Why Payroll plays the role of the cycling domestique

Following the recent completion of the Tour De France and Tour De France Femmes, we have seen incredible cyclists winning new records and accolades for themselves and their countries. Yet, as much as we enjoy celebrating the winners’ achievements, not many realise that those who finish with the coveted yellow jersey can only do so thanks to their trusted ‘domestiques’.


But what is a domestique?

Quite literally, the French word “domestique” means “servant”. Within the realm of cycling, a domestique is a title given to a cyclist who holds the critical role of providing support to the top team principal members or the team lead rider, known as the ‘Captain’. The domestique has several essential responsibilities, including being a pacemaker for the Captain or riding out in front so that the lead cyclists can ride in their slipstream, saving them precious energy for when the lead riders push for the finish at the end of the race. The domestique’s critical role focuses on ensuring that they make the position of the competitive cyclist as easy as possible so that they can win races and stay ahead of the competition!

The domestique’s role doesn’t stop at just being the windshield for the race team leaders. They are also often required to carry food and water for the team Captain. In addition, when the Captain faces a technical difficulty with their bicycle, the domestique may be required to offer up their bike to help them succeed so they can continue the race at their own expense. It is a selfless role that involves hard work and considerable suffering, all for someone else to take the glory!  It got me thinking as I can think of no other sport in which such a role exists, however, it did suddenly become apparent that the profile of the domestique can be easily aligned with the role payroll plays within business.

The bottom line is that the domestique is the embodiment of the ultimate team player, without which the Captain or lead rider would struggle to compete. A domestique gives the Captain a better chance of winning the race and gaining glory.


How does the role of the domestique in cycling align with role payroll plays in business?

At first, this alignment may seem somewhat abstract, however, I believe the payroll professional plays a similar role within business to that of a domestique in cycling. Payroll operations help businesses to succeed. Without good payroll operations in place, organisations are likely to flounder. A lead cyclist would fall behind without the support of their domestique, similarly, companies without solid payroll operations are likely to drift behind their competitors. Inefficient or inaccurate payroll operations typically result in high staff attrition and low morale, and the fiscal penalties for errors can be severe. Getting payroll wrong and failing to comply with complex regulations can not only lead to increased costs and fines, but it has a knock-on impact on employee wellness, attrition, and engagement if they are continuously paid incorrectly.

The modern payroll profession is, in my opinion, the backbone that supports and enables companies to function effectively, allowing stakeholders and business leaders to concentrate on what they know best: running the business and delivering strategic initiatives that provide a competitive advantage.  Payroll operations support businesses to allow them to operate efficiently, effectively, and competitively.

Payroll departments are now leveraging big data to drive and support strategic decision making, identify insights and improve workforce efficiency. From understanding regional pay gaps and reward scheme adoption rates to helping HR with absenteeism trends and pay review statistics, payroll plays a fundamental role in supporting business leaders with information that enables them to compete more effectively.


Why is the role of the payroll domestique so important?

Slick payroll operations also help support the employee experience, driving employee engagement upward. However, when employees experience payroll mistakes and poor processes, this can be extremely disengaging, leading to critical workforce issues such as high attrition and challenges attracting new employees into the business. Recently in the news, several stories have appeared highlighting payroll errors within major employers that have resulted in employees needing to secure loans from payday lenders or even cutting back on meals to make ends meet. Such situations create tremendous financial stress and anxiety for employees that profoundly impact motivation, productivity, retention, absenteeism, and attraction. With the UK facing an unprecedented cost of living crisis, the ability of a company to process accurate payroll operations has never been more critical.


The silent sound of success!      

Like a domestique, it is rare for a payroll professional to receive praise for their work, which often goes unnoticed.   Payroll professionals recognise that their role is to support a broader strategic objective. Similarly, to domestiques, payroll professionals are happy to silently contribute to the ultimate success for which business leaders take the public plaudits.   And yet, if things go wrong, (as recent headlines have shown), it is the payroll professional that is often left as the first line of defence to take the blame if organisational performance drops or errors occur.

