How AI Is Transforming Employee Self-Service in 2021

AI Employee Self-Service

Improvements in employee engagement. Streamlined productivity. Instant access to employee data. These are all tangible benefits of employee self-service portals for HR, and employees have come to expect them. In 2018, Paychex documented a 16% increase over the previous two years in the number of employee online sessions that included a self-service action. Younger workers, especially, have come to expect better technology at work. That includes the opportunity to access work schedules, pay information, and benefits from their personal devices.

And that was before the pandemic sent millions of employees to work at home.

When COVID-19 disrupted daily work routines, remote access to HR information became an essential way to keep employees engaged, informed, and connected. Using a self-service portal, workers can access pay stubs, benefits information, time and attendance data, and time-off requests all from their phone or laptop. But access isn’t the only thing employees are looking for. They also want to interact with their workplace technology in ways that mirror the tech they use in everywhere else.

Enter AI.

For the past several years, AI has been making inroads into HCM self-service tools, and it has the potential to transform the employee experience. Here’s how you can use these tools to benefit your workforce. 

What Types of AI Are We Talking About for HR?

Some of the best innovations in AI for Human Resources are designed to improve communication and facilitate better human-tech interactions. Here are a few of the ways you might encounter AI in your HCM:

  • Chatbots – Ask a question, get directed to the answer – no searching involved. Chatbots can answer questions about HR policies, help employees find the information they’re looking for, or direct users to forms or applications.
  • Natural Language Processing – Natural language processing evaluates a user’s text-based entries. It is often used to evaluate answers to survey questions, process feedback, or analyze performance reviews. Some tools, like UKG’s AI and machine learning platform Xander, can assess employee engagement using sentiment analysis. This technology evaluates words and phrases that indicate an employee’s state of mind.
  • Machine Learning – As employees interact with the portal, machine learning tools become more efficient at delivering the information they are looking for. By using an employee’s interaction history and data usage, the algorithm delivers up better experiences over time.
  • Prescriptive Analytics – Like any analytics tool, prescriptive analytics technology collects and analyzes information. But then it moves a step farther to suggest actions based on predictive data. For example, it can analyze employee benefit selections that indicate a trend toward retirement to make future hiring and staffing recommendations.  

How Can AI Tools Improve Employee Self-Service Experiences?

Any AI tool must be understood and implemented within the context of human experiences. Prescriptive analytics, for example, is still in its early stages. Recommendations may require additional interpretation or evaluation based on the specifics of the scenario.

Still, AI-based self-service tools have the potential to impact employee experiences for the better. Let’s take a look at four ways both employees and HR can benefit.

  • Streamlining Tasks – When an employee needs a specific form or piece of information, they don’t want to waste time searching. AI-powered chatbots can reduce the amount of time needed for mundane tasks like this. Instead of scanning a lengthy list of documents, employees can use the chatbot to immediately locate the correct link.

    Here are some additional ways AI can help managers and employees make the most of their time:
    • Use chatbots to answer questions about check stubs, 401(k) information, benefits, and W-2 forms.
    • Suggest actions based on the employee’s role, employment status, or upcoming milestones (such as a performance review).
    • Personalize employee experiences using machine learning.
    • Detect anomalies in employee behavior or data so managers can reach out to them (for example, applying for internal job postings or taking several sick days).
    • Finding documents or forms through a chatbot.
  • Performance Reviews – Natural language processing tools like Xander can help employers gather more informative feedback from employees. This allows you to create nuanced questions rather than relying on the bare bones data of a standard Likert-scale survey. With AI, you still use technology to review and record employee data in these scenarios. At the same time, you can gain deeper insights into your employees’ experiences and state of mind.

    You can also use your self-service tools to remind employees about surveys or suggest a course of action when indicated. For example, SAP SuccessFactors uses machine learning and natural language processing to analyze employee survey responses. Using those analytics and predictive data, you can improve engagement by taking timely, strategic action.
  • Personalized Learning Experiences – Millennials and Generation Z value professional development opportunities when considering a new job. That’s especially true in this new age of remote work. Development opportunities also offer critical ways to improve individual and overall performance. Research from Brandon Hall Group found that 95% of companies believe personalization improves the link between learning and individual performance. Nearly as many believe it also improves organization performance.

    Machine learning tools provide customized learning experiences via your self-service portal to serve this growing percentage of the workforce. As employees use the platform, AI analyzes their interests and activity and then provides recommended content or learning tracks. Managers can also contribute to the learning experience by making recommendations for specific individuals based on performance or career goals.
  • Onboarding Tasks – Onboarding no longer consists of just one day signing papers and printing name badges. GlassDoor reports that intentional, phased onboarding processes can improve retention by more than 80%. The best onboarding programs include technology that supports on-demand learning so that employees can complete tasks on their own schedule.

    AI makes these programs even more targeted by offering content recommendations and suggested next steps for new hires. They can also flag data anomalies and alert managers to new employees who may not be fully engaged. For example, AI can support onboarding with:
    • Automated content specific to a particular role or job
    • Chatbots to answer new hire questions 24/7
    • Improved engagement through gamification
    • Automated distribution of paperwork
    • Tracking which documents have been read or tasks completed

As AI-powered self-service tools have matured, they have become more relevant to the daily functions of HR. That’s even more critical now that a significant percentage of the workforce operates remotely at least part of the time.

While AI can streamline processes and data management, personal touch still plays a crucial role in employee engagement. In 2021 and beyond, HR leaders must find the right balance of personal touch and technology to help employees do their best work.

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