Posts tagged ‘The Professional Payroll Manager’

March 25, 2014

Best Practice for Relying on Fair Work Ombudsman Advice


I came across a press release a little while back from Senator Eric Abetz, Minister for Employment titled Small Business Able to Rely on Fair Work Ombudsman Advice. The opening sentence of this press release reads:

“In a win for small business, the Minister for Employment Senator Eric Abetz today announced that small business operators will now be able to rely on advice from the Fair Work Ombudsman without the fear of prosecution, should the information be incorrect.”

My thought on this is simply… How Ridiculous!

1. Ridiculous that you can’t get correct advice from Fair Work in the first place.
2. Ridiculous that the press release leads small business operators to think that they won’t be prosecuted for following incorrect advice, because Fair Work are reluctant to put their advice in writing, which makes it very hard to build a case on the advice they actually gave you at the time.
3. Ridiculous that a statement like this will lead small business to unrealistically expect that they can prove the content of a phone call if a case was actually made against them by Fair Work.
4. Ridiculous because my experience has shown me that you need to ask the right questions, to get the right advice from not only Fair Work, but of all payroll and employer association advice lines.

My advice to anyone seeking information from Fair Work, that involves a compliance issue that you could be later prosecuted or fined for (which in reality is very question you would ever have of the Fair Work Ombudsman), is that you get that information in writing as it may ultimately become evidence that you require to defend your actions.

To ensure you don’t venture into the grey area on seeking advice, it would be wise to follow these four best practices when seeking legislative advice:

1. Do your research – don’t go in blind.  Before you make an enquiry with Fair Work, investigate your question as much as you can via the Fair Work website and Google to understand the anomalies that may exist in relation to your enquiry, because most HR, Payroll and Industrial Relations questions rely on understanding multiple pieces of legislation and awards, and more often than not multiple clauses and sub clauses of each of these to reach your final definitive answer.

My own experience with many self-proclaimed payroll “subject matter experts” and having made more phone calls to Fair Work than I can remember, has proven time and again that misinformation is rife.

2. Beware of how you frame your questions and what questions you ask.  Asking the right questions is essential, which is an awfully hard ask if you are inexperienced and are expecting your information provider to be the holder of all wisdom.

It is better to ask ten questions than one, to ensure you and the person providing the advice completely understand the questions, the intent of the questions and the answers being offered. There are quite often “but if”, or “except in the case of” exceptions that apply to employment law and you may not be receiving all of the information you require, if your questioning is misleading or incomplete.

Again, this is why it’s important to research and have a little background knowledge on the question/s you are trying to answer and to always think “how will this advice stand up in court”.

3. Get it in writing!  Everything in payroll and HR is a potential legal issue and your best defence in a legal matter is evidence. Again, when seeking advice, utilise email where you can for a clear audit trail and ask to be directed to documented evidence of the advice you are receiving, so you can print that out as well, such as the published pay rates, or the clauses of the applicable legislative documents, or a publication on the Fair Work website.

Fair Work have made it impossible to get a direct response to a question in writing. They offer only a telephone advice line, or an out of office hours email service, from which they will ring you back within 5 days (which someone at Fair Work mistakenly thinks is customer service). They used to have an online chat facility, that enabled you to print out the conversation, but that’s been shut down. The only “in writing” response you can get from Fair Work these days is to print out information they have available on their website.

Seeking legislative advice via telephone (from any source including employer and payroll/HR associations) is a last resort and where this is your only option, you should ensure your questions are all documented and as each question is answered, document the advice you receive. The date and time of the phone call also needs to be documented, along with the full name and position of the person you spoke to.

4. Double Check the Advice…  Any advice that you receive from an individual should be verified and with the volume of information freely available on the internet, verification is not hard to accomplish. Whether that individual is your payroll officer, an accountant, a Fair Work representative or a telephone advisor from an association, you cannot be sure of their ability to correctly interpret legislation or their wealth of experience in doing so.

I’m probably not telling you anything new, by stating that employment legislation is complex, multi-faceted and relatively difficult to stay fully abreast of unless that is your full time role.

When you seek advice from an organisation who professes to be the font of knowledge you would expect that their advice should be gospel, but that is not always the case.

The law holds the owners, directors and responsible officers of the business liable for compliance and ignorance of the law is never an excuse for non-compliance. As such it is your responsibility to ensure you have full information, correct interpretation or a damn good defence case.

