human resources math

I came to terms with a harsh realization in 2018. Me and math do not mix well. It’s not that I don’t know how to do math, it’s that my brain just isn’t wired for it.

If I could do math, I would rule the world. Or at least that’s what I tell myself as I try to navigate through some of the hype that surrounds workforce analytics and talent analytics. I fell in love with the world of human resources because I could spend my days improving the employee experience. And, quite frankly, because I was good at it. Unfortunately, being an HR professional today requires an understanding of how to collect and interpret data, which seems to require math. What gives?

Terrible at math? Analytics companies probably have you covered

There are many business leaders out there that think HR professionals need to take a statistics class ASAP. I think that’s a noble goal, but I can barely get myself to a Pilates or yoga class. I want to take some cooking classes and more archery lessons, too. If my time is x and a statistics class is y, I can’t do the equation, but statistics will lose.

One good thing is that great HR technology companies have the backs of their customers. This is true. They want you to be successful, and they know that the average HR practitioner doesn’t do math. They offer dashboards that show your data in a logical way, and they offer consulting services to help you understand what to do with that information.

Some HR technology vendors can marry your company information with other data in their proprietary networks. They can operate as a consortium and tell you how you’re doing on issues related to talent management, workforce development, talent mobility and any other buzzwordy issue in the marketplace.


Here’s how much math you really need to know to work in HR

I’m all for personal and professional development. We can’t be functioning idiots and expect our companies to thrive. However, as you grow in your career, it’s important to remember that you get your work done by collaborating and leading people. You don’t have to be an expert on everything. You surround yourself with great and talented people, and you rely on them to provide candid insights and solid expertise.

So if you’re not a math whiz, hire and surround yourself with people who are good at math. It’s too late for you (and me) to ace calculus. But there are talented, math-savvy people waiting to join your team and help you succeed.


  1. It’s all very well saying that other people and HR tech will solve the problem but there still needs to be a basic level of understanding. I remember at school at a time when calculators were seen as the cool new thing, my dad pointing out that unless you had a rough idea of what the answer should look like, you’d accept something it told you when you’d actually mishit a key. Same principle applies on a bigger scale here

  2. Nice points! However the lack of knowledge of statistics can lead to misinterpretation of data. Just saying.

  3. While I understand the need for all professionals to have some basic understanding of mathematical concepts to drive their business acumen, I do have to pose the relevancy to the degree of math.

    Most of what many professionals do today do not require calculating regression and performing t-tests. Rather, they can utilize some concepts of correlations, variances, and standard deviations. However, HR alone cannot be required to know this. It has to be everyone because if it is the HR person using this information as defense to potentially implement something, no one else will understand – to your point.

    The other item I bring to the table is if we want people to become more integrated and utilize statistics, then it starts in degree programs. As someone who had to take stats for a business degree, I get it. Yet, there are many programs out there that require not advanced math. Or if they do, the program does itself a disservice by having someone who cannot teach (case in point: half of my stats class were taking it for the third and fourth time because the teacher was terrible. In turn, I really learned stats when I took supply chain management).

    I would say we all have to take a look in the mirror on how we can educate anyone in business to become more versed with numbers as a whole.

  4. This is an interesting new development in HR – especially with the implementation of the ACA and Big Data in HR, more departments have to know not only math but also data management.

    HR professionals shouldn’t be afraid to hire experts to help, rather than trying to guess! Guesswork could have big implications

  5. We increasingly hiring MBA and MsC Grads for HR roles for very reason. Interestingly math and stats used interchangeably by author and respectfully would think as suggested cooking classes might very well be more appropriate.

  6. Benefits and HR Systems Director here…Once I realized Excel could get me where I needed to go for most things I do, the whole math thing seemed less daunting. However, analytics give me THE AGITA. There are systems that do it, but they never do 100% of what your executive team wants. So, then it becomes a matter of extracting data from multiple sources and transforming it into what is needed through a data warehouse or a BI tool. Completely out of my wheelhouse. I hired an analyst to do this work – I had to let go of that bit of ego that was raking me over the coals for not being great at one aspect of HR to do this, but it has been the best decision for me and for the company. I can focus on all the other things I am good at doing.

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