The Benefits of Self-Service HR Management

Updated: September 17, 2007

Issue

Is your company still in the weeds dealing with basic HR administrative tasks like filing travel expenses or enrolling in health insurance or 401(k) benefits plans? Today's technology landscape offers a breadth of HRIS (Human Resource Information Systems) solutions, sometimes called HRMS (Human Resource Management Systems), most of which offer self-service capabilities that allow employees to handle many HR tasks themselves.

Self-service HR modules or employee portals have come to the fore over the last few years thanks to the ubiquity of the Web. With Internet access now a staple within companies and at most employees' homes, companies are switching to HR systems that not only automate many traditional processes, but also allow workers to file time and expense reports, enroll in benefits plans, manage their own personnel information, even participate in online employee reviews, all at their convenience. HR managers (and managers across other functional departments) also stand to benefit from such systems. Instead of digging out an employee's paper file, which might require physically connecting with an HR official, company managers with the appropriate security clearance can reference all information about an employee online from a single system, including personal information and job history.

Analysis

The principal driver for implementing an employee HR portal at most companies, small and large, is cost. Experts say reduced administrative costs, including the need for fewer HR personnel to handle administrative tasks, is a big motivator for companies to adopt HR portals. "By and large, the promise of self service that an HR portal can offer looks to be in the area of cost reduction," said Matthew Brown, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

According to a 2006 Forrester Employee Benefits News Survey, 40 percent of the 800 senior HR executives surveyed cited cost reduction as one of the more critical drivers behind their implementation of an employee self-service portal. The top features these portals offer, based on the Forrester survey results, are benefit summary descriptions (81 percent), employee benefit enrollment modification (68 percent), personnel information administration (65 percent), pension or 401(k) tools (54 percent), employee time reporting tools (39 percent) and pretax spending account management (29 percent). Of those surveyed, 77 percent cited employee convenience as a benefit from the portal, 55 percent said cost, resource or maintenance reductions were achieved, and 41 percent reported improved employee satisfaction.

Brown, however, remains skeptical about an HR portal's ability to improve employee productivity. "The company gets rid of the head count associated with HR administrative tasks, but the employees are then asked to absorb the burden of doing those tasks themselves," Brown said. "The question becomes, when are employees engaging in these activities — during the work day? Or are they encroaching on their own personal time on weekends or at night? My guess is it's the latter."

Nevertheless, self-service capabilities are fast becoming a staple of HRIS software. Leading providers, including Kronos, Kaba Workforce Solutions, SAP, Oracle Corporation , ADP Employease and The Ultimate Software Group , among others, offer self-service capabilities as a core function of their HRMS platforms.

At pharmaceuticals maker Sciele Pharma, offering self-service features as part of HR functions is an employee expectation, given the average age of its workforce. "This is the Internet generation — people expect to have this kind of information at their fingertips," said Mark Banks, Sciele's vice president of human resources. "If someone has a baby, they can put it into the system. They don't have to fill out paperwork and fill out forms. It's ease-of-use."

Next Steps

For more information on HRIS systems, check out our Buyer's Checklist: HRIS. Also, be sure to visit the HR Resource Center for in-depth research, community-contributed content and advice from Focus Experts on HR issues.

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