Onshore Blog

Help Desk Staffing Zen: Finding the Balance

Posted by Scott Janovitz Dec 1, 2016 1:14:13 PM

iStock-481535294_web.jpgOne of the most difficult daily dilemmas IT help desk managers face is determining the right number of service desk staff to meet their ever-fluctuating call volume needs.

With too few, help desk staff can become so overwhelmed with work that they are putting out fires not only during business hours, but also throughout the night and over the weekend. With too many staff, you are looking at a lost opportunity—meaning overstaffing the help desk is wasting a chunk of your budget that could be appropriated to another area and put to better use.

While there is no magic formula to determine optimum or even average staffing levels that strike a perfect balance between under and overstaffing, there are considerations to take into account that ensure your help desk staff provides efficient and effective IT support—freeing your team to focus on high value items and allowing your organization to be competitive in the most cost effective way.

Let’s take a look at 3 ways to optimize your financial and human resources.

Scope, Location and Size of Your Organization

Because of the wide range of IT service environments and different issues across various businesses and industries, formulating end user to help desk staff ratio is difficult as there is no one size fits all solution. 

Think of all the factors that make your organization’s needs unique and it becomes clear why benchmarking help desk staffing levels is hardly a simple task. Here are just a few to consider:

  • Volume of calls and breakdown by channel—call, web, email
  • Staffing mix—fulltime, part-time, contract
  • Help desk operation hours
  • Required service levels
  • Knowledge and skill level of available help desk staff
  • Attrition rate
  • Complexity of the environment being supported
  • How technologically savvy end users are
  • How you’re enabling end users to resolve their own issues

Also factoring in the difficulty equation are the goals to accomplish, as every organization’s help desk staffing needs are different. For example, is your goal to add staff, reduce staff or defend your current headcount to stakeholders?

Location also comes into play since Tier 2 service desk staff is typically on site. For example, an organization with 1,000 employees in one central location may need a lower percentage of staff than one with five 200-employee offices that are geographically dispersed.

In spite of these factors, one number you’ll see that comes up frequently is Gartner Research’s “ideal” end user to IT service desk user ratio of 70:1. Another—from Robert Half Technology—puts the number at 18:1 if your organization has less than 500 employees and 25:1 if you have between 500 and 10,000 employees.

Back to the absence of a one size fits all solution, it you look at discussion threads online you’ll see numbers all over the map—just as the above referenced numbers are. And all over the map because of an organization’s differing needs and goals compared to those of an organization across town.

Changing IT Needs

IT needs are always changing. To be competitive, your help desk support staff needs to effortlessly roll with the changes and you will need support desk staff with a higher knowledge base or skillset. In fact, according to research by Robert Half Technology and HDI (Help Desk Institute) 66% of IT professionals believe that going forward technical support centers will need higher support acumen. 

What this means is you may need to add help desk staff with differing and specific skillsets if you do not want to loose the competitive advantages afforded by speedy service.

Evaluating Your Own Needs

A discussion from TechRepublic gave a tutorial for calculating end user to help desk ratios that is particularly useful if you’re looking to add staff. Calculations are based on the following factors and are a good place to start:

  • Average number of service desk tickets per month
  • Average time spent per ticket
  • Call prep and call wrap-up time—documenting or closing tickets 

But no matter your goal—adding, reducing or justifying staff—there are some additional considerations to build upon to ensure both Tier 1 and Tier 2 desk staffing levels are sufficient enough to keep your organization competitive and your in-house team focused on higher value work.

  • To establish a baseline, look at your current staffing levels, work volumes and service level performance rather than industry standards
  • Look at the other tasks that the help desk staff fulfills and determine if those tasks should continue to be fulfilled by help desk staff
  • Consider reducing the attrition rate of your best performing staff
  • Review how task workloads are structured
  • Determine the cost/benefit of attracting higher skilled staff
  • Consider how to reduce inbound calls and incoming incident volumes
  • Consider the percentage of time spent handling calls
  • Look at service levels and determine if any can be reduced


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