Employee self-service: how far to go before you go too far

There has been a strong trend in employee tools for a long time now: self-service, which allows employees to do things themselves that used to require going through an intermediary. It actually makes their life easier until it makes it harder.

Self-service and consumerization of the enterprise

Self-service is an excellent example of what I call the consumerization of the enterprise. Employees are looking for uses in their work that are comparable to what they experience in their personal lives as customers or users, and this will inevitably be offered to them in the more or less long term.

The arrival in the company of “webized” tools and accessible via a browser has indeed made it simple and as the web has disintermediated many tasks of our personal life it will do so at work.

Examples: make an appointment or a reservation at a restaurant online instead of having to call, pay your bill online instead of sending a check by mail, do a formality online instead of going to an administration…

At work, it started imperceptibly with the possibility of easily reserving a room and planning meetings in the agendas. Then in a more perceptible way, we were able to place a leave without having to fill in a form that we gave to HR, submit our expense reports, make purchase requests….

In general, self-service has saved employees time in their interactions with support functions in general, starting with HR.

Self-service can be counterproductive

The other day I was shopping in a store near my home and the staff suggested to the customers to go through the automatic checkouts. This is a feature I particularly appreciate when I’m not very loaded and I want to save time, but it’s uncomfortable when my cart is very loaded.

And in fact, one customer said out loud what many are thinking: “since we are doing your work, we should be entitled to a discount!”

This is a perfect illustration of the ambivalence of self-service. Ordering online to pick up your purchases at the store or going through an automatic cash register when you only have a few products yes. An automatic checkout when you have a lot of products no.

And the same thing will happen at work.

At some point, the question will arise as to what saves employees time and what wastes it. Between what will be experienced as a service or as an additional burden.

The use case of the employee self-service

In all cases the employee is asked to do a job that should have been done by someone else. But in some cases it is acceptable and even appreciated, in the other name. Knowing where the boundary lies is essential to determine the “right” use cases for employee self service.

It is quite simple. The trade-off is between two levels. First, between the time taken and the time saved. Secondly, between the fact that the employee saves time for himself or for others.

Let’s take the case of leaves. For the employee, applying for leave online can be faster than filling out a paper form, avoids having to hand it in to HR and allows for a quicker response. For HR, it saves time in processing and tracking leave and serves as an intermediary when validation is not their responsibility but depends on the manager. Everyone wins.

But self-service offers support functions the opportunity to improve their productivity…. at the expense of others. Make the client of a process work, often on administrative tasks, to save time on their side. A legitimate attitude when we know that these functions are often under-staffed and that doing so allows them to save time and focus on tasks with higher added value, but when this is done at the expense of operational people who are the production system of the company, it is done at the expense of the business.

How support functions optimize their productivity at the expense of the business

I will take the example of two HR processes which are training requests and interviews.

There are e-learning courses in complete self-service (they can be found in an online catalog, or they are proposed to us, we choose them and follow them online) which are the perfect example of the ideal device.

And we have trainings that are requested online and then undergo a validation process to lead to a more traditional training. I’ve seen cases where the employee or manager has to fill out a long questionnaire and 80% of the answers are already contained somewhere in other systems. They logically think that this information is already available to HR and that they only need to fill it in themselves, that it is not their job to find and provide it!

The same goes for appraisal interviews when they are dematerialized and result in a form filled in by the manager or the manager and the employee. Here again, I have seen, in addition to the purely interview-related subjects, others concerning, for example, the number of training courses taken during the year, the number of days of leave taken, etc., which the manager wastes a lot of time documenting, even though this information is already available on the HR side!

Of course we would prefer the tools to be better integrated and to talk to each other rather than asking people to do this useless data entry work but in the meantime this work must be done and it must be decided who!

On the other hand, systems that allow a new employee to provide documents online before being hired to feed into HR systems (bank details, address, social security number, etc.) are well received because this information does not currently exist in the HRIS. But this should be the one and only time they should be asked for their information.

Sometimes self-service is a necessary evil

In an ideal world, self-service should not penalize productive functions to the advantage of support functions, but in reality it is not as simple as that.

Sometimes shifting the workload of support functions to employees is the least bad solution. This is the case when there is not enough staff on the support side and having them handle certain tasks would lead to a bottleneck in the department in question. At this point, deferring these tasks to the employee is the best way to ensure that what needs to be done is done in the short term and to make everyone contribute to the overall smooth running of the company.

In the medium and long term, it is well known that support functions cannot grow infinitely and that the solution lies in better integration of tools and in the automation of tasks. But one must understand the importance of this and decide to do it.

Image : self service by Ongkan via Shutterstock

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
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