(NO MORE) fingers crossed for good payroll

In real life, payroll is usually associated with pressure. Pressure to deliver, pressure to align cash flow with due amounts, pressure to have difficult conversations etc. Instead of being a moment of celebration when results are quantified and efforts are rewarded, THE MONTHLY PAYROLL, is often regarded as „A MAJOR VILLAIN” that has the power to reduce quality time directed towards important activities. The reality is pressure means „LACK OF CONTROL”. So I guess what I am asking is simple: WHY? Why are we all so paralyzed by payroll? What frightens us and how can we change that?


In the past 10 years I did a lot of payroll (management) myself :). When I took over the job I initially felt overwhelmed like never before… It wasn’t that my logic and my „let’s get the job done” attitude weren’t there with me. It was more about the feeling that I had that all stakeholders were like ticking bombs ready to explode. I remember a lot of „though conversations” – some of them I strongly believe I will never forget. While analyzing feedback I came to realize that there are some specific patterns so what I want is share these patterns with you.

Pattern 1: You should have thought about this!

This type of feedback is almost always a result of lack of awareness when performing payroll activities. What I mean by this is that, no matter the level of details that are included in a payroll procedure, one can never envision all the operational realities that may impact payroll. Understanding the logical flow of data and events is critical if you want to be in control. Most of the payroll specialists that I have met perceive their job as a monthly set of repetitive tasks. To be honest this is also what others believe about their role. While initially considered a strength this could turn out to be a significant weakness. Although not impossible, it’s more difficult to change this approach then it is to train it from the beginning.

Pattern 2: Didn’t you see that something was missing?

When input data comes from many owners and the number of inputs is significant (e.g. a lot of bonus types that may or may not be granted with a specific frequency) it becomes difficult to promptly identify „missing pieces” from the large puzzle. Being aware of the operational changes that have occured during the month is part of the job, in addition to designing and updating what I like to name „THE MONTHLY STORY OF PAYROLL”. This powerful tool can do wonders for your payroll function: you get instant access to scenarios that happened before so you can evaluate if they apply in the current month also.

Pattern 3: It was s your job to inform us about the change

Most of the payroll related legal changes that companies need to deal with do not come with a detailed description of their potential impact. Each change in legislation triggers a decision that those affected need to make. While a lot are mandatory by design and can not be prevented, some generate alternatives that decision makers need to be aware of. Failing to present alternatives usually translates into failing to make informed decisions in time. Assessing impact and identifying options should be a basic responsibility of the payroll function.

Pattern 4: Employees feel that their rights are not respected.

As they say: trust is not a given. Especially employee trust. When payroll is not transparent and easy to understand line managers are often confronted with loss of motivation and  productivity from their direct reports. Once lost, trust is difficult to rebuild. Besides making sure the mathematics of the payroll is always on point, companies should make sure the transparency requirements are being met. What I have come to realize during years of experience is how important is to have „guardians of trusts” in your HR team.


Remember that good payroll doesn’t happen by chance. It only happens by design. And while chance is something you can’t control, design is within your reach. (Re)designing means investing time to (re)visit the process with a fresh perspective that most often you can’t find inside your own team. When you decide to do it is again only up to you. One day or Day one. You decide.

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