 

 

If you have any questions you would like to raise personally, please email Louise Vidler at The Professional Payroll Manager.

© 2014 Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager.  All rights reserved.

All materials contained on this web site not otherwise subject to copyright of other parties are subject to the ownership rights of Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager. Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager authorises you to make a single copy of the content herein for your own personal, non-commercial, use while visiting the site. You agree that any copy made must include the Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager copyright notice in full. No other permission is granted to you to print, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, upload, download, store, display in public, alter, or modify the content contained on this web site.

March 23, 2014

Payrollers! Are You Prepared for the New Australian Privacy Principles in force on March 12, 2014?


privacy

The new Australian Privacy Principles came into effect on March 12, 2014 and replace the National Privacy Principles and apply to all organisations (with some exceptions), as well as Australian government agencies.

The objective of the Principles is to ensure that organisations manage personal information in “an open and transparent way” and some of the key areas that relate to payroll functions include:

  • All organisations must take reasonable steps to implement practices, procedures and systems to ensure the organisation complies with the Australian Privacy Principles and to provide a system of dealing with enquiries and/or complaints
  • All organisations must have a clearly expressed and up to date policy about the management of personal information, including:
  1. The kinds of information the organisation collects and holds
  2. How the organisation collects and holds the personal information
  3. The purpose of the collection, holding, use and disclosure of the information
  4. How an individual may access personal information and correct any information
  5. How an individual may complain about a breach of the Principles
  6. Whether the organisation is likely to disclose the personal information to an overseas entity
  7. If the organisation is likely to disclose personal information to an overseas entity, the countries in which that may occur
  8. Organisations must not collect personal information unless the information is reasonably necessary for one or more of the organisation’s functions or activities
  • Organisations must not collect “sensitive” information about an individual unless an individual consents to the collection and the information is reasonably necessary for one or more of the organisations functions or activities
  • If “sensitive” personal information is collected as a requirement by law or a “permitted general situation exists in relation to the collection of the information”
  • Where an organisation holds personal information that was collected for a particular purpose (the primary purpose), the organisation must not use or disclose the information for another purpose (a secondary purpose) unless the individual has consented, or the individual would reasonably expect the organisation to use or disclose the personal information for the secondary purpose, or if the use or disclosure of the personal information is required  or authorised under an Australian law
  • Before an organisation discloses personal information about an individual to an overseas recipient, the organisation must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the overseas recipient does not breach the Australian Privacy Principles
  • An organisation must take reasonable steps to ensure the integrity of all personal information to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and complete
  • An organisation must take reasonable steps to ensure the personal information is protected from misuse, interference and loss and from unauthorized access, modification or disclosure

If an organisation refuses to correct the personal information as requested by the individual, the entity must give the individual a written notice that sets out the reasons for the refusal, the mechanisms available to the individual to complain about the refusal and any other matter prescribed by the regulations

All organisations must take reasonable steps to implement practices, procedures and systems to ensure the organisation complies with the Australian Privacy Principles and to provide a system of dealing with enquiries and/or complaints

All organisations must have a clearly expressed and up to date policy about the management of personal information, including:

If you are a Payroll Manager or hold a position of responsibility for the management, security, disclosure and use of personal information you can be fined under the Act for non-compliance, apparently up to $340,000.  I’ve not studied the Act yet to understand whether this is per offence, which could be a devastating blow for an individual who is responsible for the disclosure of a substantial numbers of employee’s information, where there is a security breach or a non-compliant business practice.

If your organisation hasn’t made a big deal out of the new Australian Privacy Principles as far as payroll is concerned, especially if you outsource any part of your payroll function, you have a couple of days to establish how your payroll function will ensure compliance.

According to this Smart Company article on 5th March 2014 “The laws will apply to businesses that turn over more than $3 million a year and collect personal data.

However, there are some small businesses which turn over less than $3 million that will still need to abide by the new legislation. For example, the laws apply if the business is a health services provider, related to a larger business, trades in personal information, or is a contractor which provides services under a Commonwealth contract.”

For more information on the changes to the Privacy Act, visit the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) website.

If you are unsure whether the Privacy Act applies to your business, check out the Privacy Checklist for Small Business from the OAIC.

