Update 5/30/2017: We’ve updated this article to add an additional software option, and to remove any software that was outdated or no longer free.
I always felt a bit bad taking one of the free samples at the supermarket.
Yes, I know that’s what they’re there for. And I know the reps passing out cups of chips, or cheese, or (at Whole Foods, at least) nice red wine are only doing it to entice me to buy something.
I felt like I was taking advantage of their generosity by eating what they gave me, but then not buying what they were selling.
In fact, it turns out this is a well-known principle of social psychology. Companies count on you feeling bad about not reciprocating the “favor” of a free sample in order to sell you more stuff.
Once I learned this, it became much easier for me to accept that free sample without the accompanying pang of guilt and burning need to somehow escape the judgmental gaze of everyone at the grocery store (I’m great fun in social situations).
Free HR software
The HR software solutions below are all free, and not in the “free sample” kind of way that will make you feel guilty after a limited trial. These are all free in perpetuity (though some are subject to a few limits) and many are especially good options for smaller and startup companies.
I’ve broken up the following 10 products between free/freemium (i.e. free up to a certain point) offerings and open source systems. Open source software is also free, but some open source programs may require a bigger time investment or some knowledge of programming to make them run. They’re sorted by category, then alphabetically.
This freemium product is free for up to three users, but caps off data storage for free accounts at 500 MB (versus 3 to 10 GB for upgraded accounts). The free version also doesn’t offer phone support or full access to mobile apps.
Apptivo is organized as a suite of cloud-based “apps” rather than a single software product, which gives it a lot of flexibility, and allows users to mix and match for the functionality they need. With HR apps for employee information, recruitment, vacation tracking, and team communication, it’s easy to build a basic HR tool for most needs.
On the other hand, Apptivo isn’t built specifically as an HR tool; it covers a lot of other business disciplines such as customer relationship management, financials, project management, and marketing. That means it’s not quite as specialized for HR managers, and may be missing some functionality like training and performance appraisal.
A couple years old now, this free tool is nevertheless stripped-down and focused on essentials. Leave management, employee self-service, and payroll processing are all included in the system. Available as a free, online solution, HR.my is run and updated by Chrysanth Software, a company based in Malaysia that continuously adds new features and updates to the software.
Development of HR.my is continuous and responsive, and user suggestions are implemented frequently. Additionally, the tool is likely to stay free forever, as it seems to be used primarily to drive interest and traffic to some of the developer’s other, paid tools.
While it is web-based, the look-and-feel of the tool is a little dated, so if aesthetics is your thing it might not be a perfect fit. Additionally, the focus on Malaysia may limit some of the functionality, especially from a payroll perspective, for users in other countries.
A time tracking/scheduling software, teamdeck is straightforward and in-depth. The scheduling is deeper than many scheduling programs I’ve seen, allowing managers to assign specific types of work or tasks, and to observe what projects a team member is working on at a certain time. This is great for exacting types of work, or for managers with a micromanaging streak.
Teamdeck is free for up to six users.
Like to get way up in the nitty-gritty of what your employees are up to? You’re going to love teamdeck. If that’s not your jam, you’ll likely be more frustrated or annoyed by the extreme specifics. Users also report few software integration options.
A terrible oversight kept Zenefits off the first version of this list, but it’s one of the most popular free HR systems out there. Zenefits’ core system is totally free, and includes benefits administration, employee self-service, onboarding and offboarding, and lots more. The company makes money if you decide to manage your benefits through its software, and they get paid by the benefits companies directly. Zenefits also offers optional paid modules.
Beware: not all states allow Zenefits to be free! Get a specific quote to be sure.
Zenefits is one of the most full-featured, free HR products on the market, and with millions in venture-backing has been able to build a really cool, clean tool. Its business model also means the system is likely to remain free forever, no matter what size team you have.
Some users say it can be challenging to perform certain tasks in the software, like creating organizational charts or pulling employee health data.
5. Zoho People
Zoho is a large, established company, and its HR offering reflects that with its polished look and feel, and functionality that includes time tracking, leave management, and employee information and self-service.
That said, the free version is feature-limited and doesn’t include some more advanced features, and storage is limited to 250 MB.
Open source HR software
iceHRm offers both a hosted version (which is free for up to five employees, and starts at $2 per employee per month after that) and the ability to host your own instance by downloading the source code for free.
With one of the more modern user interfaces among the open source contenders, iceHRM comes across as eminently easy-to-use. It covers leave management, time and attendance tracking, employee information, and document upload, as well as the ability to download reports in .CSV format. Robust issue support also helps to make this a strong open source option.
However, as it’s aimed squarely at the smaller end of the market, it may not have the depth of functionality necessary for larger companies.
This open source tool is somewhat niche as it is focused primarily on leave and overtime management. However, within those areas, it includes leave and overtime request approvals, built-in reports, organizational structure design, and a calendar to see who’s in and who’s on vacation.
Jorani is a cleanly designed system that aims to do one thing, and one thing well. If you just need a free leave management and tracking tool, and can host it yourself, it’s a great option. But if you need other functionality, or a more full-featured and complex tool, Jorani may not be ideal for you.
This open source HR software has a paid, SaaS version, which comes with added support and hosting, as well as a free source code version that you can host yourself (the download link on the OrangeHRM website requires registration, but the source code can be downloaded on SourceForge without registering).
One of the most popular free HR software products, OrangeHRM is a modular system and also has a marketplace where you can purchase tailored modules and plugins.
With modules for everything from leave management and recruiting, to performance management and time and attendance tracking, there’s no denying that OrangeHRM is extremely comprehensive. An easy-to-use interface, and the ease with which it can be installed over a pre-existing LAMP stack, make OrangeHRM a good fit for any organization willing to invest the time and resources into hosting an open source HR application.
Some users have complained of poor support from Orange if you decide to pay for that option, however.
A crowd favorite of a lot of our commenters here on this post, Sentrifugo is an open source HRMS tool with all the features of larger, paid HR software suites. Sentrifugo offers performance appraisal, employee self-service, lots of built-in reports, leave management, time tracking, and recruiting/interview functionality.
If you need a solid, comprehensive HR tool, and have the tech savvy to handle an open-source installation, Sentrifugo definitely deserves a look. Many users have compared it to OrangeHRM as far as depth of functionality. That said, some users have also said Sentrifugo can be overly complex, given all the features and modules it offers.
We’ve mentioned Odoo before in our post on free and open source ERPs, but it’s worth an honorable mention here as well since it has such a robust HR module (including recruiting, expense management, performance appraisal, and time and attendance tracking). Odoo is free for one app and up to 50 users. Don’t let the fact that it’s more an ERP than a dedicated HR system stop you from taking a look.
More open source and free HR software?
Are there any great free or open source HR software products that I somehow missed in this list? Do you use any more role-specific free solutions, like a time tracking tool, which you think are worth mentioning?
Any suggestions for the best grocery stores to prowl for free samples?
Add them below in the comments!.
Want more awesome lists like this? Check out these articles:
- How to Make the Business Case for HR Software [Free Presentation Template] To help you make the case for any software you need.
- The Hidden Cost of Your Free ATS You should read this before you dive into any free software.
- The Performance Review You Should Be Doing (But Aren’t) How can you help people determine if a software is right for them?
Looking for Human Resource software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Human Resource software solutions.