Chapter 6. The Payroll Profession

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1 Chapter 6 The Payroll Profession The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same Carlos Castaneda I am adamant in my belief that payroll is a profession and should be treated as one. Asking for respect as a professional does have accountabilities attached to it and we will explore these in subsequent chapters. So, what is a professional? Before the age of the internet, I would have consulted my Oxford dictionary. Instead I have used the definition from its online cousin as the one I most resonate with. It comes in several parts. The online version of the Oxford Dictionary says a professional is: Relating to or belonging to a profession That makes complete sense and is fairly obvious. You would expect a profession to consist of a group of professionals who The Payroll Profession 63

2 have at least their work in common. Worthy of or appropriate to a professional person; competent, skilful, or assured Again, this seems a likely definition. To be a professional you need to have certain competencies and skills relevant to that profession which make you worthy of it. Just as importantly, through having these skills and competencies, you give your customers and colleagues assurance that their expectations will be completed to a high standard. A person engaged in a specified activity, as a main paid occupation rather than as a pastime Absolutely, we all expect to be paid for what we do. Unlike sport, it is unlikely that payroll would be a hobby! I think that s a pretty well rounded definition. To be a payroll professional you need to: Be working in, and relating to, the payroll industry as an occupation Be worthy of the profession Have genuine skills and competencies required in payroll Provide assurance in the function you are undertaking Let s look at these attributes in terms of other professions. Firstly, working and relating to the profession as an occupation. We could look at this in terms of a tax agent or accountant. Your friend who works in the accounts department might know something about preparing income tax returns. But to be a professional accountant, that person needs to relate to the accounting profession as an occupation, that is, work as an accountant. Another way to look at it is in terms of professional sport. You can be a really good tennis player, but until you work in the tennis industry and your occupation is that of a tennis player, you won t be deemed professional. 64 The Payroll Revolution

3 Secondly, the definition speaks of being worthy. This is a very important aspect of our collective profession. It goes to the definition of the word worthy. This is to have great merit, character or value. So to be worthy you would need to establish these traits. We will discuss merit and value in subsequent chapters, however great character is an essential part of being in the payroll profession. As payroll professionals we are dealing with personal data and large amounts of company funds. Both of which can have devastating effects if mistreated. So character is a critical part of being worthy and therefore of being called a payroll professional. Another occupation in which being worthy is important is the teaching profession. Teachers must certainly illustrate merit and value as well as have a good character. You wouldn t want your child taught in a classroom by a teacher who didn t possess all these criteria and therefore was not worthy of the teaching profession. The third factor relates to the skills and competencies required of a payroll professional. Employers should certainly test for these and have evidence that their payroll professionals have the knowledge and aptitude to perform their roles. In a profession such as dentistry, you would expect that your dentist had all the skills and competencies required to work on your teeth. Otherwise you d be very unlikely to allow the work to proceed. It reminds me of the time that I had laser eye surgery to correct my sight. I had been asking the receptionist about the experience and qualifications of the surgeon and must have looked a bit scared. The receptionist asked me if I was feeling OK and if I was typically an anxious person. I replied that I was not normally anxious, but it wasn t every day that someone was messing about with lasers on my eyes! Suffice to say, after The Payroll Profession 65

4 I sighted a series of the surgeon s framed certificates showing me that he had the required skills to complete the procedure I began to feel better. But I took the valium she gave me anyway! The definition of professional speaks of the need to offer assurance. This is different to the more tangible value and skills or qualifications. It relates to the confidence that your colleagues feel knowing that you have the payroll operation under control. Once you have been in an organisation for some time, assurance is easier to portray, but how do you project this when you have no track record in the business? What do we look for in professionals outside the payroll industry to give us assurance? If we were looking for a lawyer to work on our behalf, what would make us feel assured that they would achieve the desired outcome? First seek recommendations. No one really wants to be a guinea pig that has skills tested on them. We feel more comfortable knowing that someone has gone before us and had a good experience. As a payroll professional, reference checks go some way towards this. But what is more effective is to share the internal positive feedback you get from your peers and colleagues to show the impact you are having on the organisation. Another way to ensure people you work with have assurance about what you do is to attain qualifications relating to your profession. Again, you d be unlikely to have legal work undertaken by anyone who wasn t a qualified lawyer. I will talk about payroll qualifications and your options at length in the Get Qualified chapter of the book. One thing that would give you a level of comfort about dealing with a lawyer is confirmation they have relevant insurance. This means that if something went wrong or they gave you incorrect advice, they would have a system in place to minimise the impact of the problem. 66 The Payroll Revolution

5 A payroll professional s insurance is their documentation. The value of having up to date, concise and tested payroll documentation cannot be understated. Like insurance, it is a safe guard to ensure normality in the event that something goes wrong or you are unavailable to continue your role. We re not talking just about disaster recovery plans here. Documentation is required for normal events such as payroll professionals taking leave. Most payroll professionals I know take leave and spend their entire holiday worried about what s going on back at the office and what issues are being created that they ll have to fix when they get back! We will look at payroll documentation more thoroughly in the chapter on The Payroll Process. I m sure we would all feel much more assured about engaging our lawyer if they were a member of a relevant industry association. This means they have access to up to date advice, guidance and association resources. They aren t flying solo, trying to figure it out as they go along. Likewise, as a payroll professional you will increase your colleagues confidence if you or your organisation are a member of a payroll association. There is more than one payroll association in Australia, so you even have choice. If you are a member, make it known! This shows that you take your role and responsibilities seriously, and you care about the outcomes. This will also give your colleagues comfort knowing that you have access to resources when you need them. I ve seen many ways that payroll professionals get the message out, often subtly, to their peers to give them assurance that the payroll department takes an active role to ensure proper governance. Some payroll professionals use the member logo of their payroll association on their payslips. So each time an employee receives a payslip they are reminded of the quality control in the The Payroll Profession 67