More articles on the Australian Privacy Principles from Australian Law Firms:

Australia: Are you compliant with new privacy laws coming into effect 12 March 2014? By Dan Brush of CBP Lawyers on mondaq.com

Australia: Major changes to Australia’s Privacy Act: Why they matter for foreign IT suppliers doing business in Australia by David Smith of Corrs Chambers Wesgarth on mondaq.com

Australia: Timely Guidance from the Privacy Commissioner – APP Guildelines Released by Sophie Bradshaw of Corrs Chambers Westgarth on mondaq.com

If you have any questions you would like to raise personally, please email Louise Vidler at The Professional Payroll Manager.

© 2014 Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager.  All rights reserved.

All materials contained on this web site not otherwise subject to copyright of other parties are subject to the ownership rights of Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager. Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager authorises you to make a single copy of the content herein for your own personal, non-commercial, use while visiting the site. You agree that any copy made must include the Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager copyright notice in full. No other permission is granted to you to print, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, upload, download, store, display in public, alter, or modify the content contained on this web site.

February 2, 2014

Reading Contextually Between the Payroll KPI’s


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The Minimum Essentials Payroll KPI’s outlined the KPI’s all payroll services should have implemented and touched on benchmarking.  Benchmarking can be dangerous territory for the unitiated, because it is so subjective.

Simply comparing your end result numbers against another organisation, industry or a global best practice and deciding that your payroll service must work to achieve best practice may result in degradation of your service levels and compliance.  You must apply “context” to the benchmarking data, in order to truly achieve any level of benchmark against others.

To apply the “context”, it is essential to understand that behind every number is a complex array of factors including:

Scope of the Study

First and foremost, the scope of the benchmark study and the compilation methods of the data used to calculate the metrics, especially how the cost of payroll production has been calculated.  The cost of payroll production is a base line measurement for a major part of the benchmarking process, so it is important to ensure that everyone is compiling their costs using comparable methods and with the same definition of end to end payroll.  Company “A” may interpret end to end payroll as the process from receipt of timesheets into the payroll service to the deposit of funds into employee bank accounts, whereas Company “B” will rightly incorporate the compilation of employee timesheets and production of post payroll reporting, and include the cost of all employees involved in the process.

Automation & Integration of Systems

Automations and integrations achieved by the HRIS and related systems significantly reduce the cost of payroll production as automation plays an integral role in the efficiency of the payroll service.  If your payroll is fully integrated with time and attendance and employee self-service and the general ledger, you are half way there.  Every process that is performed manually, multiplied by the number of times the process is performed, adds up to a significant potential cost saving over the course of a year.

Volume of Management & Statutory Reporting

Management reporting and the volume of it, varies from business to business and if you have the luxury of HRIS and related integrated systems that automatically produce the reports and email them to the recipient list you are miles ahead of the payroll service that is manually compiling data for management reporting

Statutory reporting is often an onerous task and the more data you can pull down from your systems, either as data into excel spreadsheets or as completed reports from your systems to automate the reporting processes will result not only in efficiency, but should also result in greater compliance by virtue of the reduced manual intervention.  The ultimate HRIS system for me would include one with the capability of calculating the payroll tax, fringe benefits tax and other required reports with all the bells and whistles that submit the electronic returns.

Method of Pay Slip Distribution

The automation of pay slip distribution can be a giant cost and efficiency gain to organisations that is under rated and under utilised by so many organisations.  If your organisation is taking the time to print, separate, seal, collate and physically send pay slips across the organisation, it’s time to start asking your employees if they’d like to receive their pay slips via email and/or investigating the return on investment of employee self-service.

When benchmarking your payroll service against another, factor in the varying methods of pay slip distribution, especially where there are sizeable organisations with a national presence.

Business Process Automation

Automations achieved by business processes need to be taken into account when analysing one organisation’s KPI’s against others:

  • If your payroll service operates with highly manual processes and a considerable quantity of hard copy forms, you will never achieve best practice in efficiency and as a result of that, cost.  Best practice efficiency results from the automation of processes such as employee self-service to enter leave applications, supply of information to reduce employee queries and upload of information by HR/P&C or employees to minimise transactional processing by the payroll service.
  • Physical data entry of timesheets by the payroll service is another detriment to the achievement of efficiencies in comparison to payroll services that utilise excel uploads, time and attendance system integrations and other automated processes.
  • Physical data verification of timesheets and employee information is time consuming and should be minimised as much as possible.  This is said, on the absolute proviso that comprehensive audit and validation checkpoints and reports are produced and verified to ensure that all potential errors will be identified in the process.  If you cannot achieve complete automation, take what you can and implement baby steps within the various components of the payroll process.
  • The number of autopaid employees, which is usually reserved for salaried employees and those permanent employees who don’t vary their hours or work overtime greatly.  This is not a benchmark that can usually be addressed by the payroll service, as it is dictated by legislation, award coverage and organisational policy.

