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Payroll is a tale of two halves

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In one respect, we are constantly striving to create efficiencies with technological advances and workflows which are fed through the system from onboarding through to post employment alumni pages.  All to ensure our current and previous workers can have their data at their fingertips, at any point – just as they would expect. On the other hand, we strive to keep a personal, human, touch, to ensure our employees are well catered for and as a business, we don’t lose touch with our employee needs, we can continue to process payments and we can understand where our educational requirements lie (for shared service/payroll purposes anyway).  We are now and always will be, an enabling department.  But where is the balance between human intervention and systemised automation and how can we strike it, without falling behind?

Automation within Payroll differs per business as there is a wealth of software providers across the globe offering the basics to the blue-sky functionality that, budget permitting, we can sometimes only dream of. From stand-alone software solutions to full ERP suites that are fully integrated.  We are now in a world where almost anything is possible, but we are an industry that can be resistant to change and quick, accurate reactions to external impacts, are not a luxury we always have at our disposal.  Gone have the days where manual calculations were a daily requirement and yet we still need our teams to be able to manually calculate tax and NICs, just in case the system goes down or we need to try and impart our wisdom on an employee base that usually, quite frankly, does not understand what we do – nor do they want to. The expectation these days is that the world runs on apps and payroll remains a function that is completed with the press of a button.  Facial recognition, biometrics and single factor authentication are all the norm for a lot of other activities, we as humans, undertake. And yet, where are we in payroll? Still trying to figure out whether we can afford the latest technology, whether our current software solution will react to our needs (where they aren’t legislated), considering how we can ensure data security and what we should automate, and if we decide that we want to change our systems, how we can ensure we do this with the least amount of resources but in the most cost efficient way. Our industry has not consistently evolved, especially in recent times where financial constraints have impacted our decisions.

Payroll is behind the times. We rely on our software providers to have the stomach to make radical changes or we end up stagnating and unable to build momentum for continuous improvements as flexible functionality also becomes less of the norm. That is why our payroll people are key. In the past three decades, technological and legislative advances have created a tsunami of both opportunities and threats for us and as Payroll leaders, we have to make difficult decisions based on what we think is the right thing to do.  We understand our business culture and employee needs better than most as we see a lot of sensitive data and personal information yet all too frequently, in the UK, Payroll still doesn’t have a seat on the Board or the ability to make their own decisions. More often than not, we are a department that is placed under the stewardship of HR or Finance and neither department fully understands our woes.  But why, considering that, at least in part, we hold the reputation of the business, within our hands and for any payroll department, that is a huge burden, especially in cases where we lack autonomy.

Our department staff are also not on a level playing field as one business can offer so much more than the next and we expect our staff to adapt and learn quickly, with the frustration of not having evolved systems at their disposal. The feeling of ‘going backwards’ is all too familiar and we can lose good people because of it.

As a department, we want to evolve and do the best job possible but as a leader, we also need to be mindful of the limits of our proficiency, our budgets and consider the culture, size, realistic goals and expectations of the business. That’s not to say however that we must stand still and not try to break down the barriers we face. We want more automation but not at the expense of a human approach as it is us humans that continually strive for more. We must not lose sight of why we are here; we have a passion for doing our best to ensure our employees are paid accurately and on time and we want to help.

Ultimately, we need to recognise that intelligent solutions can and will support our craft and accept that it can work better than we do if we have the business backing, the budget, time and resources but implementing change for the sake of it, is not always the best route. Finding the balance therefore between automation and human input is key for the success of payroll professionals across the globe.

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