07 February 2022
Jerome Smail, freelance journalist, speaks to a panel of experts about the importance of communications to and from payroll departments in ensuring correct and timely payments to staff and clients
As increased collaboration is necessary between payroll and other departments, such as finance and human resources (HR), communication has never been more important for the profession, particularly when considering the growing reliance on technology and third-party suppliers.
What can payrollers do to encourage better two-way communication? To find out, I asked some prominent experts:
Nick Clarke MCIPPdip, director of product management – payroll, legislation and portal solutions, Zellis
Jason Davenport MCIPP MIoD, non-executive director, CIPP
Maria Mason MCIPPdip, national payroll partner, business services and outsourcing, BDO
Gemma Tait MCIPP, head of HR services and global assignments UK, BMW Group.
How can payrollers encourage timely and accurate data from the wider business?
Nick Clarke: Continued business engagement is key. Payroll departments used to be back-office functions tucked away without the exposure they deserved. It’s time to make the shift. Many employers have already done this by increasing direct engagement with managers and leaders to raise the profile of the profession.
Raising the awareness of downstream impact will increase timeliness and accuracy, and needs to be continuous, with regular engagement backed up by data. A performance dashboard can be powerful and drive improvement by showing (by business area):
volumes of over and under payments
corrections made outside the normal cycle
time spent rectifying errors
net promoter scores from colleagues.
Payroll professionals should work with managers and leaders to improve relationships, data quality, timeliness and to enhance service delivery.
Jason Davenport: Consistent, regular communication in the form most appropriate for the business is crucial. This will ensure employees and line managers understand the importance of timely and accurate data. Whether regular emails, newsletter updates, business bulletins or operational meetings are best for getting the message across will depend on each business circumstance. Whatever plan for communication is made, it must be a repeated message, and one thanking those who are making an effort, while persuading those who are non-compliant of the benefits of supporting.
Payroll professionals should think about which key messages are important for the business. Consider the impact of late data and the often-unseen challenges it creates, and promote good practice and governance of data to support performance improvements.
An example could be a manager who always authorises information on the deadline date and expects 100% delivery beyond that. A useful strategy could be to focus attention on areas for improvement and discuss why bad habits have formed. They may not realise the impact it’s having, and how simple it’d be to improve the process by authorising straight away.
Maria Mason: Payroll professionals understand the importance of delivering a high level of service to stringent timeframes. They require structure and time to ensure they can carry out the processes and tasks required to complete a payroll.
Unfortunately, although payrollers understand the importance of having set payroll schedules in place, this isn’t always understood by the rest of the business who provide payroll input. Boundaries are pushed, and late changes occur. They’re often accepted by the payroll team, who don’t want to let people down and aim to pay people correctly. This means that payroll teams work under pressure, outside of standard hours and to tight deadlines. It reduces the time available to perform appropriate quality checks, which can lead to payroll issues.
It’s important payroll departments have schedules for payroll processing, which are shared with all parties associated with payroll. It’s also important that payroll stand firm on deadlines and inform others about the impact of late data, and the risks associated with giving the payroll team insufficient checking time.
BDO introduced a task management system to control all tasks associated with client payrolls. The system provides prompts for both the client and payroll team at all stages of the payroll schedule. To encourage clients and other departments to provide timely and accurate data, BDO employs technology, including robot process automation and artificial intelligence, to link to our clients’ HR and finance systems directly. This prevents data having to be re-keyed and streamlines the processes for data ingestion. This has improved the accuracy rates we’re able to deliver and allows us to offer additional runs and more flexible payroll schedules.
Gemma Tait: We document and share our payroll calendar, key dates and cut-offs annually. They’re circulated in November, for the following year, to all key HR management contacts, trade union representatives and any other regular submitters of data. The calendar is stored on our HR portal for easy reference.
Hosting monthly meetings between our HR services and HR management teams across the UK allows us to reiterate the next monthly cut-off date as a reminder. Late data submission is also one of our service level agreements, so we track and monitor performance, and feedback the results to help drive improvements.
How can payroll keep communication relevant and informative to a wide variety of customers?
