Employee Self-Service Applications
by Christina Morfeld

Much to the dismay of Human Resources professionals worldwide, HR activities tend to be dominated by "administrivia" - paperwork, telephone inquiries, and drop-in visits. These demands often force HR staff members to be reactive - rather than proactive - in their pursuits. One benefit of implementing an employee self-service (ESS) application is that HR groups are freed up to play more strategic roles in their organizations.

Chances are, many of your processes are already automated: An employee completes a form - vacation request, beneficiary change, training registration, etc. - then that same information is entered into the appropriate database by HR. Multiply that by the number of HR transactions processed in a week, a month, a year... Quite a duplication of effort, isn't it?

An ESS, on the other hand, allows employees to make changes directly to the system. More importantly, employees are given the opportunity to explore "what if..." scenarios before committing to a change: What if I increase my payroll deductions? What if I switch insurance carriers? What if I use five vacation days? What if I select different mutual funds for my 401K? You get the picture.

Once an employee makes a change, his or her personnel record is updated instantaneously.

The types of transactions supported by ESS applications are almost limitless. Besides benefit and payroll issues, they can be used to automate procedures related to internal job postings, time and attendance reporting, and training enrollment, to name just a few.

In addition to transactional capabilities, ESS applications can provide employees with a wealth of useful information (hence the frequently-used term "knowledgebase"). An organization's plans, policies, and procedures are transformed into meaningful answers to its employees' inquiries. With the use of a search mechanism and/or site map, employees can easily locate the information they need. Once there, they have the option of "drilling down" to more specific information or jumping to linked pages that contain related information.

Two attributes of ESS applications make them especially powerful: (1) intuitive approach to the information and (2) personalization of content.

Employees oftentimes know exactly what they are looking for: Their co-pay amount, number of unused personal days or taxes withheld from last week's paycheck. Other times, however, an employee experiences something in his or her personal or professional life - marriage, birth of a child, serious illness, layoff, retirement, etc. - and is not aware of the steps that should be taken as a result. The "life event" approach characteristic of many ESS applications addresses this issue. By simply selecting his or her specific circumstances, the employee will be presented with a comprehensive "to do" list. This list, which is generally not limited to work-related tasks, is often supplemented with a directory of related resources and links to useful websites.

The information provided by the ESS is based on the employee's profile. If, for example, the details of a certain benefit are contingent upon the employee's status (part-time vs. full-time, salaried vs. hourly, active vs. leave of absence, staff vs. management, union vs. nonunion, etc.), the employee will have access to only that data which relates specifically to him or her.

These two characteristics of ESS applications - intuitiveness and personalization - provide employees with a level of knowledge rivaling that which results from a face-to-face meeting with an HR representative. Not only are their specific questions answered but issues not previously considered may also be brought to light.

Additional benefits of an ESS include:

  • All of an organization's information is in one place; the need to reference multiple documents and/or databases is eliminated.

  • Many ESS applications can be customized so that the interface matches that of an organization's corporate intranet; the transition from one system to the other will be seamless to the employee.

  • The information can easily be kept current; there is no longer a need to sift through the Employee Handbook and its fifteen addendums to find the most up-to-date policy on xyz.

  • The need to print and distribute paper-based manuals is eliminated; think of all the money that can be saved on postage!

  • The information is available 24x7 and anywhere that the employee has an Internet connection. This allows him or her to view and discuss options with family members prior to making decisions.

Some organizations, of course, have the information technology resources to build an ESS in-house. For those that do not, there are dozens of companies whose sole business is developing these knowledgebases.

Some ESS suppliers target organizations of a specific size; that is, their product may be better suited (and priced) for small companies or large ones. Other suppliers may offer multiple products, each designed with organizations of a particular size in mind. Suppliers may also differ in the depth of any needs analysis performed, the extent to which their product can be customized, the level and nature of assistance provided during implementation, and the availability of ongoing technical support once the system is installed.

It is, therefore, extremely important that you "do your homework" to identify the supplier and ESS product that best meets the needs - and budget - of your organization. When done right, the rewards can be tremendous!


Christina Morfeld is president of Affinity Business Communications, a provider of high-quality instructional design, technical writing, and content development solutions. Whether writing to instruct, inform, or persuade, our work is reader-focused, benefits-oriented, and results-driven. Contact us at 203-445-9964 or info@affinitybizcomm.com, or visit our website at http://www.affinitybizcomm.com to learn how we can increase your firm's sales and effectiveness!

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Copyright 2000-2003 Christina Morfeld and Affinity Business Communications, LLC.
Originally published by Suite101.com. All rights reserved.

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