Employee self-service portals can improve employee engagement and give employees more autonomy. Here's a look at how IT can optimize these platforms and avoid the pitfalls.

Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data

September 6, 2022

5 Min Read
yellow office self-service coffee machine
Taissiya Assanova via Alamy Stock Photos

On the corporate intranet, an employee self-service portal can be used for many purposes.

The portal allows employees to check their HR and health care benefits online, and to even enroll in or change them. There are online training opportunities and offers for participation on internal projects employees might be interested in. Employees also have a first shot at job openings before these jobs are opened to the public.

The goal of self-service is to empower employees by giving them ways to invest in their own career development, collaborate with others within the company, and access or modify their work-related benefits or payroll information. Employee self-service portals are also intended to ease workloads for administrators in HR or other departments in the company that will no longer have to personally assist employees in areas that become self-service.

Self-service portals have been a hit. Employees like the idea of being able to check on their accumulated vacation days or change their health care benefit packages or payroll information on their own. In most cases, they can do this at work or at home.

However, there are drawbacks to self-service portals, too.

How can IT do its best in developing and supporting an employee self-service portal that succeeds in meeting employee needs, while also avoiding the pitfalls?

What Works Best for Self-Service Portals

In most enterprises, employee self-service portals are directed toward HR.

There are reasons for this.

HR is a relatively static area. Information on company policies, training programs, employee records and benefits, etc., doesn’t constantly change on daily basis. This makes it easier to maintain currency of content.

On the IT side, some workloads can be reduced, too. IT must still install the portal, integrate applications into the portal, and provide support, but it is the end user’s (often HR) responsibility to keep online content updated.

Companies have found that by focusing on HR, and topics that are related to it such as training, employee feedback to the company, and internal job and project placement options, that they now have a platform to drive employee engagement with other employees and with the company itself.

Examples of what an employee self-service portal can do include:

  • An appliance company wanted to encourage innovation among its employees. It did this by listing various R&D projects and proofs of concept that it wanted to do, and then published the list on the employee portal. The company found that employees who normally would not have been considered for these projects applied for them and became valuable contributors. This company discovered hidden talent gems that it didn't know that it had.

  • Another approach that companies have taken to boost employee morale and discourage attrition is to post open positions throughout the company on an internal job board. These postings go out to internal employees before they are listed in the public job market, giving employees “first shots” at internal job opportunities.

  • In one company, IT filled several internal positions with employees from finance and marketing who had proven analytic and programming skills. The employees were happy, and IT was able to fill positions without having to go to the open market.

Focusing on the Trouble Areas

Implementing a company self-service portal for internal employees also brings about workflow changes, so employees must be trained into the new process.

Some employees will be immediately comfortable with managing their own benefits and payroll choices, etc., but for others, adapting to change will take longer. They might need initial assistance from HR or IT.

IT and HR must also concur on usage policies and employee security measures. As part of the new employee orientation process, portal policies must be communicated and the appropriate security credentials for employees using the portal must be issued. HR and IT must also agree to offboarding policies and procedures for when employees leave the company.

Another issue is that employees using portal self-service are likely to make more errors than trained administrators will. A prime example is choosing the wrong healthcare benefit, and then having to undo it.

Finally, companies should consider how many employees will have access to a corporate-wide self-service portal. A trucker in the field or an assembly worker in a factory may not have access. For these employees, it might still be necessary to handle HR and other portal-related communications the traditional way.

What IT Can Do

IT’s work begins by successfully installing the self-service portal, ensuring that the portal is properly integrated with applications, and that security is robust.

Policies and procedures that address employee security and usage guidelines for portal access and usage should also be worked out and documented by HR and IT.

IT itself should plan to leverage the portal for its own benefit. One way it can do this is by advertising internal job openings in IT, which is one of the most popular departments that employees like to move to. In this way, IT can address some of its labor shortages and in the process, discover “hidden gems” of talent that already are within the company.

Usage metrics should be tracked across the portal to see which areas of the portal are getting the most traffic, and which (if any) are stagnating. This assists portal content providers in determining the value of their content and how they can augment or improve it.

The last evaluative measure is value returned to the company. Is the portal empowering employees to do more for themselves and their careers? Is it assisting the company in filling open positions and reducing attrition?

The bottom line is always the value returned to the company.

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About the Author(s)

Mary E. Shacklett

President of Transworld Data

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm. Prior to founding her own company, she was Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturer in the semiconductor industry.

Mary has business experience in Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim. She has a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MA from the University of Southern California, where she taught for several years. She is listed in Who's Who Worldwide and in Who's Who in the Computer Industry.

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