Case Study: How HR Software Improved Employee Engagement at 5 Companies

According to an infamous Gallup poll, more than two-thirds of U.S. employees were “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work in 2014, costing businesses between $450 and $550 billion in lost productivity. Odds are, you’ve seen some of the symptoms among your workers: those who don’t give 100 percent every day, don’t believe in the company’s goals and/or don’t want to come to work. It can be a frustrating problem—one that many companies are learning can’t be fixed with ping-pong tables and skateboard ramps.

As you may already know, dedicated HR software can help you and your team get organized and make processes more efficient. What you may not know is that the same software can produce employees who work harder, stay longer at the company and are more engaged in what they do.

Software Advice surveyed disengaged employees to determine factors that might help them become more engaged at work. Using those results, we found organizations that have used HR software to make improvements regarding those factors.

Below are real stories from five different companies that implemented HR software systems—and were able to improve employee engagement as a result.

Jump to a Case Study:

FuelCell Energy Gains Compensation Transparency With Halogen

compensation management

It was supposed to be just another payroll run for FuelCell Energy, a 600-employee organization headquartered in the northwest hills of Connecticut. As they had done hundreds of times before, HR director Sandi Mauro and her very small team had compiled a variety of Excel spreadsheets with updated workers-compensation numbers from upper management, and sent them off to payroll to be processed and deposited.

But this time, after payroll was run, the payroll manager immediately sensed something was off. Mauro and her team took a look—and sure enough, the whole thing was wrong. It turned out that one of the many spreadsheets had been sorted incorrectly, resulting in every employee getting someone else’s pay. Veterans were being paid as new hires; rank-and-file workers as CEOs.

Horrified, Mauro and her team were able to stop the run just one day before it was to be fully processed, avoiding a sure catastrophe. But this was the last straw for Mauro, who was ready for a change.

“That really just solidified the need for much better controls over the compensation planning process,” Mauro says. “That helped to drive the decision.”

There were problems before this for the fuel cell company, which has generated over 4 billion kilowatt hours of alternative energy power worldwide since 1969. Using paper-based methods, the HR team had to constantly update multiple spreadsheets to stay ahead of the curve on compensation. It took a long time and was incredibly error-prone. Eventually, they created a proprietary system to gather the necessary data, but this also had its bugs—for example, two users couldn’t be in the same file at the same time.

To the workers, compensation was also largely a mystery. It was handled by two or three executives at the high end of the company, and merely passed down to HR for processing. Employees had a yearly performance review with their manager, and were either given their raise and sent on their way—or not. This review was also conducted on paper and, Mauro says, wasn’t taken very seriously.

The process was scattered and non-transparent, and everyone knew it: an oddity for a company that, as Mauro describes, relies heavily on departmental communication and integration to get product out the door. With the company growing rapidly, something needed to be done.

“People viewed compensation as a backroom deal. When you leave things up to spreadsheets, you can’t feel like the integrity of the process is there.”

Sandi Mauro, FuelCell Energy

The vice president of HR at the time started looking into commercial software as a solution. The new system needed to:

  • Integrate with the company’s current HRIS
  • Allow for multiple users (unlike the existing proprietary solution)
  • Offer performance-review functionality, so the company could do a better job of truly tying pay to performance

Halogen TalentSpace met all these requirements, so FuelCell Energy signed on as an early adopter later that year, choosing the Halogen Compensation, Halogen Performance and Halogen 360 Multirater modules.

Ninety days later, the system was up and running, and Mauro’s team was impressed with the results. It ran the way it was supposed to, was flexible and had customizable workflows. But most importantly, the system would allow HR to cut down on errors and save time—while giving employees a clearer picture of how their pay was being calculated.

Halogen TalentSpace

Through Halogen TalentSpace, Mauro and her team can easily see how performance ties to pay in order to ensure compensation accuracy.

halogen top performance

Halogen Compensation Management
 

Fast forward to today: Compensation management has changed dramatically, far removed from the near-disaster that sparked the switch to Halogen. There are now two different processes for the two different types of employees, and throughout the year, Mauro and her team can and re-evaluate employees if they start to underperform against milestones.

The process for the 250 hourly workers:

  • First, an annual performance review meeting with their supervisor
  • Next, the supervisor rates the employee’s performance in Halogen based on a variety of factors
  • Through Halogen and an external spreadsheet, a final score is calculated that directly ties to the worker’s compensation increase, which the worker is able to view
  • Pay increases are approved by upper management, then processed by HR

And for the other 400 employees:

  • Workers complete a self-review in Halogen, reflecting on their performance over the past year in relation to set goals and objectives
  • The review goes to their supervisor, then to upper management for comments
  • Employees have a formal performance review meeting with their supervisor
  • A final performance score is calculated, which directly ties to a bonus increase and is processed by HR

Using paper-based methods, company-wide performance reviews took six months. Using Halogen, they now take three. Compensation planning itself used to take a month; it now takes a week, and is done without errors.