6 pay office. Others use the same logo on their signature. If you or your employers are a member of a payroll association, wear the badge with pride! We know that most people who work in payroll are worthy of calling themselves payroll professionals. They have the right skills and competencies for the roles they are performing and they exude confidence in the payroll operation of their organisation. It wasn t so long ago that HR was considered a back office operation which was generally about hiring, firing and industrial relations. The HR profession has done a fantastic job over the last years to cement themselves as a genuine profession, worthy of the respect of their peers. It is generally agreed nowadays that HR has a critical part to play in the overall strategic vision of an organisation. This is where we need to take payroll. In the 20 years I have been involved in the payroll industry we have had this quandary. There has been much effort put into making noise about the poor old payroll officer who isn t respected for what they do. But there has been very little consideration put into what we, as an industry, should do about it. I tell my kids all the time, whinging won t fix things. Ideas alone are worthless. Only good execution of those ideas will allow us the outcomes we want. And if we get together as an industry, with our HR colleagues having paved the path ahead of us, I m sure we can change the perception of the payroll operation very quickly. We just need to do it, not just talk about it. We need to step up and be seen. So, how do we do that? From my experience in the payroll industry, working with hundreds of organisations over two decades and examining what other industries have done to professionalise their 68 The Payroll Revolution

7 people, I have determined the five things you need to do to be recognised as a payroll professional. You may well be doing some of these already. None of this is difficult. It s not hard to become a genuine, valued payroll professional who has influence and contributes to their organisation. The best part is that it doesn t take years to achieve. Just make sure you do them all well. 1. Get qualified This is the most critical part of becoming a payroll professional and what differentiates amateurs from professionals in any industry. Qualifications cover many of the prerequisites for becoming a professional. Being worthy, having the right skills and competencies, working in the industry as an occupation and providing assurance. Once you are qualified to an Australian standard you can fulfil your role as a genuinely qualified payroll professional. Qualifications give you a head start. Until recently there has been no payroll qualification in Australia that is recognised within the Australian Qualifications Framework. That is, no organisation has been able to satisfy the Australian Government that there is a need for payroll qualifications, let alone deliver a qualification as prestigious as those our colleagues in HR or finance have access to. Most payroll professionals I know have attempted to do some study but this has been difficult and its relevance is questionable. Anything that was payroll specific wasn t nationally accredited, and the nationally accredited courses such as a Diploma of Management or Certificate IV in Bookkeeping have only minimal payroll content. Certainly not enough to suggest you would be a qualified payroll professional if you completed them. The Payroll Profession 69

8 But now there are two payroll qualifications and a genuine career pathway for payroll professionals. So get qualified! 2. Benchmarking As a payroll professional you need to fully understand the costs of your operation and how efficient you are. Again, this has been difficult to do in the past because of a lack of Australian data on payroll benchmarking. In the chapter on Benchmarking I will go through the results of a recent Australian study and work through how you can measure your performance and efficiency to current benchmarks. 3. Networking and personal profile Networking might sound obvious, but most of us don t use it much if at all. It doesn t mean you need to spend hours at coffee shops or spend lots of money on training or conferences. There are many ways of sharing information with your peers in the payroll industry. The major benefit of networking is to share ideas and see if some of the other payroll professionals you come into contact with have useful information that you can use in your role. One of the things I consistently find is that payroll professionals have a fairly standard set of issues so you don t need to go too far to find someone with the same frustrations or problems. They have probably tried some things to solve those problems. No matter whether their solutions worked or not, you can learn from their experiences. This is very important in terms of your career progression and becoming a key person of influence in the payroll industry. When the plum jobs come up, when people are looking for the best, when organisations need a specialist in their field, you 70 The Payroll Revolution

9 want your name in the mix. 4. Technology It is essential for today s payroll professionals to understand payroll technology and its associated benefits. That is, what technology is available and how it might assist your organisation. You obviously use technology in some manner to process payroll, but what other technology might be around which would enhance your efficiency, your communication with your employees or your ability to provide great reports for your business? What platforms do you use and is this the best use of technology in your case? What technology did you initially purchase and has this been fully implemented? 5. Get noticed for the right reasons Get known as a payroll professional who delivers. Ensure you provide what the business needs, when it needs it. You need to demonstrate that you understand your organisation s needs and as a payroll professional you support its strategies. So what do you need to do to ensure this happens? These are the five cornerstones of a payroll professional. So when you are ready, turn the page and we ll explore them in more detail. The Payroll Profession 71

10 Key points The payroll function is generally underestimated in it s value to an organisation; Qualifications are key to a profession; Technology can have a huge impact on the efficiency and costs of a payroll operation. Checklist Get qualified; Work out your benchmarking statistics; Work on your personal profile and plan a networking strategy; Research technology; Share your knowledge with your peers and superiors. 72 The Payroll Revolution

11 Notes The Payroll Profession 73

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