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Employee Self Service

Nancy Anheier, SPHR, Sharyle Doherty

December 2000


Human Resource managers are constantly being challenged to increase efficiency and provide better employee services. One dramatic way HR managers have responded to this challenge is by deploying Web-based solutions that offer employee self service giving the entire workforce immediate access to critical information, helping to attract and retain the highest quality employees, and enabling more effective communication across the organization. Recent industry surveys demonstrate significant jumps in the implementation of employee self service applications during the year 2000 and aggressive plans for 2001.

What is Employee Self Service?

Employee Self Service (ESS) is a combination of technology and organizational change that enables users to interact directly with their human resource data to inquire, review and act upon transactions in the workplace. This human resource technology is known as employee self service, manager self service, or employee direct-access systems. ESS promises a "paperless" office, streamlined business processes, and the elimination of "administrivia" for human resource staff because employees and managers conduct basic transactions via computer that were formerly completed on paper forms and then processed by HR staff.

There are several types of self-service applications: Interactive Voice Response, Internet and intranet. In this paper, we focus on web-based self-service via a company intranet or the Internet.

ESS creates a single, secure repository for confidential HR information and processes. It provides an easy-to-navigate environment that is accessible by all employees, regardless of where they are located 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Access rights for each employee are established by HR and are typically determined by the employee's position in the company organizational hierarchy, department, and key job functions.

What Features are Usually Used?

You can break down all human resource functions into four basic categories: organizational administration, human resource, benefits and payroll. Within each category, various functions can be performed "on demand" by employees using ESS.

Organizational Administration Human Resource Benefits Payroll
Forms Request Personal Information Maintenance Benefits Inquiry Time & Labor Reporting
Employment Verification Emergency Contacts Benefits (medical, dental, etc.) Enrollment Duplicate W-2
Corporate Policies Dependent/Beneficiaries Maintenance Flexible Spending Account Selections Federal and State Exemption Maintenance
Corporate Communications (newsletter, survey, annual report, company calendar, announcements, etc.) Job Postings & Applications Primary Care Physician Selections Direct Deposit Set-up and Maintenance
Employee Directory (searchable by department) Employee Development (training and skills improvement Retirement Plan Transactions Electronic Pay Statement Inquiry
Organizational Chart (embedded pictures)   Summary Plan Descriptions Paid Time Off Inquiry and Request
    Stock Purchase Plan Transactions  

Self service includes a range of administrative services (employee communications, benefit services, and personal data updates for employees), management productivity services (employee change actions, salary actions and approvals) and recruitment-oriented applications (job postings and job requisitions for managers).

When a company implements ESS, HR may choose to give employees the ability to view and update information. The ability to update information is dependent upon two factors: a) if the information is the employee's own personal information and/or b) if the employee is given management rights. Otherwise, the employee will have the ability to view the data only. Additionally, managers can be granted the right to view and update information about their employees and to perform manager-specific tasks.

Self Service User Information Action
Employee Personal data (address & phone numbers) View and Update
Employee Emergency Contacts View and Update
Employee Education and Skills View and Update
Employee Licenses and certifications View and Update
Employee Direct Deposit View and Update
Employee Federal and State Withholding View and Update
Employee Memberships View and Update
Employee Voluntary Self-Identification View and Update
Employee Benefits View and Update
Employee Electronic Pay Statement View
Employee Job Openings & Applications View and Submit
Employee/Manager Vacation Eligibility View and Update
Employee/Manager Training Schedule View and Enroll
Employee/Manager Employee Handbook View
Employee/Manager Employee Directory View
Employee/Manager Organizational Chart View
Employee/Manager Announcements View and Update
Employee/Manager Electronic Time Sheets View and Update
Employee/Manager Expense Reporting View and Update
Manager Job Requisitions Submit and Approve
Manager Transfers and Promotions View and Update
Manager Terminations View and Update
Manager Performance Appraisals View and Update
Manager Personnel Changes (salary, merit increases, etc.) View and Update
Manager Policy and Procedure Handbook View
Manager Performance Reports View
Manager Salary Reports View
Manager Compensation History View

According to The Hunter Group 2000 Human Resources Self Service Survey, the leading applications for employee, manager, and strategic self service in use today are:

Employee Self Service Applications
  • Personal data maintenance
  • Employee communications
  • Benefits inquiry
  • Open enrollment
  • Family status changes
  • 401k/pension inquiry
Manager Self Service Applications
  • Management reports (e.g. headcount)
  • Employee change actions
  • Time card approvals
  • Leave of action management
  • Travel and expense management
  • Leave management
Strategic Self Service Applications
  • Job posting review (Employee)
  • Job requisitions (Manager)
  • Job applications (Employee)
  • Salary actions (Manager)
  • Staff development (Manager)

Accessing Employee Self Service: Intranet or Internet?