NC: This often depends on the industry segment. Communications to colleagues should be tailored so they’re relevant. A customer can be a manager or leader who would be interested in performance statistics, with powerful reporting tools becoming readily available. This need can be met through visual dashboards or automated reports. Colleagues will be interested in easy-to-use processes, simple intuitive online engagement tools to submit and change data and, most importantly, accuracy of pay. Self-service tools are an effective way of communicating, with in-app push notifications for important actions, such as:
pay information available to view
tax code changes received.
JD: Keep the agenda relevant and relatable. Everyone expects to be paid accurately and on time; therefore the performance of the department links directly to financial well-being and good health. If 100% of staff are being paid correctly all the time, celebrate this, and consider ways to promote great performance. However, that performance could be due to considerable re-work, so look at communications which also link to the green agenda – reducing waste or repeated actions, and the impact that right first time has on overall performance.
MM: Due to the ever-changing landscape and legislative changes that continue to impact payroll, those responsible for it are inundated with information. Unfortunately, the changes are complex, meaning information provided by governing bodies is incredibly complicated. It’s often difficult to establish how this impacts each business specifically.
BDO focuses on ensuring communication channels are strong, and we provide clients with information that’s simple to digest and offers clarity on the areas of impact specific to each client.
We’ve introduced our Payroll on Point newsletters, which we publish and distribute regularly to all our clients, providing easy-to-read information on legislative changes and elements of interest. We also provide clients with hubs on our website which provide them with essential information.
GT: There are several different channels we use frequently when communicating with our employees.
Recently, we’ve rolled out an employee app that can be downloaded onto employees’ personal phones, which provides up-to-date information and news, and hosts online payslips and time statements. Our team have been heavily involved in the launch of the app.
We also posted an article celebrating the CIPP’s national payroll week to champion the payroll team and the work they do, giving a face to the team, who have been working remotely for the last 23 months. The app invites comments and likes on articles, and we received some positive feedback.
By providing targeted communications and support sessions, we’ve empowered individuals to access the app and use it daily so they can see its benefits. The high uptake rates meant we could move away entirely from paper payslips, which has helped with our sustainability credentials.
We try to tailor our communications as much as possible. With a mix of production and office staff, we always consider diverse ways of getting our message across – this varies from digital signage in production areas, to messages on payslips or updates on our HR portal.
With the drive to automated systems, how important is it for payroll to ensure it retains its physical communication links with other departments?
NC: Communication is hugely important. As systems have become more automated, the shift from transactional work for payroll professionals to becoming more of a business partner is emerging. More time can be spent focusing on a deeper understanding of payroll legislation to improve the value of communication with other departments. They can also nurture and grow those partnerships with third parties to enhance system developments and processes, while making the business aware of such changes and the associated benefits. Additionally, they can assist the business by analysing and unlocking powerful payroll data to make critical decisions, from the end user to the boardroom level.
JD: This is a great question, and relationship management is key in continued performance development. The example of a general ledger in place between payroll and finance is an automated solution to reduce manual journal entries. Regular reviews of how the interface is performing, what changes may be necessary and whether correct codes are being applied can all reduce re-work and foster good relations between departments.
Having a close link with operations will highlight key concerns from the business to payroll and vice versa – for example, if a pay award is dependent upon senior reviews taking place or agreements being made. In such scenarios, payroll should communicate calendar deadlines to encourage good practice, and allow enough time for awards to be input to systems ahead of deadlines.
MM: Payroll is typically the central point for most data required by the rest of the business. It’s vital payroll teams retain strong links with other departments, enabling them to work closely and more efficiently together.
Retaining strong interdepartmental relationships makes it easier to understand each department’s differing requirements and their drivers for making decisions. This can be reflected in the way teams work together to create momentum for the business. This is becoming increasingly important, with businesses expected to be more agile and accommodate all the changes taking place around them.
GT: Our ambition is that everything is fully automated and digital, so we can move away from paper and excel sheets. We’ve shown throughout lockdown that payroll can be delivered remotely and doesn’t require an onsite presence.
However, where physical communication and presence does prove important is where it supports building a network within your business. Particularly in a large, international company, a solid network can support the buy-in and co-operation needed to make changes.
Featured in the March 2022 issue of Professional in Payroll, Pensions and Reward. Correct at time of publication.