Every business needs some form of HR advice or support from time to time. Even in businesses with established HR or people departments filled with qualified and experienced individuals, it’s rare to find a team that can cover off every aspect of HR and have an instantaneous answer for every query they get. HR support providers can provide a different perspective, cover off more areas of expertise, and be that external guide to help HR managers with day-to-day and one-off queries.

There are a number of options available to businesses of all shapes and sizes when it comes to getting access to HR support and advice. But which kind of support is right for you, and when do you know when the time is right to get it?


Retained HR support services

What is it?

HR support on a retained basis has previously been a popular option for organisations of varying shapes and sizes. Having guaranteed access to HR experience and knowledge with a predictable cost is often an attractive prospect, particularly for businesses who do not have a dedicated HR department. For growing businesses, dealing with day-to-day HR can be quite time-consuming, and it may get neglected. Having a retained agreement enables you to get that kind of on-going support for an agreed monthly fee, usually starting from a couple of hundred pounds per month. You would usually get an agreed amount of hours of support or consultation, covering off phone support, document reviews and other services. Any additional support over and above that will be charged at an hourly rate. One benefit of retained support is that by having continuous contact with you and the queries you are getting in your business, a good HR provider will ask the question – why are you getting all these queries? What can be done to ease the strain on the HR function? This may lead to some more project-based engagement, which we’ll get to shortly.

The benefits of retained support

  • Ongoing support at a predictable cost
  • Provides cover for day-to-day HR operation and queries
  • Continuous contact gives the provider chance to spot underlying patterns and problems in your business

The drawbacks of retained support

  • Can be a bit inflexible if you have quieter or busier months
  • Not as suitable if you are likely to have periods of unpredictability

When is it right for you?

  • Useful if you do not have a dedicated HR function
  • If you need to have predictable monthly outgoings
  • For repeated and predictable activity – the same tasks need to be completed every month with little variation


Ad-hoc HR support

What is it?

Ad-hoc HR support is one-off (or sometimes project-based) work that you usually pay a set amount or hourly rate for. With HR departments being thrown increasingly complex challenges – particularly at the moment – this type of HR support is becoming more popular. You may seek out this kind of support to do contract, handbook or policy reviews, or for some strategic consultancy. It’s usually charged at an hourly rate, and therefore gives you the flexibility to turn it up or down as and when you need it. Help or support offered during an ad-hoc HR arrangement may lead to a longer term arrangement – HR support providers are likely to spot wider issues or problems which are behind the immediate challenges you’re experiencing.

The benefits of ad-hoc support

  • Much more flexible – you can turn it off and on, up or down when and if you need it
  • Can lead to longer term and more strategic arrangements if the provider spots underlying issues
  • May work out cheaper overall as you can dial it down when you don’t need it

The drawbacks

  • Costs are not as predictable
  • You may not be guaranteed a service level if you are not in a retained agreement with the provider
  • Cost can get out of control if work goes out of scope

When is it right for you?

  • If you’re likely to have periods of unpredictability – if you’re going through a transition period or growing rapidly
  • There’s a specific area or challenge you need help with
  • Can be helpful as cover and additional support for your HR function


Other types of HR support


Project-based support is for more strategic activity. It’susually charged as a flat fee with agreed deliverables. It’s often more strategic, but could also be to support things like redundancies. In the example of a redundancy project, your provider would give you a fixed fee to cover off documentation, letters to employees, calculations of redundancy pay, preparation of all communications, scripts for the meetings with the employees, and surrounding support. Projects may also be around things like employee engagement, contract reviews, policy reviews, or mini audits. This kind of arrangement is useful for achieving a particular goal, or to get a more strategic view of HR in your organisation.


Free(ish) advice services

There are tons of free resources for HR professionals (and even those with little HR experience and/or knowledge) available through various channels:

  • Business banking add-ons
  • ACAS website or telephone line
  • Membership Organisations (such as a ICAEW or Chamber of Commerce)

These services will be able to answer quick HR queries, or provide you with a library of generic online templates for contracts, letters or other basic documents. With these types of services, you’ll usually be looking for something very specific that you have a good understanding of the requirement for or the background of – e.g. redundancy letters templates, or most aptly at the moment, specific advice around COVID guidelines.


If you think you’re in need of some HR support – get in touch to talk with one of our experts and explore your options. We offer all levels of HR support explored in this article and we’ll work closely with you to design and deliver a level of support that exactly fits your needs.

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With over a decade of experience supporting organisations with putting their people first, Talk Staff are here to help with the full range of HR challenges. We can support you with:

  • Hybrid working policies
  • Contract reviews
  • Employee engagement surveys
  • Mini HR audits incorporating all of the above

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    Last Updated on 3 years by Charli Parkes

    Last Updated on 3 years by Charli Parkes