Self serve becomes a management tool

The self service revolution changed life for payroll and HR — and it’s far from over

Self service technology is starting to go beyond the transactional level to the more strategic and operational level, enabling supervisors and employees to behave proactively rather than reactively in meeting daily challenges.

Contingency scheduling, an emerging function in automated time and attendance systems, is being used in some organizations. With self service, supervisors can use their time and attendance systems to more easily determine the right replacements from within the organization (or from an approved source of replacement workers) to meet the functional needs of an absent employee’s position. They can shift and redistribute work based on the information provided in the system, which captures employee data that can range from skills and training completed, job levels and previous experience, to conditions posed by contract and union agreements.

When it comes to meeting the functional requirements of HR and payroll administration, organizations across Canada have opted for various service delivery models, dissimilar practices and diverse technological solutions.

Some organizations continue to support traditional service provisioning models, coupled with stand-alone technology for each functional silo such as separate functional groups and systems for payroll, benefits, pensions, compensation and HR.

Not surprisingly, in most cases, this results in excessive costs, inconsistent data and process issues, numerous hand-offs, additional data entry and processing delays. In some cases it also leads to issues with compliance and labour relations as employees are not always paid accurately and on time.

A study of about 60 mid- to large-sized employers conducted by the LeadingEdge Payroll Group in 2002 concluded that those organizations which have adopted integrated HR administrative practices and systems have better benchmarking results than those that have not.

The study showed that those that have implemented single-window service delivery approaches to handling all payroll and HR events, coupled with embracing self service technology, are more likely to yield sizeable economies of scope and scale through lower costs per transaction and staff full-time equivalent ratios.

More importantly, those that have moved towards the new service delivery models have generally witnessed a better alignment with the organization’s business and HR objectives.

But among companies that have broken down their existing models and have moved towards more streamlined approaches and best practices, several have noted that this did involve significant change management efforts and issues. Getting people who have been involved in both payroll and HR administration for many years to give up functional ownership and to change the way they’ve always done things is no easy chore. So much so that certain companies facing that resistance-to-change syndrome have now begun to seriously look outside the organization for other service delivery alternatives such as outsourcing.

But outsourcing is not necessarily the right answer for every organization. In certain organizations it has worked extremely well. In others it has fared poorly. It is crucial to remember that outsourcing doesn’t mean abdication of management responsibility nor does it work well as a knee-jerk reaction by a company in trouble. Furthermore, outsourcing should not replace one dissatisfaction with another.

Regardless of whether outsourcing or an in-house solution is chosen, one thing is certain: most executives, HR leaders and line managers have recognized a need to reduce the emphasis on “transactional” HR activities, such as payroll and benefits, that take significant time and are often considered overly bureaucratic.

Some HR departments spend the bulk of their time devoted to administrative tasks such as employee benefits administration, researching policies and answering routine questions. As such there is a growing need in this era of rationalization and competitiveness to improve organizational performance, address customer requirements and improve accountability by focusing on results, service levels, quality, compliance and customer satisfaction.

Unfortunately some HR and payroll practitioners have failed to recognize that value should be defined by the receiver — as opposed to being defined by the provider — of the services. There has been too much emphasis placed by practitioners on what is being done today (for example, trying to perfect the existing models) as opposed to taking an in-depth and overall look at what is being delivered. When was the last time HR asked employees or retirees if they were happy with the services being delivered, whether they believed there was value in the services provided or if the service delivery method was appropriate or even needed?

When value creation becomes the focus of HR and payroll-related work, it’s important to realize that different delivery models are possible. These can range from employee self service and manager self service models to the more traditional in-person advisory and consultative model. More employees and managers are craving increased self service capabilities while others simply view self service as being totally depersonalized.

With the latter, the ongoing challenge for HR and payroll practitioners will be to demonstrate the shift from valuing the in-person contact, especially when it relates solely to administration and transactional activities, to valuing more efficient, timely and quality services.

Self service comes in different shapes and sizes. The ongoing technology innovations in the various permutations of payroll and HR management systems are expanding self service capabilities. A growing number of employers have established websites to allow employees to self conduct many of the HR and payroll-related transactions that in the past have taken lots of paper, time and effort to transact. In theory, these websites become virtual HR and payroll departments that are open around the clock.

A sampling of events and transactions include:

•the complete input of time and attendance at the source by the source (including manager and supervisor electronic approval through automated workflow);

•employee recruitment (including applicant tracking, handling of the entire hire-on process and payroll and benefit transactions);

•access to e-forms, such as beneficiary designations and TD1s;

•electronic pay statements;

•online changes to addresses, work location, emergency contacts and voluntary deductions;

•tax modelling when RRSP contributions change or other data is adjusted (such as additional dependents or relocation);

•online pensions estimates, statements and pension modelling; and

•real-time benefit statements, including the ability to enroll and re-enroll, plus “what-if” modelling tools.

Organizations need to get a firm grasp on, and understand the value of, new service delivery models and enabling self service technology. Many organizations are just beginning to tap into how self service — a proven dynamic in the workplace — can benefit employee relations, customer service and operational efficiency.

Ian J. Mise is president and chief executive officer of LeadingEdge Payroll Group Inc., a firm specializing in HR and payroll administrative best practices and benchmarking. He can be reached at (416) 848-6899, (888) 729-3342 ext. 228 or [email protected].

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