This article is part of a larger series on Time & Attendance.
An HR employee self-service portal is a web page that employers and employees can use to access HR documents and data. An HR employee self-service portal lets your employees find their own information online and thus saves HR staff and managers time from answering routine questions. These portals typically cost $1-15 per employee per month.
How an Employee Self-service Portal Works
An HR self-service portal is a feature of HR software that allows for manager or employee self-service via webpage or dashboard. Employers use it as a dashboard to keep track of employee information for new hires, benefits enrollment, and payroll processing. It’s a standard part of HR software providing an all in one view. The best kind of HR portal gives employees access to their own data as well.
For example, instead of having your employees call you to find out how much paid time off (PTO) they have left, or to get copies of their pay stubs, an HR portal with employee self-service can show this information to the employee directly. It uses security settings to provide only the information you want an employee to see.
For instance, you may want employees to be able to view and update forms, enroll in benefits, and download year-end W-2 or 1099 tax documents. You may want managers to see a list of their direct-report employees, time worked and leave requests, but not let them see employee benefits enrollment docs or beneficiary information. An HR employee self-service portal can make it easier for both employees and their managers.
Who Employee Self-service Is Best For
An HR portal is best for any business that wants to save time by giving their managers and employees access to employee data while restricting access to confidential information. Any growing business can benefit by putting employee HR and payroll data online where employees and managers can access it.
Here are common business examples illustrating when an HR portal is useful:
- Restaurants, retail, and service firms: Manager self-service helps managers streamline shift scheduling with employee availability and employee contact information online
- Business with remote teams: A self-service portal eliminates the need to mail forms back and forth with off-site employees; everything can be done online via e-signature
- Companies with field workers: An employee self-service portal often has mobile features allowing employees to see when paychecks have deposited, or to notify managers when sick
- Small businesses that don’t have a dedicated HR resource: Many of the common questions employees have about employment or benefits can be found using self-service
Offering an HR portal is fast becoming an industry best practice. Providing one that gives your managers and team members direct access to their own data saves you time and reduces team member frustration. With an HR portal in place, employees no longer have to contact you directly to find out whether they can take time off, reprint a benefits card, or request that you add a new baby to their health insurance plan.
HR Self-service Portal Costs
HR Portals range from $1 per month, per employee for basic employee information and leave tracking to more than $15 per month, per employee for advanced features like benefits enrollment, training, and performance management. Employee self-service portals that manage payroll are in the $5 to $6 per month, per employee range and often include self-service onboarding and HR data for that price.
In addition to those basic monthly fees, there are several other costs to consider.
Employee Self-service Software
HR Software that has an HR portal feature can start as low as $1 per month with vendors like Zoho People offering limited functionality. If you want HR, benefits, and payroll, you’ll pay more for a vendor like Gusto that costs $39 per month plus a $6 per month employee fee. Larger payroll vendors like Paychex and ADP also provide these employee self-service features but may cost twice as much.
Setup Costs for an HR Portal
Most software-as-a-service (SaaS), doesn’t charge a setup fee, but some vendors like ADP, Namely, and Paycor do. Set up fees tend to cost $500 and up, depending on the vendor.
Some may be willing to lower or waive the setup fee if you agree to a long-term contract.
Consulting Fees for an HR Portal
Consulting is optional and depends mostly on your level of HR expertise. If you haven’t got an HR manager on staff, you may want to pay an HR consultant to help you configure your HR software portal, including setting up the security roles for you. That can cost $125 to $200 per hour for four or more hours, depending on the size of your company.
Training Your Employees to Use Self-service Tools
Training is another cost that’s easy to overlook. At a minimum, you’ll need to provide your employees with a login ID and instructions. However, to ensure you get the value out of your HR portal, it’s best to provide an introductory training session to teach employees how to sign in and how to access their data. The only real cost is your time and the cost of your employees’ time away from work.
For most portals, a training session of 30 to 60 minutes should suffice and will pay off by increasing the likelihood that your employees will reference the portal before contacting you with questions.
In fact, if you consider what it would cost to hire a full-time HR staff member at upwards of $50,000 per year, using an HR portal is a smart choice for a small business. Your time is valuable, and each time you’re interrupted to answer an employee’s HR question, it takes away from time you could be spending growing your business. Time is money; thus an HR portal is an investment that saves you time.
Employee Self-service Portal Options
The good news is that you don’t have to build an HR portal from scratch. When you purchase SaaS HR software, it typically comes with an employee self-service option that they may refer to as a portal or dashboard. In any case, you can add your employees and set up the security to indicate who can see what data.
There are several places you can find an HR portal as part of an existing software package.
1. HR Software
HR software is great for any company that reaches a threshold of about 10 employees. That’s because managing employee forms and files starts to get complex at that point. Having an HR portal baked into your HR software allows you to send employees forms to e-sign and provides a space to store them online. Many self-service portals can interface with your existing payroll software.
