How much annual leave do I have left? What do I have to do if I’m off sick for more than three days? Can I get my payslip from 3 months ago? Where do I find my performance appraisal from last year? Who do I need to tell when my next of kin changes, or my bank details are updated?

These are the kind of questions HR people (or those responsible for HR) get asked every day. Answering them is time-consuming and often gets in the way of more strategic work – but not having access to the information is equally frustrating for employees who want a quick answer.

Until recently, HR software solutions and HR portals that allow employees to access the information they need at the time they need it, were really only available to companies with large budgets and internal IT resources. Today, thanks to the Cloud, there are low-cost solutions that make these systems attractive to even the smallest of companies. But simply having the technology in place doesn’t guarantee people will use it. So how do you encourage employees to make full use of your HR system and help them to help themselves?

Identify your champions

In any organisation, there will always be a group of people who are willing to give new solutions a go, and tell their colleagues about the benefits too. If you can identify and involve them from early on in your HR system rollout, or even better, selection process, you’ll have ready-made experts happy to spread the word and hand-hold if necessary.

Offer training and support

However easy a system is to use, it can take time for people to get used to a new way of doing things. Think about how you can spread the word and demonstrate just how easy it is to get to grips with. Organise small group sessions led by your champions where people can practice updating their personal details or submitting a holiday request ‘live’. Try and pick up individually with people who aren’t able to attend and provide simple ‘how to’ instructions with screen shots that people can refer to later if they forget what to do. Make yourself available, particularly in the early days, to answer questions and provide support to those who may be struggling – and don’t forget to make new joiners aware of what’s available to them as part of your induction process.

Keep it relevant

A new HR software system typically gets launched in a blaze of internal publicity – and then too often becomes part of the furniture. Launching with aplomb is undoubtedly a good thing, but it’s equally important to keep reinforcing the message that your HR system is the place to go to update personal information, book a holiday, check team calendars, complete a performance appraisal, or any of the other features your system supports. Naturally, if you’ve got an HR portal, you need to keep the information up to date and relevant too. If you’re doing that, why not invest a little extra time in promoting it. Some ideas might be to produce some simple posters for company noticeboards and put regular reminders in your internal newsletter or on your intranet. You might also consider putting a standard sentence at the end of all HR-related emails, signposting people to the site. It comes back to the old communication rule. Tell them. Tell them you’ve told them. Then tell them again!

Sell the benefits

People are much more likely to become enthusiastic users of your HR software system if they can see what’s in it for them. So focus your communication around the benefits for managers and their teams. For instance, individual employees can get a quick update on how much annual leave they have left, and managers can check the calendar for clashes before authorising requests. Self-service HR systems also allow employees to update their own personal details. So if they change bank accounts, for example, they can quickly update their details and ensure they don’t miss the next pay run. The latest HR portals provide an all-in-one package where you can house all your important HR documents – so people can also reassure themselves they are following the correct procedure for absence, or that they know what to do if they want to raise an issue of bullying or harassment.

Make it simple

These days people typically have to log into a myriad of systems – both for business and personal use – and just remembering an ever-growing list of login pages and user names and passwords is a challenge in itself.

If employees have to scrabble around for the link to the HR system or have to go through a complicated procedure, they are less likely to willingly use it. Since HR data is highly sensitive, you can’t ignore the need for a secure password policy, but you can find ways to make access easier. Encourage employees set up shortcuts to the login page, or publish the link somewhere everyone knows about, like your company website or intranet. Ensure that password policies are understood, and that if they do forget their password, there is a straight-forward (and secure way) of resetting it. Making it easy for people isn’t, however, the same as allowing them to be lazy. There will always be people who persist in ringing up with queries they could very easily answer themselves by using the tools you’ve made available. If you’re the recipient of those questions, make sure you are equally persistent in directing them back to the your HR system or employee portal, rather than answering the question for them.

Encourage staff to join the discussion

The best HR software systems now come with social portals (such as the one that comes as part of Cezanne OnDemand) which allow employees to share information, collaborate on projects and get quick answers to their questions. There are undoubted benefits for the business, in terms of driving innovation and raising productivity, but individual employees have much to gain too. It can help people find the information they need so they can get the job done quickly and more efficiently. It stops people re-inventing the wheel and cuts down on duplication. Internal social portals also allow people to make useful connections and raise their personal profile outside of their own department. If you can encourage people to engage with the system, it will be a win-win situation all round.

How is your organisation helping people to help themselves? Let us know what’s working well in your business.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.