Complexity of the Business and Its Payroll

Greater complexity results in a higher volume of business processes and the aim should be minimise and eliminate the complexities, where possible.  Some complexities such as number of business entities or industrial agreements cannot be changed and the objective is to achieve economies of scale in the payroll processes.

When comparing organisations for benchmarking purposes though, it is useful to understand the level of complexity involved in order to truly benchmark one payroll service against another, for example:

  • Company “A” may be a single registered entity, whereas Company  “B” may be made up of fifty separately registered entities.  Company “A” runs 52 weekly payrolls per year, whereas Company “B” is required to run 2600 weekly payrolls per year, which will result in a huge disparity between the two companies cost of payroll production and their efficiencies.

The Level & Volume of Services

One payroll service that processes only uploaded timesheets, does not have payroll accounting or statutory reporting performed within the payroll service and does not have ancillary employees benefits management functions will appear to outperform and be more efficient than an organisation whose payroll service includes manual timesheet entry, a great volume of management and statutory reporting and complex benefits management.

Additionally, the service level demands on the payroll service are hard to measure but definitely come into play in one service’s ability to outperform another.  The difference between an organisation that has a dedicated support line, or a policy where employees can call their payroll representative directly at any time of day and an organisation that has an archaic policy of allowing employees to contact payroll only at certain times of the day will lend weight to the payroll service’s ability to achieve best practice efficiency.

The volume of enquiries is a standard measurement for payroll best practice and will be determined by a multitude of factors, including the level and volume of services provided plus the error rates being achieved by each service and a multitude of other organisational or industrial issues.

The Salary Costs of the Payroll Team

A big factor in the cost of payroll production is the cost of your payroll team, and again requires a multitude of considerations before simply benchmarking one company against another, such as:

  • Does your organisation pay award rates or market rates?  How do the salaries of your payroll team per FTE compare to those you are benchmarking against?
  • Where is your organisation located? A capital city centre will always demand higher salaries than a regional area.
  • What are the positions included in your payroll team?  Do you have only transactional payroll processing staff, or do you have HRIS Systems staff, analysts, payroll accountants, employee benefits administrators, multiple leaders and managers and such?  The inclusion of payroll team members in addition to the purely transactional staff is always going to show a higher payroll production cost per FTE and as such needs to be taken into consideration when comparing the data.

Additional Variables Impacting KPI Analysis

Other variables that need to be analysed contextually include:

  • The number of employees processed and/or supported per Payroll FTE should be interpreted taking into account all of the factors discussed above.  One payroll team member can quite easily produce 1500 pays per week, while another would struggle to produce 250.  This is based not only on the competence of the team member, but also on the level of automation, complexity and what portion of the end to end payroll function each of the team members are performing
  • Data Quality is of prime importance to the achievement of compliance and efficiency and where one organisation is falling behind another due to data quality, a valid argument with cost based analysis can be achieved to highlight the importance of Input = Output.
  • The volume of Out of Cycle Payments and Special Pays as a metric in a report can be read as a poor performing payroll service who clearly needs to implement some payment policies and undertake some cause analysis on these “errors”.  On the other hand, it could also be read that organisational policy or awards dictate a service standard that the payroll service has to adhere to, or that the organisation needs to support the payroll service in having all staff understand the importance of data quality and timeliness.
  • The cost of Out of Cycle Payments and Special Pays will be a key driver for management to address, where they can, the organisational policy to improve the volume and cost of out of cycle payments.  When you consider that an out of cycle payment takes, at the very least, half an hour from calculation to completed payment, this raises the cost of payroll production significantly if you have high volumes.
  • Retrospective payments are a contributor to cost of payroll production whether you have a system that automates the process or not.  Aside from the calculation of retrospective payments, they usually have to be checked as a separate process within the payroll process and cause fluctuations/variations in the payroll (employee and company totals) due to back payments that again have to be manually verified as a separate process step.
  • The employment turnover of payroll staff will add to the costs and efficiency of the payroll service, but is something that will not be understood in the realm of benchmarking.  An individual organisations turnover can only be understood by understanding the data behind the data.

