Line and staff are the two broadest categories within which employees are organized in a business. Line personnel are directly involved in the operations of a business. Line functions include sales, marketing, production, and distribution. The line functions also generate revenue for the organization.
Staff personnel facilitate the activities of line personnel. For example, a human resources employee is ranked within the staff classification, as is an internal auditor, an accountant, a public relations person, and a risk manager.
Line personnel are directly involved in attaining the goals of an organization. Staff personnel are only indirectly involved, since they are facilitating the work of the line personnel.
There can be conflict between the two types of positions. Line personnel tend to resent staff personnel for interfering with their job functions, while staff personnel complain that they are being ignored by line personnel. The situation can be exacerbated when staff personnel become too involved in line work in order to give the appearance that they are justifying their positions. Ideally, there should be just enough staff personnel to create a net gain in the performance of the organization as a whole. Too many staff personnel will increase costs while reducing the efficiency of the line personnel.
During economic downturns, staff personnel tend to be laid off first, since doing so reduces costs without interfering with the productive capacity of the business.