Understanding Non-Revenue Employees: The Backbone of Business Success

When examining the workforce dynamics of an organization, it's common to fixate on revenue-generating roles. After all, these positions are directly responsible for bringing in profits. However, focusing solely on revenue-centric roles leaves out a significant chunk of the workforce: the non-revenue employees.

The Role of Non-Revenue Employees

While non-revenue employees might not directly contribute to the financial bottom line, their contributions are foundational to the organization's success. They constitute the vast business “machinery” that powers the organization, supports revenue-generating roles, and ensures smooth business operations. In fact, they can represent more of your workforce. These include roles in HR, IT, administration, and many other indirect revenue employees who maintain the infrastructure of a business.


Non-revenue units keep the operations of a business running. Imagine a product-based company without a logistics team to ensure timely deliveries or a multinational enterprise without HR personnel to manage its vast workforce. The value of non-revenue-producing departments becomes clear when you consider the chaos that would ensue in their absence.

Non-revenue employees often introduce efficiency, stability, and scalability into an organization. They identify bottlenecks, streamline processes, and ensure that the revenue-generating departments can operate at peak productivity. Indirect revenue employees may not directly contribute to sales, but they directly influence revenue by performing at a high level of customer satisfaction, meeting or exceeding CSAT goals, reducing churn and creating referenceable champion customers.

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The Value of Non-Revenue Units in People Analytics

While non-revenue-generating (NRG) roles may not directly influence the new sales revenue stream, they are foundational to an organization's long-term success. 

Here's why:

  • Holistic Workforce Analysis: An organization only gets a skewed view of its workforce by concentrating on revenue-producing roles. People analytics should consider every layer and department to ensure a balanced strategy for talent acquisition, retention, and development.

  • Reducing Churn in Non-Revenue Departments: Turnover in non-revenue producing departments can be just as detrimental as in sales or business development. For instance, frequent changes in the support and client services roles leads to a loss of inherent knowledge, long ramp up times and loss of confidence with customers reflecting in low CSAT scores, while turnover in HR can impact talent management strategies. Organizations can reduce churn, stabilize operations, and indirectly boost revenue by applying people analytics to these non-revenue units.

  • Identifying Opportunities for Upgrading Skills: As businesses evolve, the roles of non-revenue employees change. People analytics can help identify the need for new skills or training in these non-revenue units, find employees with the skills already and utilize those people, ensuring they continue to support the company effectively and saving money in the long term (training and recruitment costs).

The dilemma often faced revolves around headcount — is it worth investing in these indirect revenue employees? The perceived short-term pain of increasing payroll for NRG employees often becomes a deterrent. 

As leaders, it's tempting to don many hats, especially with constrained budgets. But in doing so, are leaders truly optimizing their own roles? An organization's head, tasked with vision, direction, and often direct revenue-generation through donations, can get tangled in the intricacies of non-revenue units, thereby diluting their effectiveness.

The Opportunity Cost with Non-Revenue Departments

Convincing a board to hire for NRG roles, especially in medium or smaller organizations, is not straightforward. How you frame the argument is key. One approach is the opportunity cost perspective. By calculating an executive director's (ED) hourly pay and then juxtaposing that against time spent on non-revenue-producing department tasks, organizations can discern the real costs.

For instance, if an ED earning $70,000 annually spends 10 hours weekly on tasks better suited for an NRG role, that's an annual cost of $17,498. If reallocating those 10 hours could generate more than this amount, it’s a stronger case for hiring specialized staff. While it's not always as black and white, this method provides tangible metrics, bridging the gap between HR and finance in understanding the worth of non-revenue employees.

Ultimately, the emphasis should be on the organization's health and growth. While NRG roles might not bring in direct revenue, their contribution allows revenue-generating sectors to flourish.

The Future of Non-Revenue Employees in Business Strategy

The line between revenue-generating roles and non-revenue employees is blurring. As businesses increasingly adopt interdisciplinary strategies, the contributions of non-revenue units become more intertwined with revenue outcomes. For example, an effective marketing campaign (often considered a cost center) can significantly boost sales, making it an indirect revenue employee function.

The bottom line? While the spotlight often shines brightest on revenue-generating roles, the silent machinery of non-revenue employees is what keeps a business thriving. It's time we acknowledge the importance of non-revenue producing departments and give them the attention they deserve in our people analytics endeavors. 

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Written By

John is a certified PMP, CSM with over 25 years of experience helping Fortune 500 companies glean insights from their analytics tools to improve their organizations and their teams. He has a long history of managing teams, large and small and leadership development from within those teams. He loves telling stories of how he has used data to create positive change, elevate teams and improve the quality and effectiveness of his teams. Outside the numbers, John is an avid Boston sports fan who undoubtedly bleeds Black and Gold.

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