For Mauro, Halogen has brought necessary relief and much-needed change to a broken system. Now performance and pay are more closely linked, and the compensation planning team is loving the flexibility afforded to them by the customizable workflows in Halogen.

For employees, Halogen has finally brought transparency. They can log in to the system to do their performance appraisals, see compensation changes and easily make the link between the two. Not only do employees feel more engaged in their day-to-day performance, Mauro says, but they also feel that FuelCell Energy cares more about their needs.

“From a software point of view, people are really excited,” Mauro says. “They like the new consistency of the process. … It shows that we’re concerned about what employees are doing, that they’re doing it well and that they have the tools needed to get it done.”

foodjunky Betters Benefits & Boosts Job Acceptance 50% With Zenefits

benefits administration

Travis Johnson, founder and CEO of foodjunky, would rather not look at or smell deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza ever again. Without fail, his former employer would order the same pizza on Tuesdays and Thursdays every week, which Johnson indulged in for almost 10 years. But as he grew tired of it, the lunchtime monotony also gave him an idea.

In 2013, he came up with foodjunky: an online portal where employees could pick exactly what they wanted from a participating restaurant when the company was footing the bill. Business has been booming ever since.

“Now we’re in 22 states and over 100 cities,” Johnson says. “We’re adding 50 restaurants to the service a day.”

With only 10 employees and no one dedicated solely to HR, Johnson took it upon himself to explore options for offering insurance benefits. But no matter who he asked, Johnson was told he couldn’t get benefits for his employees directly from the provider. Instead, he would have to go through the HealthCare.gov insurance marketplace. And if there’s one thing that makes Johnson sicker than pizza, it’s recalling his experience with the problem-plagued site.

“It was a two-month-long, total nightmare headache,” Johnson says.

In addition to the website’s frequent crashes, there were basic communication breakdowns between Blue Cross Blue Shield and HealthCare.gov regarding benefits information. And because HealthCare.gov didn’t have any employee self-service functionality, it was often up to Johnson to explain everything to his employees.

“You hand [the employees] 50 pages of documents and they have no idea what any of it means. I had to go through and sit down with each of my employees one-by-one, telling them what would happen to their income, tax payments etc. if they picked a plan.”

Travis Johnson, foodjunky

HealthCare.gov’s restrictions were a problem, as well. Options for health, dental and vision insurance, along with a health savings account (HSA), were extremely limited—usually just opt-in or opt-out, with little customization. At one point, the restrictions almost cost foodjunky all of its benefits when a new employee didn’t opt-in, putting the company below the minimum percentage threshold to qualify. Johnson had to opt himself in at great personal cost so his employees could keep their benefits.

Finally, after spending half a day filling out paperwork to onboard one new employee, Johnson decided a change was needed. He started looking at software solutions in early 2015, with the goal of automating onboarding and allowing employees to manage their own insurance. Zenefits, a solution aimed at small and midsize businesses, was a perfect fit to take a lot off his plate.

“[Zenefits] take[s] what was a mountain of paperwork, and they basically do everything for you and make it as easy as possible,” Johnson says.

Johnson’s company was live with Zenefits 30 days later, using the full HR suite to handle onboarding, payroll, personnel tracking, time and attendance and, most importantly, benefits administration. Now, there are standardized processes in place—with no mountains of paperwork. All Johnson does is put a name and email into Zenefits, and the onboarding process begins:

  • First, a job candidate is emailed an offer letter
  • They digitally sign the letter, and are sent into Zenefits to create their account
  • The system runs them through the onboarding process, allowing them to sign nondisclosure agreements, drug testing forms and other paperwork
  • Employees select what benefits package they want, with Zenefits outlining exactly what each option means to their bottom line
  • They are automatically enrolled, with coverage starting their 31st day of employment

Zenefits

Previously, the cost of different health insurance options was largely a mystery to foodjunky employees. Now, through Zenefits, they can easily see how much each option will take out of their paycheck.

zenefits insurance options

Health insurance options in Zenefits
 

If an employee didn’t select benefits when they first got hired, Zenefits automatically emails and reminds them of upcoming deadlines to enroll. And if anyone wants to make a change—say, putting $50 of every paycheck towards their HSA instead of $25—they can do so through Zenefits at any time. This results in less headaches, clearer communication and more options for employees when it comes to their coverage.