There is No Like for Like in Payroll

Any comparison you make of your KPI’s to others is a subjective comparison and the contributing factors must be taken into consideration, as best you can, to make a considered judgement of your achievements against best practice.

In payroll benchmarking, there is really is no like for like due to the variances in operating systems; policies, processes and practices; complexities; and of the interpretation of “end to end” payroll.

If you have any questions you would like to raise personally, please email Louise Vidler at The Professional Payroll Manager.

© 2014 Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager.  All rights reserved.

All materials contained on this web site not otherwise subject to copyright of other parties are subject to the ownership rights of Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager. Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager authorises you to make a single copy of the content herein for your own personal, non-commercial, use while visiting the site. You agree that any copy made must include the Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager copyright notice in full. No other permission is granted to you to print, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, upload, download, store, display in public, alter, or modify the content contained on this web site.

January 20, 2014

The Minimum Essential Payroll KPI’s


As a Payroll Manager, you are responsible for managing what is the greatest cost of most organisations and with that comes the continued attention of Finance, C-Level Management and the Board.  You are being monitored and usually measured on cost and efficiency and you are always at risk of being outsourced to a more viable option.

As a manager of a service offering in your organisation, you need to be a “business” manager who is focused on achieving organisational goals and outcomes, on providing service to your “customers” that could not possibly be matched by competitors and on the cost of payroll production.

If you are not already measuring, monitoring and acting upon Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) in your payroll service, you need to start NOW.

KPI’s are quantifiable indicators that reflect the organisational goals and are supposed to be drivers of change and measures of progress.

Payroll has long been viewed as a purely transactional processing cost centre, whose only organisational goals are to minimise the cost of processing and keep payroll noise to an absolute minimum.  While these are primary goals for cost reasons, many other complexities come into play as to why payroll costs what it does.

Only by measuring and taking calculated steps to improve the KPI’s, will you be able to truly reduce payroll costs, as many of the reasons for the cost of payroll are completely outside of the Payroll Managers control such as data integrity, industrial complexity and statutory requirements for example.

Personally, I have a few issues with the apparent simplicity of payroll KPI’s and the comparison of organisations against each other, or against best practices.  The measurement of cost, transaction volumes and time to complete tasks alone does not truly measure the performance of a payroll team as there are an abundance of variables coming into play for every number recorded.

No two payroll operations are like for like.  There are different operating systems, differing policies and company practices, differing complexities and differing definitions of end to end payroll.

I also believe that the global standard for compilation of payroll KPI data misses three very important categories: Service Excellence, Best Practice Business Processes and Compliance.

A payroll service’s primary function is to produce on-time, compliant employee payments… but getting the money into employee’s hands is far from the end of the payroll process.  Management and statutory reporting can be a huge portion of a payroll team’s workload, as can be the day to day enquiries of the workforce and other organisations relating to employee payments and financial matters.

Additionally, every payroll service on this earth, no matter their size, should aim to have best practice documented processes, checklists, segregations of duty and audit steps throughout the process, so this should be included in the KPI’s and be a major objective of the payroll team and the organisation.

These are the Minimum KPI’s Payroll Should Be Measuring as per global industry practice:

(HR/P&C KPI’s are excluded as the focus is solely on payroll production)

THE COST OF PAYROLL – intends to measure the cost to business of the end to end payroll process, which usually encompasses the sum total of wage and operating costs of the payroll team and the cost of implementing and maintaining HRIS and related systems.  For a true cost of end to end payroll, all people in the organisation that contribute to any component of the end to end payroll process should be identified and accounted for such as:

  • IT costs involved in implementation and maintenance of HRIS and related systems
  • Payroll Accounting costs
  • The wages cost of staff compiling timesheets for payroll input
  • Supervisors and management wages cost for time spent on payroll processing and enquiries
  • HR/P&C wages cost for time spent on the transactional components of payroll processing

The combined results of these metrics will assist you to determine the cost drivers of payroll production:

  • Cost of Payroll (Total Wage Cost All Employees) as a Percentage of Revenue
  • Number of Payroll Processes Per Annum
  • Cost of Payroll Production Per Employee Serviced  (Total Operating Cost of Payroll Service per employee serviced by the payroll)
  • Cost of Payroll Production per Payroll FTE

