Employee Self-Service: What It Is and How to Manage It

ESS platforms allow employees to have immediate access to HR information, update personal information, perform job-related tasks, and more.

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Technology is synonymous with on-demand information, products, and services. People can get what they need whenever they want, thanks to technological advancements. In the workplace, this capability is powered by employee self-service (ESS) platforms. When well managed, these platforms can empower workers, enhance their experience, and save employers time and money.

ESS can be especially beneficial to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) because of its time-saving and cost-reducing advantages. It allows HR managers, or staff with HR duties, to spend less time entering employee data, issuing policies and procedures, and administering benefits, and devote more time to recruitment, performance management, and data analysis.

ESS platforms allow employees to access HR-related information through a company intranet or web portal and perform such tasks as:

  • Logging work hours
  • Changing tax withholdings and deductions
  • Reviewing benefits and enrolling in plans
  • Managing insurance coverage
  • Updating contact information
  • Requesting personal time off
  • Checking and downloading personal payroll data
  • Accessing employee handbooks
  • Logging vacation and personal time
  • Changing retirement-plan investments

Origins of self-service

The term “self-service” dates back to 1917, when entrepreneur Clarence Saunders, developed the idea of a “self-service” grocery store. The United States Patent and Trademark Office granted him a patent that allowed customers to select grocery store items and bring them to the cashier on their own. Saunders’ patent made the Memphis-based Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain the nation’s first self-service grocery store. Since then, technology has transformed the entire retail industry.

Digital self-service and its benefits

87% believe ESS is the most efficient method of providing HR and payroll information.

Digital self-service means 24-hour access to goods, services, and information, to the satisfaction of today’s consumers. According to Microsoft’s 2015 Global State of Multi-channel Customer Service Report, 90% of consumers now expect organizations and brands to offer a self-service customer portal. About 3/4 of the consumers liked solving product or service issues on their own, whether merely tracking information or using chatbots powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

As expected, the digital self-service that consumers have been experiencing in their personal lives soon took hold in the workplace. Driving much of the digitization are time and money saving benefits for employers and convenience for workers.

Paycom Software, Inc., a cloud-based human capital management (HCM) software firm, issued a white paper on the pros and cons of ESS. The report, The Role of Self-Service Software: Get the Most Out of a Crucial Technology,” found that among the employers polled:

  • 87% believe ESS is the most efficient method of providing HR and payroll information.
  • The two most desired ESS features are user-friendliness and single-logon capability.
  • 43% of those offering ESS still use paper or emails for filling out certain forms.
  • Paper and email use dropped from 3/4 of respondents with ESS platforms to 1/4.
  • HR still enters 50% of their employees’ data in half the companies offering ESS.
  • 81% of HR respondents agree that ESS boosts employee engagement.
  • 41% cited employees’ data entry accuracy as a potential problem.
  • 50% believe that data entry by employees increases their accountability and lowers compliance risks in the process.

Prioritizing the digital employee experience 

ESS today is as much about creating a positive employee experience as it is about 24/7 access to HR information.

Employment experts and IT professionals agree that ESS today is as much about creating a positive employee experience as it is about 24/7 access to HR information. A study by Lakeside Software, found that CEOs and CHROs now realize how much of a priority employee experience is in the digital workspace.

Technical support teams are focusing on the digital employee experience (DEX), along with ESS’s technological functions and capabilities, according to tech-industry thought leaders.

In a quote for Kiosk Industry, Tom Kentish, IT manager at Essendant (USA), described how his office furniture wholesale company is helping employers improve DEX. We wanted to supply a dedicated endpoint that had an engaging attract screen and simple button-based options for ease of operation and user-friendliness.”

Poor quality DEX can be costly. As the Lakeside Software study revealed, digital malfunctions trigger production delays, which frustrate employees and deflate employers’ efforts to increase user engagement.

Low DEX levels also come with financial costs. C-suite level executives in the study claim that by improving DEX, they could lower their organizations’ costs by more than 18%.

Meeting the challenges 

The biggest challenge for employers is creating DEX that benefits all their employees. For example, many employees lack direct and immediate access to computers, especially shop-floor or field workers. Employers need to find ways to give as many workers as possible access to ESS. One possible solution for deskless employees is to install kiosks in common worksite areas.

Other major challenges for employers are:

  • Making sure multiple ESS channels, such as portals, retirement accounts, and various  program apps are integrated.
  • Training all employees on ESS use.
  • Upgrading the portal as necessary.
  • Finding appropriate ESS vendors.
  • Ensuring that current system components, upgrades, and add-ons are compatible.

Managing ESS effectively

ESS’s setup and maintenance require collaboration between HR and IT functions. Strategies and practices for making ESS easier to manage include:

  • Making the ESS portal easy for employees to find by integrating it with, and matching it to, the company’s website.
  • Simplifying the portal’s use by removing or hiding unnecessary features and grouping others.
  • Using function over aesthetics in designing the portal.
  • Avoiding complex, technical jargon in user instructions.
  • Combining channels whenever possible for greater efficiency.
  • Investing in search engine optimization (SEO) to bolster users’ searches.
  • Offering clearly written, relevant content and data (relevancy can be measured by the frequency of tasks and requests).
  • Including frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers in the content.
  • Integrating the portal’s front and back ends to ensure follow up on users’ requests and queries.
  • Collecting and analyzing user feedback.

According to Ivanti, an IT asset and service management software solutions firm, 80% of site visitors use only 20% of the content they find. Therefore, employers should place the percentage of content visitors use in highly visible areas on the portal.

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