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COVID19 versus Payroll Professionals in Melbourne - the good, the bad and the great...

By Payroll Talent

Before we commence, Payroll Talent would like to say a heartfelt “thank you” to each and every Payroll Professional that went above and beyond to ensure that JobKeeper, the biggest lifeline in Australia’s economic history, was implemented smoothly and, amazingly, within a timeline of weeks. You should be proud of yourselves and the contribution you made to Payroll as a profession.


It’s been said many times but 2020 was quite the year. Like everything else, Payroll was affected.

The tragedy of the pandemic notwithstanding, let’s talk about the good, the bad, and the great in terms of the impact on the Payroll Profession in 2020/21 from a specialist Payroll recruiter’s perspective.

The Good

One benefit of working in Payroll is that every business, no matter the size, cannot function without someone suitably qualified and/or experienced in place to ensure that employees are paid accurately and on time. Payroll is a required position and is, therefore, to an extent, a protected role within most organisations. On an industry-wide scale, Payroll Talent did not see the rise in unemployment that had been observed in other professions. Some of our Clients, with teams of 3 – 6 Payroll Professionals, either maintained their teams and, in some cases, increased in size due to JobKeeper and the associated workload. This may not have been the case for everyone who reads this but, overall, Payroll simply did not see the job losses that had been observed in other professions (Hospitality and Retail, in the very early stages of the pandemic, and Recruitment which went very south starting in May).

From Payroll Talents experience, when the possibility of remote working was flagged in the early days of the pandemic, many organisations sent the Payroll team home first. They realised that if the Payroll team got sick, they were in big trouble.

The Bad

The worst behaviour we observed, particularly from May to November, was most probably based on a misconception. Some companies actively seeking Payroll Professionals like you convinced themselves that, as a result of COVID, there will be an influx of talent into the Melbourne market hence an increase of supply. Simple economics tells us that increased supply, when demand either stays the same or reduces, means the price will come down. That is the theory.

This misconception was most evident based on the majority of the anecdotes our candidates shared with us. The most common theme during these months was “the company wanted X, Y, Z as well as B and C (which I have) and offered me the job at $5K less than I was on in my last/current role…”.

When you throw in JobKeeper, as well as the fact that many Payroll Professionals were forced to become home schoolers and/or people that simply did not want to learn how to do their new job via a Zoom call, into the mix (as well as a plethora of other reasons as to why changing jobs during a lockdown situation is not suitable) the reality was, and still is, very different.

The moral of the “bad” is your skills and experience, as a Payroll Professional, were being undervalued by companies trying to take advantage of a misconception! The more colloquial term for this is “lowballing”.

The other behaviour Payroll Talent has observed through anecdotal evidence was the lack of recognition for many Payroll Professionals. Way too many times since January we heard from Payroll Professionals that the recognition afforded to them from our Prime Minister was not replicated from their employers. For many, even a simple “thank you” was not forthcoming from Line Managers who stood by and watched Payroll Professionals go above and beyond, burning the midnight oil, in order to implement one of the biggest lifelines in Australia’s economic history and keep 3+ million people in a job. The fact that more than half of the Payroll Professionals Payroll Talent have identified permanent opportunities for since January gave this as a sole motivation for seeking a new employer will hopefully wake some of these businesses up to the fact Payroll Professionals deserve recognition for the important role they perform. It doesn’t cost a business anything to say thank you. It costs the business when your tenured Payroll Superstar takes their skillset elsewhere.

The Great

Perhaps the greatest news to come out of the Pandemic for Payroll Professionals was the circa 2-minute video presented by our Prime Minister which was rolled out at the TAPS Year-End Seminar in June 2020. In the video (you can view the video here) the Prime Minister personally thanked “Payroll Specialists” for how they “stepped up” and played a “vital cog in our national efforts” to get more than 3 million employees onto the JobKeeper program. And, in a “matter of weeks”.

Whilst the video was viewed 6000+ times, but received only two comments, it is still another milestone on the journey that Payroll Professionals are on to achieve the goal of being recognised for the challenging role they perform. Day in, day out.

The fact the Prime Minister referred to you as a “Payroll Specialist” was the highlight for Payroll Talent (and so too should be for you).

Another great outcome for Payroll Professionals was the first point raised in the “good” – the flexibility of Work from Home was a proven success and an extension of the trust and respect that Payroll Professionals deserve. Hopefully, gone are the days of inflexible organisations. The technology to work remotely has existed for years now but it took a pandemic for the wider business community to realise. Realistically, this should benefit so many Payroll Professionals, particularly those who can now drop the kids off or provide the requisite care to someone in need (rather than sit in traffic on the daily commute) and still perform the important role of getting employees paid. Accurately and on time.

Lastly, since the onset of COVID Payroll Talent has observed an increasing number of tenured Payroll Professionals choosing to exit the industry as they did not wish to navigate the challenges of working in a pandemic world. Who can blame them? They have done their time and earnt their retirement. Payroll Talent, as everyone should, congratulate them and thank them for the knowledge they have passed on to the future generations of Payroll Professionals.

Whilst this is bad for the wider Payroll community on the whole, the reduction in the size of the candidate pool in Melbourne is great news for you on an individual level. As experience leaves the profession a smaller talent pool means the remaining pool of Payroll talent is even more valuable. The great news is that Payroll Talent has observed remuneration for Payroll Professionals higher now compared to pre-pandemic levels. Bear in mind that the fact Payroll Talent is highlighting the supply-side issue to prospective Hiring Managers is assisting your cause greatly! We’ve been doing it for 10+ years now and will continue to do so to get Payroll to where it needs to be – recognised as a Profession. This is the only way, in our mind, the industry can attract new entrants to counter-balance the depth of knowledge and experience leaving.

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