“Zenefits has done a very good job in laying out what everything means, so that [employees] can easily understand what the difference is between different packages. It’s allowed us to offer a more full benefits package, as well.”

Travis Johnson, foodjunky

Before, foodjunky’s job acceptance rate was about 50 percent. Since the change, it’s been 100 percent—a result that Johnson attributes directly to a more efficient, automated system and the ability to offer better, customized benefits using Zenefits as an insurance broker, away from the restrictions of HealthCare.gov.

But it’s the newfound comfort Johnson’s employees have found that has really made the change worthwhile.

“Going through this process [with Zenefits], it’s simpler, and it took a lot of worry off of their backs,” Johnson says.

CLEARLINK Increases Units per Sale by 40 Percent With Bridge LMS

corporate training

CLEARLINK, a 1,300-employee company based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, has a mantra: “Break things.” In the dynamic world of online marketing and sales for such companies as Dish and AT&T, lost time means lost money—so processes and systems are constantly poked and prodded to find a better solution.

“We don’t have the philosophy that just because it worked last year, it’s going to work this year,” CLEARLINK senior training manager Garrick Greenhalgh says. “We look at challenge as an opportunity and say, ‘let’s try this out.’”

This mentality came in handy two years ago, when CLEARLINK’s ongoing employee training process needed an overhaul. The chaotic process usually started when one of the company’s brand partners sent over documents on a new product. These might be in the form of paper sales guides, PowerPoints or PDFs—but the format was never consistent.

Next, the partner would send a trainer to CLEARLINK to spend a few days training the sales team on the material. Classes typically lasted an hour or two, with 20 to 30 salespeople per one instructor. There were no follow-ups or assessments on what the employees learned. Quality would suffer any time there was a product update, because workers were able to hide out in a classroom without being tested on their knowledge.

“There was no way to track learner completion, learner retention, comprehension—none of that.”

Garrick Greenhalgh, CLEARLINK

Worst of all, employees hated the training. They hated the classroom feel, the format and the fact that they were losing money by being away from the phones. And it was costing the business money, too: Greenhalgh estimates that for a 20-person class, between lost productivity and wages, training cost $6,000 to $8,000 per hour.

Clearly, things needed to be broken. So in April 2014, the company began seriously considering learning management system (LMS) software. Luckily, Greenhalgh had a lead: He had used Instructure’s Canvas LMS while completing his master’s at Utah State a few years back; now, the vendor was launching a corporate-focused product, Bridge LMS. For Greenhalgh and CLEARLINK, the timing was perfect.

Bridge would allow Greenhalgh and his team to write their own e-learning training content, or upload any SCORM package. The platform also came with analytics so they could track completion rates. But, most importantly, employees didn’t have to click 10 times to get to training content; Bridge offered easy access and the ability to do training on desktop or mobile. So CLEARLINK signed on, and after a soft-launch and a small training session, employees quickly learned how to use it.

“We introduced them to the basic navigation steps that were there, and they caught on pretty quickly,” Greenhalgh says. “It’s very user-friendly; very simple. When employees go on the intranet for all of their order-entry tools, there’s an icon there that they click on to go to their My Learning page, which has any of the content that we’ve pushed out to them.”

Bridge

When CLEARLINK employees sign on to Bridge, they can go to the My Learning page to see how they’re progressing on required trainings.

bridge lms

Bridge’s My Learning page
 

All told, it took six months from choosing Bridge to hard launch, and today, CLEARLINK’s employee training process looks vastly different. Where before training was a chaotic mess of PDFs and one-off classroom sessions, now everything is online. Brand partners are able to share professional e-learning courses that employees can take immediately at their desks or on their phones. And Greenhalgh’s team can now track completion and alert sales managers if employees skip a required training.

What’s more, follow-up assessments are built in to Bridge—and if employees don’t pass a training course, they have to go back and retake it. CLEARLINK also uses Bridge’s survey and feedback tools to get suggestions from employees on improving courses.

But perhaps the biggest benefit that CLEARLINK has seen from switching to Bridge is greater insight on training effectiveness. Greenhalgh can compare the completion rate reporting from Bridge with production reporting from CLEARLINK’s internal data warehouse to identify training’s impact on production within a certain window.

And Greenhalgh has a lot of proof that the switch is working. Now that employees can train at their desks in-between calls, training has gone from eight hours of classes for all employees to just one hour on average, reducing training costs by as much as 80 percent. At the same time, conversions and revenue per call have gone up. And units per sale—the number of items sold per transaction—on one of the big teams went up nearly 40 percent.

