Edu BlogJuly 22, 2022

What is employee self-service

What is employee self-service (ESS) and why does my business need it?

Back in the day, before the advent of human resource information systems, all information related to human resources had to be captured manually, usually by an HR professional specifically trained for the purpose. The same had to be done for payroll – either by a separate department or a third party.

Not only was the process laborious and time-consuming, but the margin for error was huge. As companies grew, so did the administrative load and it became increasingly difficult for human resource and payroll departments to manage employee data and administer salaries and benefits efficiently and accurately.

Enter employee self-service, also known as ESS, a system generally available to employees through the company intranet or web-based portal, and which is specifically geared to alleviating the administrative burden for HR and payroll by digitising and automating important tasks.

The portal enables employees and managers to interact quickly and easily with the various human resource and finance solutions in their organisation. The beauty of the system is that it can be accessed at any time, from any location, using any device. This means that for employees, the days of having to wait for the company to open for business, then travel to the building and wait again for a member of the HR department to be available to attend to their query, are over.

With ESS, employees are empowered to carry out various functions on their own, all of which saves valuable time for the HR and payroll department. Employees can communicate with the HR department at their convenience, taking care of their HR-related tasks and solving their problems on the go.

How is an ESS system used?

While each company’s ESS system is unique, depending on the organisation’s operational requirements, there are some features that are common to most ESS portals.

  • ESS systems enable employees to make updates to their personal information, such as address, contact information and banking details. Approval may be required in some instances, depending on how permissions have been allocated.
  • Employees can view and download their payslips and benefits information. Some systems also give employees access to scheduling and payroll information.
  • Employees can apply for leave via the ESS system and upload relevant supporting documentation where applicable, such as a doctor’s certificate for sick days taken. Their line manager can then approve the leave requests through the portal.
  • Expense claims can be submitted and approved through the ESS system.
  • Social media-style forums are a popular feature of ESS portals, as they allow employees to chat about any issues that arise, answer one another’s questions and workshop possible solutions to any problems they encounter.

Manager self-service 

As its name implies, an employee self-service system is primarily geared to employees, but there is also a manager self-service component which, if used effectively, can help to improve the company while making managers’ jobs easier.

Organisations can decide for themselves on the number and complexity of HR tasks that should be incorporated into the manager self-service system. These usually include day-to-day functions such as authorising leave requests and expense claims, but the approval of salary increases, promotions and transfers can also be added to the mix, as well as onboarding, performance management and succession planning.

Managers may initially be reluctant to take on tasks that were previously solely handled by HR, until they realise the benefits of having easier access to staff information and how this facilitates accurate reporting and in turn, quicker decision-making.

Ease of use is essential 

But while employee self-service portals can offer a myriad of features and be used in many different ways, all the potential benefits to the organisation will not be realised if the system is not intuitive and easy to use. Even if the information it contains is useful and up-to-date, if employees cannot find the answers they need quickly and easily they will soon become frustrated and lose trust in the system.

Training is key 

There is no doubt that an employee self-service system can positively transform the human resources function within a company, but only if the system is utilised successfully by both managers and employees.

Consequently, staff should receive comprehensive training on how to use the system effectively so that they can derive all the benefits the system has to offer. Managers must ensure that employees feel as comfortable using the ESS system as they do performing the job for which they have been hired.

Depending on the size of your company, and whether your employees
work remotely, at the office, or both, training could be in the form of face-to-face classes, video tutorials or user manuals.

Security is crucial 

Human resource and payroll departments deal with highly sensitive personal and financial information relating to all employees in the company. While allowing them to view, edit and manage this information holds numerous benefits, not only for the HR and payroll departments but the company as a whole, it is imperative that the ESS system incorporates robust security features that ensure user privacy and protect against data breaches.

South Africa’s data is governed by the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), which not only stipulates how and when someone else’s personal information can be legally processed, but also specifies how that information must be safeguarded and used.

Companies that fail to adhere to these regulations can be liable for a fine up to R10 million, ten years in prison, or both, depending on the seriousness of the offense.

Give employees a voice

Employee self-service systems are playing an integral role in making human resources and payroll departments more efficient and thus enhancing their stature in the organisation. As a result, human resource professionals are able to spend more time on strategic functions that are aligned to the organisation’s business objectives, rather than merely focus on administrative tasks.

Additionally, as companies grow it becomes increasingly difficult for employees to be heard as individuals in the organisation. Giving employees a ‘voice’ by enabling them to have control over their employment information through an ESS system helps to create a positive work culture, which in turn enhances productivity, reduces staff turnover and ultimately positively impacts the business bottom line.


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