A company can provide access to employee self service in two ways, via intranet or Intranet. With a corporate intranet, employees access the self service features from computers connected to a computer network within the company. Access from the "outside" world is not permitted. Concerns about intruders (commonly known as hackers) are diminished. Employees with desktop or laptop computers can use self service at their desks. In companies where employees do not have computers, computer kiosks can be set up in convenient locations and shared by employees.

If a company chooses to open access via the Internet, employees can access self service from anywhere in the world by using a computer, a browser and a phone line connection to the Internet. Companies with employees geographically dispersed in one country or in many countries find this to be an economical way to communicate with their employees. Typically, these companies use a "firewall" to prevent intruders from accessing the rest of the computer network. When establishing access via the Internet, many companies also implement security protocols such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to encrypt and protect confidential data.

Benefits: Saving Costs and Improving Employee Satisfaction

Regardless of whether employees access self service via a corporate intranet or the Internet, the benefits are the same. The benefits of implementing employee self service fall into three categories: cost savings, cost avoidance, and revenue generation. In terms of cost savings, the primary gain is in reduced costs for delivering human resource and payroll services to employees. When employees have access to self service, they are able to answer many questions independently, thus lowering the number of phone calls to the HR and payroll departments. When employees and managers are able to update information online, less money is spent on paper forms. Because employee information is captured electronically and sent to the appropriate approver or database, less time is spent processing employee transactions. There is no rekeying of data from paper forms.

A prime example of hard savings is demonstrated by the move to electronic pay statements where employees no longer receive paper direct deposit advice statements. At companies such as Southern California Edison, employees can view and print their pay statements via self service as soon as the payroll has been posted. Not only do these companies cut out the time and cost of printing direct deposit advice statements, they also say goodbye to stuffing and mailing envelopes with the attendant postage costs. Employees have quicker access to their pay statements and do not need to worry about losing the document. By using self service, they can print a new pay statement on demand.

In the area of cost avoidance, HR departments can provide satisfactory service to more employees without increasing department headcount. The Hunter Group 2000 HR Survey found companies with successful self service implementations reported a staff-to-employee ratio of 1:151 while companies without self service had a ratio of 1:99. In addition, employees experience improved quality of service. Access to information is available to all employees, whether local, remote, or international 24x7. Self service is speedier than interoffice or US mail. The potential to update information online is key. Who better than the employee to update his or her personal data correctly? HR managers can rest easier knowing the information in their databases will have a higher degree of accuracy than ever before. When managers can submit new hires, salary increases, and performance reviews and have them routed automatically to the appropriate HR manager for approval, transactions are processed faster than paper-based systems.

A third area of benefits to consider is revenue generation. Companies are beginning to establish their employee self service systems as a portal, or doorway, to other products and services. For example, a company might sign up with and place a link to on their ESS web site. Whenever an employee "clicks through" to and purchases a book, the company would receive a small percentage of the price.

Finally, employee and manager self service results in a key benefit for the HR department. For years, HR managers have expressed the desire to play a strategic role in corporate operations but have been bogged down by compliance and clerical work. With self service handling much of the administrative transaction processing, the HR team is free to focus on issues of strategic importance for the company.

Where Can a Company Obtain Employee Self Service Software?

Companies have several options for obtaining employee self service software. The table below identifies the options and potential advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

Option Advantage Disadvantage
Vendors who sell HR &/or payroll systems with ESS Integrated with HR &/or payroll database May not offer desired functionality
Vendors who sell ESS systems only Depth of functionality, "best of breed" approach Not integrated with HR, payroll, or other systems
Vendors who sell highly specialized software (e.g. benefits education & enrollment) Rich functionality in a single area Not integrated with HR, payroll or other systems
Develop in house Built specifically to a company's needs Software development may not be a core competency Resulting system may not keep up with latest innovations.
Hire a consulting firm to develop Built specifically to a company's needs May be most expensive option Ongoing maintenance may be an issue
Application Service Provider (ASP) Minimal initial investment Quick start up May not offer desired functionality Not integrated with HR, payroll, or other systems Complete dependence on Internet connection

Where to Learn More About Employee Self Service

The following sources of information can help you learn more about employee self service.

  • SHRM annual conference - educational sessions and exhibit hall
  • State or local annual conferences - educational sessions and exhibit hall
  • Other HR technology conferences - educational sessions and exhibit hall
  • IHRIM Online Products and Services Directory - free to members (non-members may subscribe for $175) at Searchable directory with information on 2,800 HR technology products and services.


The Hunter Group 2000 Human Resources Self Service Study

"HR Express" - an ESS Case Study at Southern California Edison, Christine De Natale, IHRIM.Link, August/September 2000.

Thanks to Sharyle Doherty and Nancy Anheier, SPHR of the SHRM Technology Management Committee for contributing this article. It is intended as information only and is not a substitute for legal or professional advice.

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