Self-Service Human Resources:
Empower Your Employees; Benefit Your Organization
By Jim Greenhaus
Business owners and human resource professionals alike have turned to the Internet to administer employee benefits programs more productively, decreasing paperwork while increasing efficiency and accuracy. It's a logical extension, then, that managers are now introducing web-based, self-service systems to their employees.
Self-service systems allow employees to complete a number of HR-related tasks at their own convenience, empowering them to take an active role in their own benefits administration and offering them immediate, personalized communication.
Employers of all sizes also benefit. Self-service systems help eliminate paperwork related to HR processing, increase accuracy and efficiency, and reduce costs. In a 2000 survey conducted by the Hunter Group, more than 90 percent of the 342 companies surveyed reported successful or somewhat successful self-service implementations.
While self-service is not a new concept, web technology has made it more affordable, less complex and easier to implement on a broad basis than was previously possible with the more cumbersome client/server systems. In addition, more employees now have access to the Internet either at their workplace or at home, compared to the more limited access they formerly experienced in the workplace.
In the past, self-service was limited primarily to information updates via the Internet - items such as job postings or company policies and procedures. Today, advanced automated tasks include such HR transactions as benefits enrollment, entry and updates of personal data records, online company surveys and time input.
How can employers decide if they, and their employees, are ready for Web-based, self-service HR? The first step is to understand the benefits and applications of self-service HR systems, and then identify which processes are most appropriate for their organization to implement.
The Benefits of Self-Service HR
Self-service transactions provide a number of advantages for employers and their employees:
- Improved internal communication and responsiveness: Self-service systems take internal communication to a new level, providing immediate, customized information to employees. A basic system allows employees to access a back-end database that provides employee-specific data in response to user inquiries. Examples include providing information about vacation balances, current benefits coverage, and work schedules.
Self-service systems increase information sharing among departments, managers, and employees. With a point and a click, HR managers can communicate benefit or policy changes to all who are affected.
- Increased timeliness and accuracy: In a study conducted by HR consultants Towers Perrin, most of the responding businesses said the implementation of web HR transactions affected timeliness in a positive manner. Among HR departments that allowed employees to make family status changes over the web, 100 percent said that timeliness improved, 38 percent said accuracy improved and 50 percent said the HR department's workload decreased.
- Improved focus on core business: The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that small businesses administering their own employee benefits programs spend at least seven percent and up to 25 percent of their time on HR matters, typically at the expense of their core business functions. By reducing the amount of time spent on administrative duties, business owners and managers can free themselves to concentrate on profitability rather than administration.
- Reduced costs: By significantly reducing the number of phone calls and e-mails coming into the benefits or payroll departments, self-service systems can have a notable impact on staffing as well as on the administrative expenses of printing and distributing paper documents. The flip side of that coin, however, is that most employers would be required to invest in new technologies in order to implement self-service systems. In fact, International Data Center predicts that strategic HR will be one of the fastest-growing segments of the IT industry over the next few years as companies realize the potential of new technologies in increasing productivity and the effectiveness of the HR function. That surge has already begun, as HR-related IT investment grew from $360 million in 1995 to $1.2 billion in 2000, with no sign of abating.
New browser-based HR portal technologies make self-service transactions possible. The starting point is a Web-based HR home page, accessible to all employees. While not necessary, an HR Information Portal - a set of applications that provide users a single gateway to customized and personalized information - enhances self-service capabilities. Such a portal easily presents information from both employer and vendor sources.
Utilizing this type of technology, employers can offer a variety of Web-based, self-service options. The most common choices are benefits inquiries and management applications, including open enrollment, 401(k), and pension plan services.
Employees desire applications that allow them to see and manage their own information about benefits, payroll deductions and career changes. Also popular is the ability to access online career training and paycheck services.
Payroll-related services of this sort began with web-based payroll Direct Deposit services, such as that offered by National Payment Corporation. Now, it is possible for employers to offer their employees a truly paperless payroll, providing employees with an e-mail on payday containing a link to the web site so they can view or print out their pay and deduction details. An additional benefit to employees of this system is the ability to review not only current pay period information, but also historical data.
By eliminating the traditional paper stub and delivering an electronic pay stub to employees via the Internet, employers eliminate the risk of lost paychecks or pay stubs, as well as the need to hand-deliver pay stubs to employees. This is an especially beneficial application for employers with employees in remote locations, who can now receive immediate advice of payroll information.
Is It Right for You?
To determine whether self service is right for your organization, consider the following:
- Which HR functions require the majority of time to administer?
- Why are these functions so time consuming? Are there too many forms to complete? Do they require a notarized or witnessed signature? Are the materials time-sensitive? Do they require approval or input by several advisors?
- How would a web-based, self-service program enable your staff to perform these tasks more efficiently, accurately and in a timelier manner?
To assess the different software and technology available, consult directories issued by objective organizations such as the International Association of Human Resources Management and Society of Human Resources Management. You may also consider hiring an HR consultant who is familiar with the products and services available on the market and how they would best complement your existing systems.
Whatever your review and decision-making process, rest assured you are on the right track. The investment you make in streamlining your HR processes should pay great dividends both in employee satisfaction and greater operational efficiency - two factors that have a significant impact on your bottom line.
Jim Greenhaus is vice president, marketing & sales, for National Payment Corporation, the nation's largest independent provider of payroll Direct Deposit services for small and mid-sized businesses. The Tampa, Fla.-based company, a pioneer in cost-effective Internet-based payroll Direct Deposit services, now processes more than $1 billion per year on behalf of its clients and has recently introduced EZStub, an electronic pay stub that provides customers with the final element of the paperless payroll.