17 January 2022

Melanie Pizzey, chief executive officer at the Global Payroll Association (GPA), thinks it’s time to embrace the importance of the profession

Money has been a facet of human existence since around 5,000 BC and the first wage was thought to be paid during the Neolithic Revolution. Western working classes were more often compensated with necessities like food, clothing and shelter until the Commercial Revolution introduced economies based on trade. This evolved pay into something more recognisable – wages based on time worked or output. Over 3.3 billion people around the world are paid wages and the payroll industry is responsible for this.


The beating heart

Payroll is the beating heart of every organisation, delivering wages, its lifeblood, to every employee accurately and on time. Strong, steadfast and never missing a beat, our industry kept the global economy moving when the pandemic hit. We are, however, an industry whose reliability can be to our own detriment. When things are running smoothly, we often go unnoticed, yet research highlights that workers rapidly lose faith in their employers when something goes wrong. People paid incorrectly only twice may start the process of looking for a new job.

For this reason, we need to raise our profile and promote our worth. To do so effectively, we need, and deserve, a seat at the table.


Payroll in the spotlight

Covid-19 put payroll in the spotlight. You will have heard many anecdotes about how the position of the payroll industry in every organisation has recently been elevated. At the beginning of the pandemic, payroll leaders became more involved in key decisions. The C-suite requested reports and information which helped to establish how long a company could continue to function, or whether it could survive at all. Globally, hundreds, if not thousands, of legislative changes happened during this time. Payrollers had to keep on top of them all, while continuing their business-as-usual roles.

Despite this, a recent GPA survey revealed that 66 percent of payroll leaders felt there was no change to their place in the company hierarchy. Just 14 percent confirmed they had increased access to the C-suite.

Through members of the GPA, we have heard multiple examples of companies implementing new human capital management providers but neglecting to keep payroll in the loop. This has led to the predictable and avoidable issue of crisis management to assess and action what must be done to make it all work smoothly. In the payroll department, it is essential for things to be correct. Shouldn’t it then follow that the payroll department becomes part of a collaborative partnership – together with human resources (HR) and finance – rather than the afterthought department?

Those of us on the inside understand that payroll is an organisation’s heart – we maintain its beat daily – but what can we, either as departments or as an industry collectively, do to have our invaluable contributions noticed?

The payroll department holds real-time key data every company leader needs to run a successful business. This data is how the payroll department becomes a key influencer in every organisation. But can it unlock us a seat in the boardroom?

There is a precedent. HR is already at the table. The data HR holds is static, yet its worth is still recognised and rewarded. Payroll data is dynamic, offering up-to-the-minute insights, a window on the inner workings of an organisation. In an age when information is becoming a currency of its own, the real-time data payroll can provide is a valuable commodity. It seems only right to draw up another seat for payroll, to benefit from our perspective.


Becoming an ‘influencer’

I am not a massive fan of reality TV, so living in Essex when The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE) hit peak popularity was almost unbearable. People thronged to Brentwood, hoping to see one of the show’s stars and began wearing curlers in their hair as they shopped in Boots. A few years later, coincidentally, one of the original TOWIE cast was working in our building and, briefly, sharing our office. Having initially been judgemental, I confess I was surprised to get a crash course in the work ethic of a professional ‘attention seeker’ – what we now know as an ‘influencer’ – from this person.

It was eye-opening to see how they conducted themselves. Instagram presented these young women as glamorous posers, and I felt there wasn’t much beneath the pretty veneer. However, I soon learned the reality. They saw themselves as a business, with every post calculated to increase their profile and follower count. This, in turn, increased their value to sponsors, along with the money they were paid for promotional deals. It was all about visibility, and maintaining visibility takes a lot of hard work.

What can payroll learn from this? Does every person in payroll need to look at themselves as a business, and do we need to promote ourselves via company newsletters, intranet, payroll updates, LinkedIn posts? Well, we certainly need to think about what we want to achieve and reconsider the image we present. Do we want to look knowledgeable, professional and forward-thinking – to be payroll trendsetters? Then every post should be created with this in mind. Become an ‘influencer’ and show the outside world what you need them to see.


Keep learning

Since the onset of the pandemic, many things within our industry have changed at speed. Technology and services we expected to wait for have been developed and delivered way ahead of time frames. On a recent GPA podcast with Anna Hammarkvist, we learned she encourages her team to explore the payroll industry for at least an hour a day, keeping up to date with it as it evolves. Because this is a global industry, a payroll career is a true education, always with something new to teach us about other cultures, traditions and practices.


Keep up with the trends

There is currently a lot of discussion about on-demand pay and financial well-being. Payroll has all the key information to educate employees on how to understand their pay and payslips. We understand how tax works and the legislation surrounding this. If we are prepared to embrace a more open-door policy (physically or virtually), this is knowledge we can share. It’s not a subject taught in schools, but an understanding of the principles of pay will help employees make better-informed decisions about their finances – something central to financial well-being.

On-demand pay is a hot topic. There may be reasons why you personally disagree with on-demand pay and there will always be questions about whether it is compliant. However, on-demand pay, in one form or another, is going to come our way. As an industry, we need to discuss how it will work, how it can be implemented and how the service can be offered to employees in an ethical manner.

A business would simply not survive if there wasn’t a payroll department. We know our role and we carry it out effectively. Now it’s time to take on additional responsibilities, to provoke conversations and to make a strong case for our seat at the table. This can be done by evidencing the excellent work we do and the information we have access to. Taking a leaf from the TOWIE playbook, we need to become influencers – the most brazen self-promoters – loudly and proudly drawing attention to ourselves until we feel the love. 


Featured in the February 2022 issue of Professional in Payroll, Pensions and Reward. Correct at time of publication.