services, and government sectors. Our analysis shows that the utilities/energy industry sector has the lowest help desk staffing ratios–in other words, at the median, help desk personnel in this sector support the fewest numbers of users and desktops. Conversely, healthcare organizations show the highest ratios, meaning that–at the median–each help desk representative supports a greater number of users and desktops than in any other sector.

The results of our analysis clearly demonstrate that one-size-fits-all is an inappropriate tactic in staffing the help desk. Instead, a Goldilocks approach is more suitable: managers should take into account the size of their company and industry sector in making the proper help desk staffing decision.

June 2006

This Research Byte is a summary of our full report, Help Desk Staffing Ratios by User and Desktop which provides useful benchmarks for help desk staffing ratios by organization size and by industry sector. The full report may be found at (click for pricing).

Do you also need staffing ratios for other IT job functions? Consider this collection of all of our staffing ratio reports, which bundles them all into a single report at a significant discount: IT Staffing Ratios–Special Report Bundle