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Updated Apr 01, 2024

What Is Employee Self-Service?

ESS portals in HR software empower employees to manage their HR-related tasks efficiently, from accessing payroll information to requesting time off.

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Written By: Sean PeekSenior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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If routine employee inquiries are taking up a large portion of your human resources (HR) department’s time and resources, you may want to consider implementing HR self-service tools. Most highly rated human resources software platforms have some type of employee self-service options. Employee self-service (ESS) enables team members to handle a lot of HR-related tasks on their own, without having to go through the HR department. Here’s what you need to know about ESS.

What is employee self-service (ESS)?

ESS is a self-service portal that is included in a lot of HR and human resources information system (HRIS) software. It allows employees to access and change basic information without going through the HR department, though approval may be required for certain actions. It also lets them review things like their employee benefits, payroll details and schedules.

10 features of employee self-service

Specific features of employee self-service will vary by each software. Regardless of which program is used, however, ESS software can improve the productivity and efficiency of the HR department. Here are some common features of ESS software.

1. Personal data

Employees can easily update their personal data, including contact information, mailing address and bank account information, without submitting paperwork to the HR department. However, HR approval may be required to finalize some of these changes.

2. Employee onboarding

Many ESS programs allow new hires to submit relevant documentation and access onboarding documents. HR departments can then easily see who has viewed and completed which information, and then update their records accordingly.

3. Payroll data

ESS allows employees to easily access important payroll information. They can find previous pay stubs, tax withholding details and time off accrued. 

Did You Know?Did you know
Some ESS systems may also allow employees to request changes directly through the portal, such as tax withholding or direct deposit changes.

4. Timekeeping logs

Some ESS systems integrate with timeclocks, allowing employees to easily keep track of their hours or days worked. This is especially useful for staff members who clock in and out each day. This feature also typically tracks accrued time off, including sick time, vacation days and other types of leave. [Read related article: The Best Time and Attendance Services] 

5. Benefits

Some self-service software allows employees to review their current benefits or even enroll in certain benefits during open enrollment or after a qualifying life event. For example, an employee might log on to the self-service portal to select a health insurance plan after getting married.

6. Training programs

Companies that offer online or on-demand training can integrate it with their ESS system. Users can easily log in to access the necessary coursework and submit post-training assessments, while HR departments can monitor which employees have completed their training.

7. Scheduling

ESS can streamline the scheduling process. When staff members input their availability, ESS software can help organize that information to create, distribute and change schedules. Self-service portals with this functionality often allow managers and supervisors to communicate with employees directly on the platform.

8. Wellness surveys

Monitoring employee wellness is a great way to promote motivation and engagement, as well as to address problems as they arise. Sending out wellness surveys through ESS allows employees to submit these surveys on their own time, rather than being put on the spot to answer questions or having to fit the survey into their workday. This information is then made available to HR for analysis, allowing them to quickly get a picture of employee health and course-correct where necessary.

9. Performance management

ESS can also streamline the performance review and management process. Rather than rely on memory or sort through employee files each quarter, supervisors and their employees alike can submit forms directly on the platform and then access those documents at any time.

10. PTO requests

Some systems allow employees to request time off for vacations or other types of leave, assuming they have enough PTO “banked” in the system. The HR department can quickly approve or deny the request, while the employee can easily check the status of their request.

What are the benefits of ESS?

With myriad features to suit every type of business, ESS offers significant advantages for both employees and business owners.


One of the biggest benefits of ESS is efficiency. When employees can access and enter their own information and requests, it takes some of the burden off of the HR department. ESS reduces the need to enter information twice (once from employees and once from HR) as well as the likelihood of data entry errors. These errors can be eliminated as early as the job application phase if the ESS system is utilized for job candidates.

ESS also reduces bottlenecks and streamlines operations. HR professionals can easily get bogged down in navigating scheduling problems, manually submitting time-off requests and fielding questions about benefits. Payroll departments may face similar issues, being solely responsible for addressing issues related to pay stubs and time worked. Implementing ESS can significantly streamline these processes by allowing staff to access all pertinent information in one centralized location.


Another prime benefit of ESS is accessibility. Since most ESS software is cloud-based, staff can access their portal from any device with an internet connection. This is especially beneficial for businesses with multiple office locations, as well as for staff who travel frequently or work from home, as key employee information can be viewed without having to log in to a company computer.

Additionally, employees can access and update pertinent information at any time. If employees have questions or need to review information after hours, they no longer have to wait for the office to open or for someone to answer an email; they can simply check the portal themselves. 

FYIDid you know
For companies that allow employees to file expense reports, ESS streamlines the process by letting users upload receipts and manage expenses at their convenience.

“Anything that can be accomplished on demand these days is an asset, as we all struggle to align flexible schedules, different time zones and more,” said Stephen Kohler, CEO and founder of Audira Labs. “It’s even better if employees do not need to wait for someone in the office to solve their pressing issue.”