That is precisely why I am aligning an effective payroll team with the cycling domestique. Payroll operations focus on avoiding and identifying issues before they occur. When a rare error does arise, they take responsibility for addressing it effectively and quickly to minimise performance disruption and safeguard the leaders they support. In payroll, the power of silence is the only award that is craved as silence acknowledges a job well done. No noise means no complaints and can therefore be considered to be the silent sound of success! The same is true for the cycling domestique.


The best domestiques become eventual winners.

Integral to the success of any organisation is the payroll department. Crucial to the success of any lead rider in the Tour De France is the domestique. Recruiting the right staff and investing in top talent are essential in both instances.

Top domestiques have often gone on to become Grand Tour De France winners. For example, Chris Froome became Tour De France Champion in 2013 after riding for Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012. More recently, Geraint Thomas became a Tour De France winner in 2018 after initially being the lead domestique to Chris Froome in his previous 2016 and 2017 Tour De France victories. So, who was Geraint Thomas’ domestique in his maiden 2018 victory? Chris Froome!  Chris Froome recognised that Thomas “was stronger from the outset this year.” From 2012 to 2018, all the above riders were part of Team Sky, which invested more than £150m into its team to become the most successful cycling team winning the Tour 6 out of 7 times during this period. Investing in top talent and recruiting the best domestiques available was a critical factor in this success.

In the world of payroll, we are seeing more businesses than ever committing investment into the recruitment process to ensure they can secure the best payroll talent available. Meanwhile, payroll professionals continue to rise in profile as business leaders begin to understand the contributions effective payroll operations can have on achieving organisational success.

For the first time, top accountancy firms are now promoting payroll professionals to Partnership level roles.  In addition, award-winning payroll recruitment firm, JGA Recruitment Group recently reported that they have secured a record number of payroll director-level requisitions as major FTSE and Fortune 500 companies begin to hire executive level payroll talent.


Effective payroll operations are now synonymous with business success.

Effective payroll operations are also becoming synonymous with increases in employee retention, attraction, wellness, and engagement metrics. JGA Recruitment Group founder Nick Day expects this association to continue:

“Payroll is notoriously complex; however, many businesses have been slow to recognise the complex regulatory landscape and compliance obligations payroll departments are required to navigate. Hence, it has been exciting to see organisations contact us to help them recruit new payroll directors as they begin to recognise the powerful role payroll efficiency can play in achieving broader organisational objectives. I believe this process starts with recruiting the right payroll talent from the top down because top-performing payroll operations have demonstrated time and again that they can improve performance, deliver insights, increase employee engagement, and save organisations both time and money.”

If you want to ensure your business stays ahead of the curve, then get in touch today to find out how  JGA Recruitment Group can help transform your payroll operation into top-performing domestiques that can support your organisational or strategic endeavours. Phone: +44 (0)1727 800377, Email: [email protected]



JGA Recruitment Group specialises in attracting its clients’ top 15% of Payroll and HR talent. Founded in 2008, the business has become an award-winning company renowned for continually innovating and pioneering new approaches to the candidate search and selection process.

JGA Recruitment Group has experienced significant growth across all market sectors, from executive to contingency search. Committed to its mission of growing the right way, they provide hyper-focused, bespoke recruitment services to locate top talent that inspires and enables employers to achieve significant success through its people.

Contact JGA Recruitment to find out more and discover how in partnership, we can locate the top talent for your business and take positive steps to create a sustainable, brighter future for all: [email protected].

JGA Recruitment also publishes two leading business podcasts: The Payroll Podcast and the The HR L&D Podcast

Written by Nick Day, Managing Director at JGA Recruitment Group – the UK’s leading Payroll & HR Recruitment Consultancy and Executive Search Firm.

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