What kind of a person do you need to be to be a payroll professional?
Any person can undertake a role in payroll; to think any differently would be a limiting belief. The reality is that there are now over 60 different pathways within the world of payroll, so career opportunities exist for all individuals. People must be paid accurately and on time for any company they work for. In addition, payroll professionals are needed across all industry verticals, encompassing a vast diversity of company cultures, which means that any person can forge a successful career in payroll. The more significant challenge is attracting more people into this exciting profession!
However, the industry has evolved rapidly, and an increased focus on implementing technologies that improve the employee experience has been at the heart of this evolution. Subsequently, skills sought concerning technological capabilities, data analysis or employee engagement (that support broader people agendas) have increased significantly, progressing payroll operations from being viewed as purely transactional operations to strategic ones.
For payroll professionals operating at a more strategic level, skills concerning data analysis, report writing, leadership, and strategic thinking have also become increasingly valuable as they align with supporting broader operational and employee engagement objectives.
In readiness for these demands, the modern payroll professional does need to be adaptable to change, open-minded, innovative, culturally aware, collaborative, inclusive, methodical, process driven, technologically savvy and possess excellent levels of attention to detail.
Why isn’t payroll a ‘back office’ function any more?
In the past, payroll was typically a straightforward monthly, or weekly cycle focused on transactional activities. However, employee demands, and the costs associated with employee attrition, attraction and retention have resulted in businesses investing more in technologies that enhance the employee experience.
Employees want to work across global boundaries, they want pay-on-demand, they want multiple concurrent flexible pay cycles, and they are asking for an ever-increasing array of benefits. Employees are also requesting access to more transparent information about their pay to enable them to plan and manage their financial health more effectively. Supporting employees with these requests has resulted in new solutions infiltrating the payroll landscape that can both support these employee needs and also mitigate the risks associated with human error, because the financial penalties associated with incorrect compliance can be significant.
In addition, as these new solutions flooded the market, it quickly became apparent that data could be recorded and extracted at every stage of the employee payroll cycle, to provide valuable insights that can help support board-level decisions. Subsequently, payroll data begun to be utilised to drive broader people agenda objectives. For example, a CHRO may request information on regional pay gaps, benefits utilisation and its correlation with performance, sick pay and absence trends, yearly growth forecasts and more. Big data in payroll is now influencing strategic decisions that directly impact bottom-line performance, talent attraction, and retention.
This focus on employee wellness combined with big payroll data has resulted in the profession evolving rapidly from back-office function to strategic powerhouse. Investment in payroll continues to increase and is showing no sign of slowing down, which suggests that the future of payroll will continue to grow in strategic importance. Witnessing this level of investment and C-suite focus being applied to the payroll industry has made it an incredibly exciting time to be part of the payroll profession.
What are the different career options for payroll professionals?
There are too many to mention here, which shows how much the industry has grown and evolved in recent years. Six months ago, JGA recruitment undertook a research assignment with the CIIPP, which identified over 60 payroll career pathways. I suspect this number has already increased. People can embark and enjoy a successful career in payroll pathways ranging from project management, implementation, sales, software development, analytics, compliance, training, data science, process improvement, customer success, quality assurance, relationship management, policy and research and more. These titles do not include additional career pathways within specific environments or sectors such as global payroll, outsourced payroll, in-house payroll, or bureau payroll. It is an inspiring time to begin a career in payroll!
What avenues are available to payroll professionals looking to progress their careers?
Many avenues are available, depending on what career pathway you want to pursue. The obvious educational opportunities exist with recognised providers such as the Chartered Institute of Payroll professionals (CIPP) for those that wish to progress process-orientated or strategic-related pathways or recognised qualifications. There are also other providers, such as the GPMI, that provide courses specific to global payroll compliance and payroll analytics. Meanwhile, there are many different providers offering courses and certifications in web development, leadership, coaching and data science – all of which could greatly benefit a payroll professional’s education depending on their aspirations. I believe that developing leadership capability is increasing in importance, and this is because as the role of payroll increases in strategic importance, the ability to lead, inspire and engage global teams is becoming progressively more critical. I would suggest that payroll professionals looking to progress their careers, begin by first identifying where their current skills lie. This will enable them to create a development plan and act. It is also worth considering developing the skills that may be in high demand in the future, such as learning new technologies, for example. Finally, with the shelf-life of skills shortening, it is still vital that payroll professionals stay up to date with the latest trends and developments in the payroll industry. Listening to The Payroll Podcast or reading publications such as Payroll Professional are great starting points!
How can payroll be championed as a long-term career, especially as the idea of automation seems to gain popularity?
Automation is a significant component in supporting the championing of payroll as a long-term career. Automation helps payroll professionals to spend more time on other complex compliance or strategic tasks that help strengthen their case for having a seat at the table. The new world of work is globally connected, where every country has its complex regulations, requirements, reporting standards, infrastructures, and practices. Meanwhile, the fundamental role of payroll is to ensure that people are paid accurately and on time, which means there is no margin for error. Get it wrong, and the impacts can be profound. Public trust wains and employee financial health can be put at risk, impacting employee wellness. All these factors influence the ability of an organisation to attract and retain talent. If we consider people to be the most critical and essential business component, it is easy to see why payroll has become recognised as a significant strategic component in this success equation. Automation allows payroll professionals to focus efforts on the crucial task of navigating the many global complexities that exist in any payroll operation so that employees are paid accurately, on time, and in the correct currency. Achieve this, and employees can focus their time on delivering successful outputs, safely knowing they will be paid correctly for it, supporting businesses to grow, scale and deliver exceptional results.
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