PRODUCTIVITY – intends to measure how productive the payroll team as a whole and individually are, by measuring the ratio of payroll people to the number of employees being serviced.  Additional metrics allow identification of issues affecting productivity.  Standard metrics include:

  • Number of Pays Processed Per Payroll Processor FTE
  • Number of Out of Cycle Payments Processed
  • Number of Retrospective Payments
  • Number of payments requiring manual intervention or follow up
  • Input that contains unclean data

EFFECTIVENESS – intends to measure whether the payroll team are achieving the required outcomes (on-time, compliant payroll production) and identify factors that may be inhibiting their effectiveness.  There are a host of metrics utilised to measure effectiveness and include:

  • Error Rate including Overpayments
  • Payroll Staff Turnover
  • Volume of enquiries and the speed at which they are responded to
  • Automations (including metrics on production time on manual forms/transactions, employee self-service, payroll processing automations, reporting, payslip production)
  • Data Integrity
  • HRIS and related Systems Integration

Additional KPI’s That We As an Industry Should Be Advocating:

SERVICE – regular measurement of the perception of service by those we serve, including:

  • A regular rating by employees to establish the current perceived level of service and identify improvement areas (perceived or real)
  • A regular rating by your internal customers and by supervisors and management on their perception of the payroll service
  • Regular ratings against the achievement of Service Level Agreements
  • Compilation of data on queries such as long term unresolved employee queries, union action as a result of payroll actions and other day to day categories of enquiry in order to identify service demands and improvement areas

COMPLIANCE – as a core function of the payroll service, measurement of the continued achievement of organisational and statutory compliance including:

  • Outcomes of audit reports
  • Compliance with company policies and procedures
  • Achievement of management reporting deadlines
  • Correct, on time and compliant statutory reporting and payments
  • Achievement against monthly internal compliance reviews
  • Breaches of employment legislation , award requirements, etc
  • Breaches of service level agreements

BEST PRACTICE BUSINESS PROCESSES – there is enough global evidence, supporting legislation and standards that demand that all payrolls should be produced utilising best practice business processes to ensure corporate governance, financial transaction security and so on.  The measurement of the payroll service’s achievement towards best practice business processes should identify:

  • All processes and sub processes in the production of payroll are documented and reviewed regularly for compliance and best practice
  • Documented checklists are utilised for payroll processes and signed off by relevant overseers at each vital step of the payroll process
  • Payroll balancing is exhaustive and each authoriser throughout the process understands the full extent of what they are authorising
  • Segregation of duties is well documented, authorisations are achieved and a process for monitoring each step of the payroll process exists
  • Error identification and fraud prevention process checkpoints are  included throughout the processes and checklists
  • Business policies are documented for information security, confidentiality, privacy, authorisations, etc and the requirements of each policy are implemented within the processes

If your payroll service is measuring and monitoring the metrics and KPI’s listed, I applaud your efforts!  If you are part way there, then I urge you to build in these additional KPI’s and identify further improvement areas for your service.  If you are not measuring, open up a new excel spreadsheet NOW! and start pumping in the numbers you need to measure your base line data.

The data on its own though is insufficient, as you need to identify targets for each of your KPI’s and monitor these as you implement your improvements, to ensure your efforts are actually achieving the intended outcomes.

Many payroll services benchmark themselves against others, or against industry, country or global best practice KPI’s.  Before deciding how you will utilise benchmarking, it is important to understand the dynamics behind the numbers.  Essential to your understanding though, is that you must drill down into the numbers to understand the measurement method of the benchmarks you apply; the complexities of the organisations you measure yourself against; the HRIS systems and processes in place; and a host of other reasons that another payroll service may be producing twice as many employee payments as your team, with half the staff.

Remembering that KPI’s are quantifiable indicators that reflect the organisational goals and are supposed to be drivers of change and measures of progress, it is imperative that you understand what the goals actually are for the payroll service and include measurements that will provide actionable data that identifies what issues exist and what improvements need to be implemented.

If you have any questions you would like to raise personally, please email Louise Vidler at The Professional Payroll Manager.

© 2014 Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager.  All rights reserved.

All materials contained on this web site not otherwise subject to copyright of other parties are subject to the ownership rights of Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager. Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager authorises you to make a single copy of the content herein for your own personal, non-commercial, use while visiting the site. You agree that any copy made must include the Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager copyright notice in full. No other permission is granted to you to print, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, upload, download, store, display in public, alter, or modify the content contained on this web site.