Documents like the employee’s offer letter, benefits enrollment forms, and signed employee handbook can be completed and viewed online in an HR portal. That saves you time from answering questions like, “What holidays do we get paid for?” or “What’s my medical co-pay?”. Here is an article showcasing our Best HR software recommendations to help you find one with a portal that meets your employees’ needs.
If you need HR software to manage forms and paperwork, as well as track employee leave and time worked, look no farther than Zoho People. Zoho People is free for businesses with five or fewer employees and starts at only $1 per month per employee after that.
2. Payroll Software
Payroll software is best for small businesses looking for an all-in-one tool to manage their payroll and give employees a self-service dashboard. Payroll software often contains HR functionality and an HR portal so that employees can view their own pay stubs and tax forms. Many traditional payroll companies like ADP offer other HR functions like employee benefits and workers’ compensation insurance, so it’s worth checking with your existing payroll provider to see if they have an HR portal option.
Otherwise, newer cloud-based payroll providers like Zenefits and Gusto offer HR portals for your employees as well as an HR dashboard for you and your managers to view relevant employee information all in one place. Most provide role-based security so that the portal shows only the information you want the employee or manager to view. Here are our top payroll provider recommendations.
If you’re looking for payroll software to streamline your back office HR function, Gusto is our top pick. That’s because, for half the price of big-name payroll providers, Gusto offers an HR portal, payroll processing, and benefits options. The price starts at $39 month plus $6 per employee and ensures that your staff has the information they need at their fingertips.
3. Timekeeping Software
Some time and attendance software like When I Work offers an HR portal in the form of a dashboard that allows you and your managers to schedule employees, forecast labor and wages, and address attendance issues. That’s best for businesses that manage part-time and shift workers. Employees then use a mobile app to sign in, request leave or find their next scheduled shift. If time tracking and employee scheduling are the main features you’re looking for, time and attendance software may contain all the HR portal features you need.
We recommend When I Work as time and attendance software that provides a dashboard for managers to use and keep track of employee schedules and time off in one place. Employee scheduling is free if your business has fewer than 75 employees, and it provides robust communication options to help you stay in touch with your staff.
4. Workforce Management Software
Business like restaurants and retail stores may need employees to have access to a self-service dashboard or HR portal to indicate when they can work and to request time off. Many of those workforce management applications have an HR portal built in, providing additional options like manager and peer communications.
We recommend Homebase as best for brick-and-mortar business as it provides its software free for an unlimited number of employees who work in one physical location. In addition, it integrates with affordable HR and payroll software like Gusto so that you end up with a low-cost two-for-one solution that can pass data on time worked directly into your payroll software.
Employee Self-service Portal Features
An HR portal should allow managers and employees to easily access basic data like employee contact information along with HR-related information like benefits enrollment, payroll, training and performance reviews.
When evaluating an employee portal for your small business, consider the following criteria:
- Price: Your HR portal should be affordable. Instead of creating something from scratch for thousands of dollars, you can use SaaS HR software costing between $1 to $15 per month, per user
- Ease of use: Your HR portal should be easy for employees to use; single sign-on or integration with G Suite makes it more likely that employees will access the online HR portal
- Self-service: What good is an HR portal if it only provides a dashboard for you or your HR rep? HR portals need to be self-service so that employees can find their own answers online
- Role-based security: Role-based security ensures that managers and employees see only information they have a right to view; an HR portal lets you set users up based on those roles
- Mobile access: Your HR portal and the data stored within should be viewable to employees who are off-site, which means it should include a mobile app or have a mobile optimized website
- Secure: HR portal data is often of a confidential nature; therefore, whatever HR portal you set up needs to protect employee information as well as your business info, such as your org chart
- Document storage: An HR portal should store custom forms and documents, in addition to HR data so that employees can find, view, download and submit documents as needed
- e-Signature: The best HR portals are set up to allow employees and managers to e-sign documents from offer letters to time off requests and performance reviews, which saves time
- Workflow: Some HR portals are set up with workflow, to allow, for example, an employee to initiate a change, such as getting married, that’s then followed up on by HR, by sending out a benefits or beneficiary change form; workflow ensures that key HR process steps aren’t missed
Pros & Cons of an HR Self-service Portal
On the plus side, an HR portal is a tool that you invest in to support your employees and save time. On the downside, it can be expensive to set up and requires someone to manage it. Here is a summary of the pros and cons to help you discern if setting up an HR portal is right for your business.
