You can lead a horse to water…

Helping employees to help themselves means making the case to workers
By JF Potvin
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/27/2005

The advantages of employee self service have been much touted — streamlined processes, cost savings and a reduced administrative burden on HR professionals. However, these are all benefits that accrue to the employer. What exactly do employees get out of performing these functions themselves?

The answer to this question is important. Unless employees buy in to the advantages of self service, any efforts to steer them in this direction will be largely futile.

As it is, there may be some resistance to self service. Hewitt research has determined that one of the following three factors is usually the main stumbling block to persuading employees to manage HR-related tasks on their own.


Employees may be afraid of technology. They may have little faith in self service tools or themselves. Even after they make their own changes or choices, they often want someone to confirm that the modification has gone through or that they’ve made an appropriate selection. This concern is less of a problem where employers offer a call centre either instead of or in addition to a web-based platform or interactive voice response (IVR) system.


Employees may not know that self service tools exist, or they may be unaware of how to use them or all they have to offer.

This is particularly true with web-based technology. It is essential for employers to implement an effective communication strategy to inform employees about the tools and demonstrate their capabilities. Tell employees what they’ll find, drive employees to the site and then take them through the tools.


Not all employees use a computer at work. Some do not have Internet access at home or work, and others — albeit an increasingly diminishing number — are not proficient at navigating the web. In this case, employers have to be very clear as to how employees can access self service tools. Solutions include Internet access from home, using an IVR system or providing computer kiosks in central work areas.

Empowering employees

Assuming initial technology barriers are overcome, employers face the challenge of not merely enabling employees to look after their own needs, but convincing them that they want to.

This requires organizations to fully communicate to employees the advantages of self service technology.

Perhaps the first step in convincing employees of the value of new technology is a matter of semantics. Instead of using “self service” to describe the tools available, a preferable term may be “self management.”

Today’s technology not only provides employees with the opportunity to perform administrative tasks, but also to make the best possible decisions for themselves. Rather than having employees view the move to self service as HR handing off some of its chores, a more effective message is that self management empowers employees to make changes and decisions at their convenience.

The empowerment message requires some context, however. Employers need to communicate their self management goals to employees, as well as identify the advantages to employees.

In addition, employers must clearly identify the channels employees are to use. Note that sometimes going from one system to another calls for transition management. For example, if an organization is moving to online benefits enrolment from paper enrolment, it may need to provide training classes, online tutorials or even a paper enrolment option the first year.

Enticing and pushing employees online

If a company wants to move its employees to self management, it must lead by example. Corporate policies, pay and benefits information, perhaps even job postings and work-life resources should be available through the self management tools rather than on paper. Instead of answering day-to-day questions themselves, HR personnel should direct employees to the site or call centre where they can find the answers on their own.

One challenge is that, if employees have little reason to use the self management tools more than once a year at benefits enrolment time, they won’t become familiar with the information that is available or be motivated to use it. Find reasons to direct employees to the site throughout the year by reminding them of what’s available and what’s new.

There are a number of examples of techniques that have proved successful in encouraging self management. A management consulting firm had a goal of achieving more than 70 per cent web enrolment in its benefits plan. It launched a comprehensive communication campaign, including periodic e-mail reminders, and achieved 82 per cent web enrolment.

An insurance company had a broader goal of moving all possible transactions to the web. Its HR staff was trained to direct employees to the web and encourage online enrolment. The end result: 98.5 per cent web enrolment.

When a utility company wanted to encourage visits to the web, it implemented a promotional campaign, including incentives and a special approach for senior management. Eighty-eight percent of pension transactions were performed on the web in the first week.

If a company is encouraging employees to access a web site as their primary self management tool, that site needs to be user-friendly and visually appealing.

Employees need to be able to navigate the site so as to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.

Sometimes resistance to employee self management comes not from the employees themselves, but from HR. Human resources professionals may honestly believe that employees aren’t ready for change or they may be worried about their own jobs with a move to employee self management. If the concern centres around employee willingness and ability, employers ought to consider surveying the workforce, holding focus groups or collecting input from managers. The next step is to take any required action — computer training, discounted home Internet access, even a computer purchase program.

However, if the real issue for HR personnel is their own job security, the employer needs to address this concern head on. Some HR staff may require retraining so that they can fill more strategic roles within their department.

Whatever the situation, employees need to hear consistent and encouraging messages from all sources in order to make a successful transition to a self management mentality. The point is not simply to get employees to use technology, but to help them to help themselves.

JF Potvin is Hewitt Associates’ Canadian outsourcing practice leader. For more information contact (416) 225-5001 or

10 ways to sell self service technology to employees


Online and IVR systems mean that employees can access their personal data, supportive educational materials and other company information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from home or office.


Not only can employees access their personal information immediately without having to wait for HR assistance, they can make changes to that data quickly and easily. Those changes are recorded instantaneously.

Ability to have family input:

With round-the-clock Internet access, employees can involve their spouses and other advisors in the decision-making process. This can be particularly useful when employees are making benefit choices or pension investment decisions.

Greater awareness of benefits:

A single site that provides a listing of all benefits, along with information and options, ensures that employees are aware of their total benefit package.

Increased appreciation of benefits:

Greater awareness of benefit programs often brings better appreciation of them. If personalized information — particularly a total rewards statement specific to the employee — is available, the employee can gain a greater sense of the true value of his or her benefits.

Timely information:

In addition to items particular to the company itself, employers can also post information that assists employees, i.e., RRSP contribution deadlines.

Improved communication with employer:

Self service tools can open the lines of communication between the employer and employees by providing a quick and easy way that employees can ask questions and the employer can provide answers.

More educated decision-making:

Self service technology may provide employees with additional reference materials or modeling tools to help them make informed decisions around their benefit selections and investment options.

Better customer experience, less frustration:

The ability to make changes and decisions on their own time, without having to wait for a response from HR, and to have those changes and decisions implemented immediately, can make for a much more positive experience.

Global access:

With Internet and phone access available around the world, employees can access web sites, IVR and call centres even if they’re out of the office.

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