January 13, 2014

The #1 Unknown Australian Salary Packaging Consequence Your Employees Need to Know About


While business is to be commended for the efforts to share the benefits of salary packaging with employees across the board, it still confounds me that employees are entering into salary packaging arrangements oblivious to the REAL financial impact on their finances.

If you are going to offer a broad based Salary Packaging program to your employees, you MUST educate your employees, or at the very least strongly encourage them to seek independent financial advice from the ATO, their financial planner, tax adviser or accountant.  An employee will be far more encouraged to seek advice, if they understand along with the pros, that there are some serious cons.

The greatest unknown by most Australian employees is the impact of Reportable Fringe Benefits on their assessable income and the consequence of that increased assessable income on their entitlement to government benefits, multiple tax offsets, child support obligations and entitlements and HELP/SFSS repayment calculations.

Employers present calculations to the employees showing the net pay difference between a packaged and non-packaged salary, often without any reference to the potential consequences of their increased Reportable Fringe Benefits amount on their payment summaries.  Employees sign up to the salary packaging programme wholeheartedly, rejoicing in their “extra” income… until they submit their tax return.

Once their tax return is processed, many employees learn a very hard lesson.  Their windfall in undertaking salary packaging, has just earned them lost tax benefits; or an increased debt to the ATO for HELP/SFSS; or the Child Support Agency advises they now owe considerably more Child Support or will receive considerably less; or Human Services advises they owe for overpaid benefits.

While some payroll people may think that the likelihood of this consequence is minimal, consider the number of employees you have with HELP/SFSS debts; that we live in a society where almost half of marriages end in divorce; and that a majority of families with children under the age of 18 are entitled to Family Assistance.

Over the years I’ve implemented this in a few businesses and employees still come to the payroll team at year end and ask why payroll didn’t take enough tax, or why they weren’t advised, when they quite obviously were.  To counteract the employees who don’t read fine print, simply ensure this information is not fine print.  A one page document that they sign and date, prior to undertaking any salary packaging, that clearly outlines the potential consequences and that they need to seek independent financial advice, is all you can do without physically clubbing them over the head or booking the appointment with the financial planner for them.

I can only encourage you to make the effort to implement this information into your salary packaging documentation and enable your employees to ask better questions of their financial advisers and to make more informed decisions.  You will be thanked for it by the reduction in furious or devastated employees, waving their Payment Summaries around at tax time.

This is what you MUST make your employees aware of as a minimum:

Salary Packaging may (because some items are classified as “exempt benefits”) result in an increased “Reportable Fringe Benefits” value on your Payment Summary, which will be used (in addition to your Gross Earnings) to calculate your assessable income for the following:

  • Medicare Levy Surcharge
  • Medicare Levy Surcharge lump sum payment in arrears tax offset
  • Deductions for personal super contributions
  • Super co-contribution
  • Tax offset for contributions to your spouse’s super
  • Mature age worker tax offset
  • Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) and Financial Supplement (SFSS) repayments
  • Dependent tax offsets, including
    • Dependent spouse
    • Child-housekeeper
    • Parent, spouse’s parent or invalid relative
  • Housekeeper tax offset
  • Senior Australians tax offset
  • Pensioner tax offset
  • Your child support obligations and entitlements
  • Your entitlement to certain income-tested government benefits (including Family Assistance)

Before undertaking salary packaging, you are advised to seek independent financial advice from the ATO, a financial planner, tax adviser or accountant.  If any of the above income assessable items affect you, it is imperative that you seek independent financial advice on the impact of salary packaging and increased Reportable Benefits.

The Fringe Benefits Tax year is April 01 to March 31 each year.  The total Reportable Fringe Benefits for this period will be documented on your Payment Summary the following June.

Employees who receive individual fringe benefits of $2,000 or more in a Fringe Benefits Tax year, will have the “grossed up” value of the fringe benefits reported on their Payment Summary.  This is the Reportable Fringe Benefit and the “grossed up” rate is 1.8692.

Therefore, if you receive $10,000 in taxable Fringe Benefits for example, this amount is multiplied (“grossed up”) by 1.8692 and becomes your Reportable Benefits total of $18,692 on your Payment Summary.

The additional amount of $18,692 is added to your gross earnings to calculate your income tested entitlements, outstandings and tax offsets as listed above.

If you have any questions you would like to raise personally, please email Louise Vidler at The Professional Payroll Manager.

