Of all the disciplines within HR, payroll is often given short shrift. It’s arguably the most essential component of how employees interact with the company, but it’s not “exciting” and therefore gets little attention in the industry.

Let’s change that.

Let’s stop assuming that payroll is where the least qualified HR people end up. Let’s drop the notion that payroll is just a job about little more than comparing numbers and hitting the button to pay the workforce.

What if we instead look at some of the emerging priorities and trends that affect payroll and then tap into insights that show the skills that matter most?

After all, our latest research shows that two out of three payroll leaders with multistate or multicountry operations say that working in payroll is harder than it has been in the past. It’s time we look at this with a more strategic eye.

Three Trends Payroll Leaders Should Watch

Six out of 10 payroll pros say that their company leadership sees HR as administrative and compliance-oriented, not a strategic business partner. This means that these individuals must find ways to more closely align with the business (like this humorous story that turned a failure into a success) if they want to change that stereotype. Some of the big trends we’re seeing in our research:

  1. Earned wage access continues to be a priority for workers, especially those in frontline roles. Our data indicate that this benefit can increase talent attraction and decrease turnover, which are both important outcomes for employers.
  2. Remote work and distributed work have created more multistate and multicountry employers. More than half of employers with operations spread across different states say that operating in that environment creates additional compliance and logistical hurdles.
  3. Employee and manager self-service options look more appealing as payroll teams operate with lean headcount and little bandwidth for additional busy work.

On top of those, we’re seeing other things like AI technology affecting not just payroll processing itself but payroll communications as well. Understanding some of these top priorities and trends helps payroll pros to be seen as the experts they are as they work to ensure employee satisfaction through accurate and timely pay.

Four Skills for the Modern Payroll Professional

After looking at all of the latest research on focus, productivity, and success at work, we developed the STOP model to remind payroll practitioners to STOP before they act. Don’t just jump into your task list. In the words of James Clear, author of the excellent book Atomic Habits, “work on the thing that accumulates, not the thing that evaporates.” With that in mind, consider these four skills that enable payroll pros to design and deliver their most creative, productive, and high-quality work:

  • Strategize on your optimal work process design. From batching tasks and blocking time to using neuroscience principles for aligning work to your energy and focus, this is critical to performing at a high level.
  • Triage priorities using the well-known decision matrix: Delegate what isn’t critical for you to accomplish, Defer things that don’t impact the immediate payroll period, Delete tasks that don’t add value or that slow down your process, and Do those things that are urgent and aligned with your unique skills and talents.
  • Orchestrate your workload across both tasks and communications. The job is seen as highly transactional, but I believe payroll is highly relational, and payroll pros must be sure their persuasion skills are ready, not just their analytical skills, if they want to be successful.
  • Prevent fires from occurring. Instead of just being a “fighter of fires” as payroll is so commonly known for, look for ways to plan ahead. In other words, instead of just fighting fires, why not come up with a fire prevention plan? Upstream thinking is your friend.

I’m speaking on this topic more deeply at a few events this fall, both virtually and in person. If you are looking for a speaker that can talk about how to make payroll a strategic contributor to business success, please feel free to reach out