What’s more, DIRECTV described a product launch earlier this year as the best launch it had ever had with a partner, due specifically to the new training. And Greenhalgh notes that employees are noticeably happier about training now, due to the new flexibility as well as the ability to go back and train as needed to refresh.

“Accessibility, the user-friendliness and the ability to go back and repeat information is a big deal for these guys,” Greenhalgh says. “Now they don’t have to leave their desk, and they can interact more with the training. That’s much deeper than we’ve ever been able to do.”

M.U.D. Improves Performance Appraisals With SuccessFactors

performance management

Metropolitan Utilities District (M.U.D.) has been delivering water and natural gas to over 267,000 residents in Omaha, Nebraska since 1913. Yet the company is constantly working to stay current when it comes to technology—for example, by putting GPS systems on fleet vehicles to reduce response times and implementing smart meters to better track customer usage.

Despite propelling into the future with most of its systems, in 2012, M.U.D.’s process for annual employee performance reviews was decidedly old-fashioned. Management would take the same, incredibly simple Microsoft Word document from the year before, change a few words and give printed copies to employees. The document usually just listed five goals that employees had been tasked to accomplish that year: If workers met those, they got their bonus. Even if they didn’t, they still usually got their bonus.

“There was nothing tied to the strategic goals of the district. It was usually written a week before it was due, and no one was keeping track of goals and progression throughout the year.”

Raied Stanley, M.U.D.

The use of paper also presented a number of issues: For example, performance review documents often didn’t make it into the HR file. As a result, only about 70 percent of the 900 employees who were supposed to get a review actually got one. Some hadn’t gotten a review in 10 years—not that it mattered either way.

With no way to monitor progression, the quality of work suffered. Projects were finished late, and critical safety procedures were addressed lightly at best. It all came to a head when senior management wanted to start tying pay to performance—and realized they were incredibly ill-equipped to do so.

“We were giving our top talent a 5 percent raise, and the guy that doesn’t do anything a 5 percent raise,” says Raied Stanley, M.U.D.’s vice president of business systems. “It just wasn’t fair.”

So in early 2013, the search for an HR system began. They needed something that could integrate with SAP ERP software, and it had to have an intuitive workflow, built-in analytics and reporting. Stanley and his team were already considering SuccessFactors when it was purchased by SAP—a fortunate coincidence that cemented the platform as the perfect solution.

Stanley’s team went live with SuccessFactors in 2013, and today, M.U.D.’s performance appraisal process is finally fit for the 21st century. Here’s how it works:

  • First, the president sends down district-wide goals to the vice-president level
  • The vice presidents use those goals as a template for employee-specific goals, which are pushed down to individual workers
  • Managers and employees alike track goal progress throughout the year in SuccessFactors, until it’s time for annual performance appraisals
  • Managers fill out their appraisals and send them to employees for feedback
  • Employees comment on each goal and why they did or didn’t meet it, then send the appraisal back up the managerial chain for feedback
  • If everything looks good, reviews are done. If not, employees are put in a pay-for-performance improvement plan, and re-evaluated in six months

Finally, at the end of the process, everything is assigned to HR within SuccessFactors to be digitally archived.

SuccessFactors

At a glance, Stanley can easily see how his employees at M.U.D. are performing against their objectives using the SuccessFactors module, Performance & Goals.

SuccessFactors goal alignment

Goal alignment in SuccessFactors
 

Where performance reviews used to be a point of embarassment and annoyance at M.U.D., they now represent its continuous push toward the new. Last year, for the first time in the company’s 102-year history, every employee in the organization had their performance review. Employees and managers can now better communicate about why goals or milestones haven’t been met—and going digital has made the entire process, from all levels of the organization, seamless.

There have been other benefits, as well:

  • Saving an estimated two weeks’ worth of time by eliminating paperwork
  • Increased performance and engagement
  • An 18-percent reduction in IT help desk tickets
  • A 10-percent improvement in “timeliness,” a measure of system downtime

For Stanley and the rest of M.U.D., the improvement is enough to move forward with bringing other SuccessFactors modules online in the company’s continued push to stay ahead of the technological curve.

“We’re doing career development first, and we’re doing the learning management system,” Stanley says. “Next year, we’re doing succession planning and compensation management. The overall product has been very, very positive for the district.”

Kimberton Whole Foods Hires the Right Workers With PeopleMatter

recruiting onboarding

Lydia Sadauskas calls herself “chief people person” rather than “director of HR.” That says a lot about her and her employer, Kimberton Whole Foods: a five-location, 165-employee organic grocery store chain in Pennsylvania. At Kimberton, the people come first and everyone’s family, both literally and figuratively (four of the owner’s five kids work in key positions).

