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The Evolution of Employee Self-Service and Where It's Headed Now

Posted by EmployeeChannel on 11.2.2016

employee self service

There are few technology innovations more instrumental to the modern HR organization than Employee Self-Service (or ESS).

In a nutshell, ESS enables employees to manage benefits, payroll, and other HR-related tasks and information on their own, without engaging their HR team.

Digital self-service technology has allowed the Human Resource function to reduce the paper pushing and time-consuming administration of days gone by, enabling the rise of a more strategic business unit. HR can now focus on performance management, recruiting, company culture, and an array of other responsibilities that help move the business forward. Organizations using self-service technology see ROI in HR productivity gains, a decreased reliance on outsourced service providers, a decline in human error, and a drop in printing costs.

Employee self-service promotes employee empowerment by providing staff with tools to act independently and make their own decisions. An employee can be in control of his or her data and accomplish standard tasks (such as enrolling in a healthcare plan or contributing to a retirement plan) much faster and with far greater ease than previously possible. This has improved the overall employee experience. 

Employee self-service has fundamentally changed the HR landscape for practitioners, employers, and the workforce. And the best part is that there’s even more to come!

In part one of this two-part series, we’ll explore the history of Employee Self-Service and the many purposes it serves in the modern, digital workforce. 

A Brief History of Employee Self-Service Technology

Employee self-service systems appeared first in the early 1990s, and by 2000, around 15% of organizations had implemented some form of the technology. This group of early adopters included the likes of Pfizer, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard.

Cedar’s 2002 Human Resources Self Service/Portal Survey featured a case study outlining Dell’s experience implementing the new technology. Dell’s entry into a self-service HR system environment began in 1997, starting with benefits enrollment, and eventually bringing on more functions. They found that “a company gets more ‘bang for its buck’ from implementing manager, rather than employee, self-service transactions. If there must be a choice or prioritization, then MSS should come first, but usually a company can do both.” 

In other words, this new technology was adopted in greater part for the benefit of managers, not employees, and the reduction of administrative costs. But ESS was one of those rare solutions that directly benefited managers, employees, and the organization at large. It was a win-win-win that spread like wildfire through the enteprise market and beyond.

By 2005, 50% of organizations had adopted employee self-service. 10 years later, adoption was at 90%. Within 20 years, employee self-service had become ubiquitous in global business, an impressive feat that can be attributed in some part to the rise of cloud technology. As Cedar reported last year, the “new conversation is about the Enterprise HR Cloud”—organizations are more comfortable moving information systems to the cloud and have an abundance of offerings to choose from. It is easier (and more affordable) than ever before to adopt ESS platforms. 

The Many Forms of ESS

Self-service technology can take many forms in the contemporary workplace. 

The most common self-service environments are Intranet portals, HRIS, HRMS, and HCM systems. (ESS systems like these are sometimes blended with process automation, such as filing for PTO, but can exist on their own as an informational resource for employees, like an HR Knowledge Base.) 

Kiosks are another widely used form of employee self-service, but not always as user-friendly. Kiosks are useful for non-desk workers, or those without a corporate email or corporate-issued computer, but they do require travel to the kiosk and are not available in an employee’s moment of need. 

Interactive Voice Response, or IVR, is another self-service technology worth mentioning. Employees can gain information or perform routine tasks by calling an HR hotline and navigating through a series of recorded questions. But, just as consumers are increasingly weary of the robotic call center experience, employees also prefer a personalized touch. IVR is an old school approach and losing ground amongst the plethora of digital tools and resources available.

ESS tools can also be highly specialized, focusing on just one area of the employee lifecycle or HR management. ESS SaaS platforms now exist for onboarding, expense reporting, benefits education and enrollment, employee communication, rewards and recognition, learning and development, referral programs, and a host of others. The sky is the limit!

Next Up: The future of Employee Self Service technology.

image attribution: Garagestock / Shutterstock

Human Resources Today