Pros of an HR Portal
Here are some of the many benefits of an HR portal:
- Improved employee experience: Employees like to be able to access information when they want it ― maybe even while at home; a portal gives them control
- Time saver: Employees using an HR portal are less likely to contact you with common HR questions, such as where to find a form or employee handbook
- One-stop shop: You can store all relevant employee data in one place on an HR portal, instead of searching through files for documents and employee information
- Fewer paper files: You can eventually eliminate paper files altogether, saving storage space and getting rid of those ugly industrial file cabinets
- Up-to-date information: Data in an HR portal can be tagged by date so that you never again pull up the wrong employee address or submit outdated benefits paperwork
Cons of an HR Portal
There are a few gotchas when you set up an HR portal:
- Cost: You typically pay for an HR portal based on the number of users who have access; prices range from $1 to $15 per month, per employee and some have set up fees
- Maintaining accuracy: Once you decide to host data for employee self-service, you’ve got to ensure it’s up to date, which requires maintenance and accurate data entry
- Discoverable: Similar to paper employee personnel files, everything in your HR portal is discoverable in case of a lawsuit; make sure nothing in your portal violates labor law
- Security: It’s on you to ensure employee health data, contact information and bank accounts aren’t compromised; security is critical if you host this data on an HR portal
Here are alternatives to an HR portal online. Some options are less expensive, but also provide fewer options for security and are not as easy to use.
Alternatives to an HR Portal
One of the alternatives to an HR portal has been around for centuries: paper files. You can secure them with a lock and key. However, you then have to have a person unlock the files each time you, your manager or an employee requests information. Fortunately, newer alternatives may make it possible for you to provide some employee information online for less cost than an HR portal.
Paper or Electronic Files
You can use paper documentation, such as posting all your policies in an employee handbook for employees to reference. You can also store that information in a secure network drive or on G Suite, and then password-protect specific folders or documents.
This alternative may work fine until you start to approach the 50 employee mark when you need to manage health benefit offerings and abide by labor laws like the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). In addition, it’s likely the filing structure may confuse employees, who will then contact you, or HR to obtain the information, policies or forms they need.
Project Management Software
Project management software like Insightly, Monday, or Trello can often be repurposed to set up information for employees to access similar to an HR portal. Of course, you’ll need to do more work to set up the security functions and restrict who can view documents. They typically can store forms, documents, and even provide workflow and tasks so that HR actions, such as your new hire process and forms can be managed in one place.
Online Collaboration Software
Online collaboration software like Slack is a newer tool that can give your employees access to both shared information, and information that can only be viewed by a subset of individuals such as you and their manager. However, reconfiguring online collaboration tools to work as an HR portal may take some planning and implementation time. In addition, it’s not likely to have the security features you need, so you’d still need to password protect folders or documents stored elsewhere.
Professional Employer Organization
Some small businesses are looking for a way to streamline HR and employee information, without ever realizing that professional employer organizations (PEOs) exist to do just that. When you work with a PEO, you’ll likely be giving your employees access to an HR portal as part of the PEO service.
It costs a bit more, upwards of $79 per month, per employee, but a PEO is a great alternative for small businesses that want to give their employees the look and feel of working for a larger corporation, complete with benefits, employee discounts, and a self-service HR portal. If you’re interested in working with a PEO, here’s our buyers’ guide showcasing the best PEOs for small business.
If you want to give your employees the experience of working for a Fortune 100 company, consider using a PEO like Justworks that can provide your employees with a full range of benefits in addition to providing a portal for them to access their HR and payroll data.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About an Employee Self-service Portal
Here are some questions small business owners might consider before setting up an HR portal.
Isn’t an HR Portal the Same as an Employee Intranet?
An intranet refers to a website that’s typically for internal use only. In that sense, it can include whatever kind of data and documents you want, and you can set up security to limit access to what employees see based on job role or other factors. It’s possible to set up your intranet to serve as an HR portal.
However, an HR portal is much more than an intranet in that it typically includes HR specific information that employees need to access, such as company policies in an employee handbook or forms like expense reports. In addition, most HR portals provided by HR or payroll cloud-based software give employees access to their own information and let them make online changes, such as to increase their 401(k) contribution or add a new baby to their health plan.
What If Someone Quits and Still Has Access to the HR Portal?
If you launch an HR portal, you’ll also need to set up procedures for what to do when an employee is hired, quits, is fired, or changes job roles or supervisors. That way, you ensure the employee has access to the correct features and menus within the portal.
For example, a terminated employee may need to retain access to their 401(k) balance and year-end W-2s. Most HR software accounts for these job changes in the security features. Of course, if you don’t want terminated employees to have any access to your portal, you’ll need to set up your security procedures to revoke their access upon termination as part of offboarding.
Can a Contract Worker Have Access to an Employee Portal?
The good news is that you can set up access to an employee portal in a way that meets your business needs, including giving contract workers access to a limited view. As long as you provide the user with a login ID, they should be able to view data in the system. However, you may want your contract workers to have different access than direct-hire employees or managers.
For example, you’ll want contract workers to have access to their payment history, work agreements and work schedule. However, you may not want them to see employee benefits they’re not entitled to or request leave in the same way as direct-hire employees. These security options can often be set up using the role-based security features of an HR portal.
The Bottom Line
An HR portal is a great investment even for the smallest of businesses because it helps you standardize your business practices and save time. Your limited bandwidth as a business owner is supplemented by providing employees with a self-service tool that they can use to input their work hours, request time off, check their benefits, view their pay stubs and more.