But finding the right people and getting them up to speed hasn’t always been easy for Sadauskas. In 2013, Kimberton’s hiring processes were chaotic at best and nonexistent at worst. Much of the hiring was left to store managers, which meant many walk-in applicants were hired on the spot, regardless of labor budget. Sometimes applicants’ paper forms got back to Sadauskas, but often they didn’t.

“We always lost paperwork. The store managers would end up calling me and asking if I got an application, and if we could hire this or that person. We were spending three to four months in trying to hire somebody. I was lucky if I was getting it all done.”

Lydia Sadauskas, Kimberton Whole Foods

Another problem was determining good fit. With no assessments and just a paper application to go off of, Sadauskas was using such characteristics as handwriting and spelling to discern a quality candidate. In one horror story, a dreadlocked nomad was hired, as his alternative lifestyle made him seem like a great cultural fit for the organic grocery store. But after showing up to a company get-together without a shirt on and rarely bathing for shifts, the man disappeared as quickly as he arrived. Between being short-staffed, compliance headaches and mountains of paperwork, Sadauskas came to a breaking point.

“At one point, I had over 500 paper applications on my desk, and I just sat there … and thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” Sadauskas says.

When Kimberton later redid its website, Sadauskas, who had done some research into software, also saw an opportunity to modernize hiring and onboarding processes. Knowing some store managers weren’t tech-savvy, Sadauskas made ease of use a priority, but she also wanted a solution that was tailored to the hourly workforce. After trying out a few other systems, Sadauskas decided on PeopleMatter.

“The customization of what we could do was very appealing,” Sadauskas says. “[The vendor] had this great IT team that was going to work with us to create this seamless transition from our website into PeopleMatter. I wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing, and something that would immediately engage you.”

kimberton whold foods peoplematter

Kimberton’s application and onboarding process, all done online through PeopleMatter
 

Kimberton Whole Foods put PeopleMatter into use in March 2014. Sadauskas encouraged all employees to redo their onboarding process through the system, not only to digitize records but to also allow the staff to experience PeopleMatter for themselves. Eventually, everyone picked up the new way of doing things.

Now paper applications are a thing of the past, and everything from recruiting to onboarding and time-tracking is handled through PeopleMatter:

  • Using custom candidate assessments, PeopleMatter flags candidates as either green, yellow or red to give a visual cue to Sadauskas as to whom to move forward with
  • She emails store managers for feedback on three to four applicants she likes
  • Chosen applicants get a phone interview, then an in-person interview, and all interview notes are kept in PeopleMatter
  • Managers and staff meet remaining candidates at an open house, and fill out a rubric in PeopleMatter with their thoughts
  • The remaining candidates are brought back for a second interview, then offered a job

Kimberton now finds the right people—and the results speak for themselves. Before, retention hovered around 56 percent. Today, it’s 77 percent.

Onboarding has also been overhauled. Everything—I-9s, W-4s, handbooks, emergency forms and more—is now filled out online through PeopleMatter before a new hire’s first day. Then they meet with Sadauskas, get a tutorial in the PeopleMatter scheduling module and learn how to clock in and out on their phones.

To date, compliance issues have all but disappeared, and there hasn’t been a single no-show due to schedule confusion. In fact, three out of five store managers are now using PeopleMatter as their primary source of communication.

PeopleMatter

Keeping track of onboarding documents once was frustrating—but with PeopleMatter, Sadauskas can now see in an instant whether employees are compliant and ready to work.

PeopleMatter Onboarding

Managing I-9 documentation in PeopleMatter
 

For Sadauskas, the administrative load has lightened significantly now that an actual system is in place. But more importantly, Kimberton is finally able to attract, hire and retain the right people.

“The hiring process through PeopleMatter has helped us to identify who the best candidates are as a cultural fit for us,” Sadauskas says. “We attract people who are seeking to be doing something bigger than themselves. The difference now is that [we’re] not a rotating door. People are staying longer, and when they leave, it’s more painful to say goodbye.”

Methodology
To collect the data in this report, we conducted a seven-day survey of 22 questions, and gathered 400 unique responses from random employees in North America. We screened these results down to 60 respondents who were determined to be disengaged employees, based on their responses to 12 questions within the survey. Software Advice performed and funded this research independently.
Results are representative of our survey sample, not necessarily the population as a whole. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.
If you have comments or would like to obtain access to any of the charts above, please contact brianwestfall@softwareadvice.com.

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