Gail Hairston

HR Office Takes Challenge to Heart

Published: Jul 16, 2013

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Video by UK Public Relations & Marketing


LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 16, 2013) — The Paper Beast is starving where it once flourished in a suite of offices tucked in a basement corner of University of Kentucky’s Scovell Hall. Every day, as they maintain UK’s employee files and respond to community requests for verification of employment, the staff of Compensation and Employee Records celebrates that fact in their quiet, unassuming way.


The office has gone from being totally dependent on university funds to becoming nearly self sufficient in two short years. Two key elements were needed to accomplish this goal — a reliable online management of all employee records and a way to capitalize on the service the office provides to banks and financial institutions.


“Banks and financial institutions call us when an employee applies for a loan. We used to provide that information at no cost; now, we charge a nominal fee,” said Deborah Carwile, director of Compensation and Employee Records (CER). “In the last calendar year, we collected more than $100,000, enough to pay some CER employees without university funds. As the economy improves, particularly the housing market, I see that total growing.”


The office does not charge for agency, such as the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, or individual inquiries, including an employee’s inquiry into their own records.


When Carwile first heard the university’s challenge to find innovative, resource-saving ways to achieve the university’s goals, she took it as a personal mission. But with virtually no disposable budget, how could her department answer the university’s challenge? As supervisor, she had a vision, but no tools at hand to achieve her goal of a paper-free environment. Carwile’s relatively small staff of records clerks was virtually encased by five-foot tall, double-wide walls of filing cabinets, full of paperwork recording the daily changes to the careers of UK’s more than 12,000 faculty and full-time staff employees and thousands more part-time employees. Even in the digital age, fax machines clattered incessantly with requests coming in and confirmations going out. She knew going from on-paper to online was the answer, but how to break the paper chain?


Then, she met Neeharika Ilavala, a young IT specialist, recently hired by UK Human Resources. A native of India, Ilavala had earned her master’s in computer engineering at UK, then took a job in California. But Kentucky, specifically the University of Kentucky, had her heart, and Ilavala returned to UK, this time as an employee full of ideas. One of her first projects was in Employee Records. 


“This was exactly the kind of project I wanted. I love manipulating data, making work with it more efficient. It was perfect,” Ilavala said.


They started with a whiteboard and markers, mapping the personnel files and evaluating the dozens of daily requests from banks, financial institutions, government agencies and individuals seeking verification of university employment. Because the department’s work was done in notebooks and post-it notes, no one even knew how many requests the department received.


Scanning all the employee records into a manipulative database was step one. “After working on that every day for a year, we have scanned about one-third of our personnel files. In a couple of years, every UK employee’s file will be digital,” said Carwile.


Because the program was custom designed for UK by UK, little training was required when the system went online. In fact, it fit like a glove with virtually no adjustment period. The following highlights illustrate the department’s accomplishments from this pro­cess improvement:

·       Since inception in mid-2011, the Verification of Employment fee has generated over $175,000 in new revenue

·       Based on recent data, the department should see ongoing annual revenue of between $95,000 - $100,000

·       With the new system, internal and external customers receive more timely communication and follow up than with the previous paper-based process.

·       Internally, Employee Records team members can more easily communicate and collaborate with one another because of the shared online dashboard, increasing efficiency and ultimately enabling the team to do more with less.


“As we continue to strive for greater efficiency and higher levels of productivity, using digital and online tools will be key to meeting our goals,” Carwile said. “Over the next year, our HR team will help lead the university’s effort to bring virtually all aspects of the hiring and performance management process online, in a way that will make these processes simpler and easier to manage for everyone at the university.”


Several HR offices have initiated similar self-improvement programs. Below is just a sample. Learn more at Human Resources.


Creation and leadership of the multi-employer KYRX Coalition
Chief Benefits Officer Joey Payne and his pharmacy benefits team have organized and are leading a multi-employer (mainly universities and colleges) governmental purchasing coalition that is generating very significant savings for all member organizations over time. In addition to leading this effort, our institution also provides a unique additional benefit for coalition membership – free phone counseling for all member organizations’ health plan members, provided by our UK pharmacists (who are part of the Employee Benefits team here at UK). The UK-led KYRX coalition also provides a forum for member organizations to learn about best practices in pharmacy benefit management, to support plan members health and well-being. Get details at


New, free financial counseling

The Employee Benefits office recently introduced a free financial counseling service for UK employees. Learn more at


New technology-enabled smoking cessation counseling

The HR technology team recently developed custom software that supports the UK tobacco cessation counselor position. It has made the counselor's job much more efficient, by creating a database of all cases, tracking employee/client milestones, setting outreach "triggers" and more. It has also improved efficiency and increases timely communication with tobacco cessation clients.


New online time entry/leave requests/online performance evaluations/online hiring processes 

These are very timely and touch virtually everyone. First, the HR/myUK/SAP team recently launched online time entry (for hourly-paid employees) and leave requests (all employees) on the campus side (non-UK HealthCare). This moves all of those paper-based processes entirely online. This is a huge transition that is ongoing as we speak. 


Other significant paper-to-online "upgrades" will occur over the next six to eight months. Online performance evaluations and new online processes for virtually all aspects of the hiring process are in development.


“It's not just about getting rid of paper. Moving online also will equip decision makers with much better and more timely reporting,” said John Buzzard, HR communications officer.


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