Employee empowerment

Finally, ESS can go a long way in empowering your team. With ESS, your employees have direct access to and more control over their information. They no longer need to go to HR to make PTO requests, access their time logs or update their withholding information. They can quickly update this information themselves and go about their day, saving them valuable time and allowing them to focus their energies on their responsibilities.

In addition to offering more control over personal information, ESS empowers employees to take charge of their career trajectory. Self-service portals can be used for performance appraisals, which can encourage employees to reference them and strive to improve their performance. For ESS software that posts information about training and advancement, users can choose to take action and capitalize on any opportunities that arise. This allows them to gain more autonomy over their careers and seek training that suits their desired trajectory.

Together, these effects tend to increase employee satisfaction and engagement. Engaged employees are typically more productive and less likely to leave the company, which helps reduce employee turnover while also increasing the value of your current team.

What are the drawbacks of ESS?

While ESS can be very helpful, there are a few potential downsides:

It can be technologically challenging.

Many ESS programs can integrate with other software and equipment. However, setting up and maintaining these systems can be technologically challenging, especially if information comes from multiple sources. If employees are not tech-savvy, error rates in personnel records may also increase, and with less human oversight, these mistakes may go unnoticed. To reduce the technological burden of ESS, it can be beneficial to seek out self-service software that has options for customer support.

TipBottom line
Choosing ESS software that’s too complex may leave your employees confused and seeking assistance. For these systems to be effective, prioritize ease of use by focusing on an intuitive design with user-friendly features.

You could encounter legal issues.

HR departments must be aware of and remain in compliance with various regulations and laws; ESS is no exception. Each state has its own requirements for employers with respect to the information they must provide. Companies must comply with these requirements and make it easy for their workers to access what they need.

System maintenance can increase administrative burden.

While one upside of ESS is reducing administrative burden, that burden can manifest in other ways, including system maintenance. As with any technology, issues can arise – from login problems to a system crash – and someone will need to solve those situations so employees can access their information. Again, customer support can be a helpful tool in reducing this administrative burden.

In addition to ESS, it is wise to have an alternate plan in case of system problems. This may include having backups of pertinent information and channels to contact the HR department directly.

“A human option is always appreciated if a tool fails to satisfy a need,” Kohler said.

It’s a significant time investment upfront.

Though ESS tends to save time in the long term, you’ll have to invest more time at the beginning to see those time savings later. It takes time (and money) to implement a self-service system, especially if you need to upgrade your technology to support it. Staff will also need to be trained on navigating and troubleshooting the system before you can expect them to use it effectively.

This is an especially important consideration if employees will not be using the system often, you have a minimal number of employees or you have a limited time frame to set up ESS. However, if your team will use the system regularly and your company can make the investment, ESS can transform your team’s HRIS experience.

The best HR software with employee self-service

ESS portals can encourage staff to manage HR tasks like time-off requests and personal information updates, allowing HR teams to prioritize other strategic initiatives. Check out some of our top choices for HR software below.

Paychex Flex

If you have a remote team, navigating HR tasks can be challenging if you don’t have the correct software. This is where Paychex Flex stands out, ensuring compliance with federal regulations and offering a robust platform adaptable for various team sizes. With an easy-to-use dashboard, third-party integrations, mobile accessibility and customizable metrics, this platform is a great choice for accommodating the needs of a remote workforce. Read more in our Paychex Flex review.


Rippling is a highly user-friendly HR software option, offering IT automation, intuitive navigation, extensive app integration and other customizable features. This platform streamlines HR processes like applicant tracking, payroll, benefits and compliance training. With an intuitive dashboard and mobile accessibility, Rippling simplifies tasks for HR staff and employees and seamlessly integrates with various third-party apps. You can learn more about its features with our Rippling review.


GoCo excels in custom workflows for HR software due to its flexible automation – especially in onboarding, performance reviews and termination processes. It streamlines HR responsibilities, ensures legal compliance and offers payroll flexibility. Through workflow automation, you can simplify tasks like onboarding, performance tracking and exit procedures all while offering ESS features and an easy setup for payroll. Learn more about additional features in our full GoCo review.

Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

author image
Written By: Sean PeekSenior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek co-founded and self-funded a small business that's grown to include more than a dozen dedicated team members. Over the years, he's become adept at navigating the intricacies of bootstrapping a new business, overseeing day-to-day operations, utilizing process automation to increase efficiencies and cut costs, and leading a small workforce. This journey has afforded him a profound understanding of the B2B landscape and the critical challenges business owners face as they start and grow their enterprises today. In addition to running his own business, Peek shares his firsthand experiences and vast knowledge to support fellow entrepreneurs, offering guidance on everything from business software to marketing strategies to HR management. In fact, his expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur, Inc. and Forbes and with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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