When employees have moments of doubt about their pay, paid time off (PTO) or benefits, they typically turn to human resources for assistance. HR practitioners are then forced to focus on administrative details that hinder their ability to play more strategic roles in their organization.

Employee self-service (ESS), an available feature with many human capital management (HCM) systems, is a potential solution to this problem. It saves time, increases efficiency and improves the employee experience. Mobile apps have further accelerated self-service, making it easy for employees to access data wherever they are and on whatever device they use most.

What is employee self-service?

As the name suggests, an employee self-service system is a software feature that allows employees to access their personal information and perform many HR-related functions, such as enrolling in benefits. The accounts and login credentials are unique to each user, and the system may be accessed at any time, even when employees are not at work. ESS is also sometimes referred to as an employee portal.

Employee uses self-service features on the ADP mobile app to check pay.].

Employee self-service benefits

ESS benefits employers, their company and their managers and employees. Here’s a closer look at each:


Giving employees direct control over their employment information helps create positive work cultures. Workers may feel more connected to their organization and happier and more productive in their jobs.


Employee self-service gives employers confidence that their people are maximizing their productivity. For instance, workers can access information and perform job-related functions without manager involvement. Self-service also makes it easy for employees to switch from paper paychecks to direct deposit or a pay card, both of which can help reduce the employer’s payroll costs.


With ESS, employees have more autonomy and flexibility to manage their personal information, benefits and payroll choices. They can access their account whenever they want to request time off, view their pay statements, complete open enrollment and much more. They may even begin the onboarding process and complete new hire paperwork before their first day on the job, saving valuable time.


Self-service portals help managers better support their teams. They can quickly and easily view employee profiles, contact information, work schedules and job history. Additionally, they can perform common managerial tasks, such as granting time-off requests, revising team schedules, approving and editing time cards, and tracking and managing employee goals.

Challenges with implementing employee self-service

While employee self-service can save time and improve productivity, it also presents some challenges, particularly with adopting ESS and confidentiality.

ESS adoption

Many organizations have had software solutions end up as “shelfware,” meaning end users didn’t understand or use it. To improve adoption, employers can test self-service with a small group of users and gather their feedback before introducing it to the entire organization. Involving employees early on helps make self-service portals more user-friendly and decreases resistance to new procedures.

Once ESS is ready for a company-wide rollout, employers should stress its benefits to employees. They can use web-based videos for this purpose or educate managers and have them train their direct reports.

Usability also increases adoption rates, so it’s essential to have enough IT support available to correct any glitches that occur during rollout quickly. Once people become frustrated with an application, persuading them to use it again is often difficult.


Employers offering self-service may need to restrict employee access to certain files to maintain confidentiality and protect anonymity. For example, sensitive information, like former employer reference checks or disciplinary investigations, might be off-limits. The records accessible should be purely factual and not contain commentary or unfounded allegations. Before establishing ESS policies, employers should check all relevant state and local government regulations.

What features do ESS systems have?

Employee self-service has a wide range of applications, including but not limited to the following:

Employee self-service payroll

  • View pay statements
  • Access financial and tax information
  • Manage direct deposit
  • View pay card balances and transactions

Time and attendance

  • Clock in and out
  • Edit team schedules
  • Update, submit and approve hours worked
  • Review paid time off (PTO) balances
  • Submit and approve PTO requests


  • Complete annual open enrollment
  • View deductions per pay period and employer contributions
  • Check retirement account balances and rates of return
  • View information by category of benefit, plan type and coverage level
  • View and change the status of benefits dependents

Employee data

  • Enter and revise contact information
  • Retrieve a forgotten user ID
  • Change login credentials

Company information

  • Browse the latest company news
  • Learn about employer-sponsored events
  • Access a centralized employee contact list

How can businesses improve their ESS capabilities?

Employers can enhance ESS with data and artificial intelligence (AI) to proactively resolve common HR issues before they become more significant problems. ADP Assist, for example, proactively nudges employees to address issues with their timesheets, pay, benefits enrollment and more without the involvement of an HR representative.

The tool also streamlines daily workflows and personalizes the employee experience. Employees can ask ADP Assist to answer questions about PTO balances, tax forms and company policies – all from the ADP mobile app or the MyADP web application.

Frequently asked questions about employee self-service

Can employees enroll in benefits via ESS?

ESS generally supports annual open enrollment. Employees may be able to choose their benefits, edit their selections and view relevant information, such as coverage levels, effective dates, deductions per pay period and employer contributions.

Can employees report qualifying life events to request benefit enrollment changes?

Employees may be able to add or remove dependents from their benefits coverage, or report a life-changing event, e.g., the birth of a new child or a dependent entering the United States, via ESS.

Can employees update their own bank and tax information?

Through an ESS portal, employees may be able to access their pay statements and their annual Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. They can also usually update their bank information for direct deposit purposes.

Is there a mobile app?

Providers of employee self-service software today commonly have mobile applications so that employees can view information and perform tasks whenever and wherever they want. This functionality enhances the user experience, saves time and improves productivity.

Can employees submit expense reports?

Employees who incur job-related expenses may be able to submit them for reimbursement using self-service applications.

Can employees request time off via self-service?

ESS time and attendance usually allows employees to view PTO balances and request time off. Their managers can then use the portal to approve or deny the requests and adjust employee work schedules as needed.

What self-service resources can employers make available to employees?

Depending on their payroll and HCM providers, employers may be able to offer their employees the following self-service capabilities:

  • View payroll and tax information
  • Set up and manage direct deposit
  • View and select benefits
  • Update personal information
  • Clock in and out and submit timecards
  • View PTO balances and request time off
  • Access company news and directories

Can employees complete self-paced training?

Employees often complete self-service training and professional development through an online learning management system. Their managers may be able to track their progress through the various courses available.

Is employee self-service an added cost?

The purchase price of an HR system of record typically includes all-in-one employee self-service functionality for HR, payroll, benefits, etc.

This article is intended to be used as a starting point in analyzing the employee self-service definition and is not a comprehensive resource of requirements. It offers practical information concerning the subject matter and is provided with the understanding that ADP is not rendering legal or tax advice or other professional services.

ADP Editorial Team

ADP Editorial Team The ADP editorial team is comprised of human resource professionals with extensive experience solving complex HR challenges for businesses of all sizes.