What does career progression mean in a payroll context?

By Payroll Talent

Please be aware that the information provided below is general. Your current employment circumstance will have a large bearing on how relevant this information is to your situation. For example, someone working in an ‘in-house’ payroll environment will have different ‘paths’ to someone working in an ‘outsourced’ environment. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on a payroll professional working in an ‘in-house’ model.

The most important caveat here, in order for you to get the most out of the answer to this question, is to ensure that career progression is your key motivator (whether that be in your current role or what you are seeking in your next role).

If you are interested in both career progression and obtaining more money in your next position – there is a mismatch here. The reason we say this is because it is very rare we hear from a Hiring Manager – ‘can you please find us a candidate with lots of skills gaps but who is also prepared to take more money than they are currently receiving’.

Let’s be honest. If a Hiring Manager is seeking an ambitious candidate, with the fundamental skills they require, and the right ‘career motivated attitude’, they are hardly going to pay you more than an existing team member for someone they have to spend more time on providing the support and training to get that person where the business needs to be. (Evidence-based fact). They also have to manage the risk of the incumbent learning that new members are earning more than them so decided to leave. Put yourself in the shoes of a team manager – you would think the same thing right?

If money is your key motivator there will be an article written especially for you so best you wait for that one!

If you have done the soul searching required and landed on the fact that you need to progress your career then read on.

However, at this point, it is imperative you have decided what ‘path’ your career will take. As with any profession, payroll professionals also have ‘paths‘ they can take in order to progress their careers.

It is very helpful for you to know, at this point, that a lot of the payroll professionals Payroll Talent register have kind of fallen into their specialisation – like most payroll professionals. You didn’t finish school and decide you wanted to ‘get into’ payroll. Almost ALL payroll professionals ‘fall’ into payroll. (Evidence-based fact).

You are probably one of those people who ‘fell’ into payroll and now at a point where you’re asking yourself ‘what other options are there for someone like me’?

Based on what Payroll Talent have seen with your peers we reckon there are three:

  1. People Management
  2. Systems/Analysis/Project/Implementation
  3. Standalone/Autonomous

1. People Management
If you are someone that is very ‘company’ orientated (like you really love the organisation you work for, its culture, the people, the HR philosophy etc.), have a great relationship with your manager and the wider team then a long-term career in management is possibly for you. You will need to utilise this whether you stay in your current role or move on. Payroll professionals that are motivated by either leveraging their existing people management skills with their existing employer, or seeking to demonstrate this to a new employer, are in high demand. These people are ‘leaders’ of the future.

Right now you are either being provided the opportunity to demonstrate your leadership capabilities (by maybe being provided with the opportunity to ‘step up’ into your managers role when they are sick or on leave) or actually ‘mentoring’ your team (assuming a leadership role without being recognised for your efforts – both in title and/or financially).

Whatever the case may be, if you know deep down inside that you are motivated by imparting your knowledge on others, being the ‘Agony Aunt/Uncle’ for other team members and/or simply a team player that wants to be a helpful human in the team you work with (even if that’s not in your PD) then you should focus on developing those skills with your current employer or, if they will not accommodate, find a new employer who will harness, and most importantly, develop these skills with you (not for you).

Your preference should always be to stay with your current employer, after expressing your desire to be a people manager. At least, if they don’t come to the party, you gave them the chance so they will not be surprised when you tender your resignation! Be honest and give them the opportunity to accommodate you.

If you accept a new role with another organisation that appreciates your skills, experience and (most importantly potential) they counter offer then that’s your decision. We will also release an article on counteroffers that will assist you to make an informed decision (if that situation ever arises).

2. Systems/Analysis/Project/Implementation
If you’re someone that is currently employed in a payroll function but enjoys the software side of things more than the people side of things then focusing your career more on systems/analysis/project-based work is your thing.

You may be in a payroll processing role and the company you work for has made a decision to implement new Payroll and/T&A and/or HRIS software, upgraded existing software and/or decided to outsource. Did your processing role change?

Are you now data cleansing, performing User Accepted Testing? Are you now involved in a project that you find more satisfying and enjoyable than processing payroll because you’re working with software rather than people?

If that is your current situation then maybe you’re a ‘systems/software’ person as opposed to someone that is process driven.

If that is what you enjoy then maybe focusing your career on these types of positions is your thing?

3. Standalone/Autonomous
If you’re someone that has worked in a team environment for a while, has learnt almost everything that your Manager does as well as ‘stepped into’ their shoes when they’ve been on leave, sick or on a project, you might be ready to forge your own career path as an ‘autonomous’ Payroll Professional (you can run payroll from ‘go to whoa’ including month/year end, do all the GL reconciliations and distribute Payment Summaries at the end of the year). ALL on your own.

This is all well and good (because you will be paid lots of money to assume this responsibility) but our best advice is if you feel you’re ready to take this step, ensure that the context of your life will be able to facilitate this. Being a ‘standalone’ Payroll Professional means that the buck stops with you. There is probably no-one else in the business you join that can provide a back up to you – even if you’re told that at interview.

Almost ALL of the candidates that Payroll Talent register, who are in standalone payroll positions, have stories of ‘not being able to take annual leave when I want’ because ‘there is no one else in the business that can do what I do’ (which is incredibly important when they are the one paying wages/salaries).

We’ve heard so many anecdotes of standalone operators telling us their experience of logging in to process payroll from a hospital bed before/after a procedure/operation. Sounds unrealistic yeah? Believe us, we’ve heard it first hand.

All we’re saying is DO NOT be tempted by large salaries for autonomous roles. The $$$ will always be attractive but you need to establish what is more important in your life at the time. Everyone has different work/life balance requirements. What’s yours?