The role of a payroll professional has evolved significantly in recent years and is very much recognised as a very skilled and expert role that requires qualifications and considerable experience to deliver a successful service.
As part of a regular series of articles where we talk to those in different roles and industry sectors, we caught up with Roxanne Talbot who has many years’ experience working in payroll to discuss her career to date, what she looks for when recruiting new team members and what those looking to forge ahead in the sector should consider in order to achieve success in this complex and challenging role.
What was your first job in payroll and how has your career developed?
My payroll career began in my early 20’s working for DWP as a HR and Payroll Advisor processing payroll for people working within the Jobcentre Plus. After a few years of working for DWP I moved to McKesson Shared Services to process Payroll for the NHS – both roles gave me a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge which gave me the confidence to advance my career further.
I then moved into a more challenging role as an Assistant Payroll Manager for Education Placement Group where I studied and achieved my Foundation Degree and BA(Hons) in Payroll Management and Applied Business Management. After five years, I had gained significant experience and had enhanced my knowledge and skills to allow me to apply for a role as a Payroll Manager and was successful. I am now employed by a Government Department, managing and delivering a complex and challenging payroll that continuously keeps me on my toes!
Have you always wanted to pursue a career in payroll?
I’m very much like a number of payroll people – I was lucky that this career chose me, and I am so glad and grateful that it did. When I landed my first job as a HR & Payroll Advisor I had actually applied for a job as a Jobcentre Advisor! I had no idea that I would be placed as a HR & Payroll Advisor, but ever since that day my love for payroll has continued, and my eagerness to be successful in this profession has grown stronger!
I love payroll because each day is never the same. I love the customer service side of things; but my favourite part is the fact that legislation and payroll requirements are constantly changing and improving. There is always something new to learn that keeps you engaged and striving for more.
What would you say are the key qualities and skills that someone must have in order to succeed and build a career in payroll?
Payroll is extremely important within every organisation and holds a huge responsibility and I would say there are two distinct parts to the role which require very different qualities and skills.
Firstly, payroll is a customer service-based role. You are, maybe without realising it, delivering a paramount service that requires you to be patient, understanding, compassionate, eager and have a desire to solve problems that will resolve and restore faith.
Secondly, payroll is complex, challenging and ever changing and because of this, those working in payroll are required to understand the legislative requirements around processing all types of payments and how they should be treated in respect of Tax, NI and Pension. There is so much to know in this field that it requires a person that is determined, dynamic, adaptable, flexible and strives to always do things right!
What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in payroll?
For those entering the field, payroll is a rewarding, fast paced, intricate and customer focused role that will keep you interested and focused. You can leverage your career by doing qualifications and gaining more experience, and I would certainly recommend that you look to attend industry events that will help broaden your thinking and determine your future career goals.
If you are looking to move into a more senior role, firstly, don’t be scared! If you have the knowledge and experience, be confident that you have the ability to fulfil the role as a senior officer, assistant manager or manager – wherever you are in your path. Look to gain as much experience as you can by challenging yourself to step into areas of payroll that you have not dealt with before to build your knowledge and skills. If you have a good manager, they will welcome your eagerness and will look to set objectives that will help you achieve goals.
When it comes to recruitment, what do you look for in your ideal candidate and what makes them stand out from the crowd?
When recruiting the imperative thing for me is the person’s attitude. Whilst technical skills are required, it’s vitally important that the person is able to connect with the customer, to understand the impact payroll issues can have and has the willingness to go the extra mile to resolve any problems. Not only does someone need to have great analytical and problem solving skills, but I also look for an empathetic person that has a desire to help.
How do you think the role of a payroll professional has evolved in recent years?
The role of a payroll professional has evolved so much over the years and now, more than ever, it is recognised as a very skilled and expert role that requires qualifications and considerable experience to deliver a successful service. It’s evolved in a positive way and is now recognised as a career and not simply just a ‘job’ and the important contribution that it makes to the successful running of an organisation will see it strengthen.
Organisations are realising the management information and data that can be derived through payroll can help them to understand their businesses better which will aid them in making positive, impactful changes that will add value.
What has been the biggest change or challenge to affect payroll?
Whilst payroll faces continual changes through the introduction of new legislation or changes to regulations, undoubtedly the biggest challenge that those working in payroll faced - and continue to face - is the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst my organisation was fortunate in that its workers were front line and we did not need to use the furlough scheme, like all organisations it still added additional pressure to the payroll function with increased reporting requirements for the business, large scale absence administration, legislative updates, business communications and the adaptation of working from home.
What additional changes to working practices have come as a result of COVID-19?
The COVID-19 situation has affected all those working in payroll; requiring quick adjustments to be made that would ensure delivery as usual with little or no impact to employees pay.
In addition, many organisations had to adapt quickly to the transition of working from home to ensure tasks were completed as normal and the service was uninterrupted. Managers also had to develop stronger trust in their teams and processes; and whilst it is challenging to manage teams virtually, the pandemic has made a number of organisations realise that they can depend on teams working from home and have a better productivity rate.
One particular area of focus was the move from face-to-face training and development to virtual video call. Whilst as an organisation, we are fortunate to have a virtual option, it’s much harder to deliver training and keep people engaged. It required people to become more creative to keep people engaged through those sessions – especially during a time when all interactions were virtual.
How do you see the future for those working in payroll?
The future of payroll looks positive, yet it becomes more challenging and complex each day. Each year payroll becomes more affiliated and recognised as a career path, rather than just a job.
CIPP have worked hard to get people and organisations to recognise payroll as a profession and their vision is starting to be realised. I anticipate that organisations will start to emphasise the importance of gaining payroll qualifications to help engage, upskill and give employees confidence in the services they provide.
Additionally, there will no doubt be further changes to payroll legislation that might see additions to statutory payments, and reporting requirements that will help organisations to further analyse their organisations to help embed equal opportunities within organisations.
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