© 2013 Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager.  All rights reserved.

All materials contained on this web site not otherwise subject to copyright of other parties are subject to the ownership rights of Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager. Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager authorises you to make a single copy of the content herein for your own personal, non-commercial, use while visiting the site. You agree that any copy made must include the Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager copyright notice in full. No other permission is granted to you to print, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, upload, download, store, display in public, alter, or modify the content contained on this web site.

January 2, 2014

Are Employers Missing The Mark When They Demand Particular HRIS System Experience of Candidate Payroll Managers?


This question was raised with me by an experienced and respected Australian Payroll Professional and my immediate response to the question was “Yep!  I’ve been there!”…

Why do so many employers base the position criteria around particular HRIS systems, thus eliminating many otherwise perfectly qualified payroll professionals from applying?

I would love to learn the views of both payroll managers and those responsible for recruiting them, as to whether there are valid reasons to decree specific HRIS systems experience of payroll management candidates.

Although my own resume clearly shows that I have vast experience with a diverse range of HRIS systems and I’ve achieved significant improvement outcomes with each of them, I too have been rejected from the candidate pool from the outset because I can’t tick the particular HRIS system experience box demanded by certain job advertisements.

My view is that there are certainly roles and circumstances where this demand is warranted, such as stand-alone payrolls where there is no handover time and experience is required to hit the ground running, or for some HRIS system implementations that require exemplary knowledge of a particular HRIS system to achieve the outcomes for the business (with a big HOWEVER here, because successful HRIS system implementation requires a great deal more than just expertise in a HRIS system).

The greatest considerations of employers/recruiters, in my mind, before a job advertisement stipulates that experience in a certain HRIS system is a pre-requisite, should be:

  1. What are the outcomes required of the Payroll Manager in relation to the HRIS system?
  2. Which HRIS systems are comparable to the one in place at this employer?
  3. How can candidates demonstrate their cross functional capabilities from comparable HRIS systems?
  4. How do I as a recruiter, not exclude the best candidates from applying for this position?

The experience that should be sought from Payroll Management candidates should be based purely on their ability to achieve the outcomes of the particular role they are applying for and if a candidate can demonstrate they have similar or multiple HRIS system experience, they may actually be a far better candidate than twenty others with ten years user experience of the HRIS system used within the employing business.

What are the outcomes required of the Payroll Manager in relation to the HRIS system?

The following questions should be raised in order to determine the HRIS system specific position requirements and outcomes:

  • What exactly do we require the candidate to know about the HRIS system in question?
  • Why is the candidate required to possess certain HRIS systems knowledge?
  • Will they be processing the payroll?
  • Will they be documenting business processes?
  • Will they be required to maximise the functionality and efficiency of the HRIS system?
  • Will the candidate have a handover period or will they be thrown into the fire?
  • Does the candidate need to understand HRIS system configuration?
  • Will the candidate be required to create/write reports within the HRIS system?
  • What level of skill and experience is required in HRIS Data Analysis?
  • Will the candidate be required to maximise the efficiency of the HRIS system and build automations?
  • Do we have other Subject Matter Experts in the business with the required HRIS systems knowledge?

The outcomes required of the candidate in relation to the HRIS system will determine whether the candidate really needs to have experience in a particular system; whether proven experience in a similar operating system will be suitable; or whether it is even a requirement worth asking for.

Which HRIS systems are comparable to the one in place at this employer?

Payroll Software, SaaS providers and HRIS systems around the globe offer a multitude of points of difference but essentially, payroll is payroll and if you understand payroll, accounting and HRIS systems administration, there shouldn’t be a payroll/HRIS system that can’t be learned on the run by a professional payroll manager.

For those who can’t imagine how this may be possible, here are just some of the ways that professionals manage to learn new systems on the fly:

  • There’s always a Help button and usually a fairly decent user manual
  • More often than not there is a hefty support contract that can be utilised to seek additional information
  • Utilising Subject Matter Experts within the business
  • User groups, networking groups, forums and colleagues within the industry
  • Trusty old Google provides a world of answers
  • Payrollers are hoarders and there’s always someone who has the report writing training manual, configuration documentation or other precise information you are seeking
  • Most HRIS systems have a functional test database where professionals can model and test the outcomes they are attempting to implement

How can candidates demonstrate their cross functional capabilities?

Just because a group of candidates may have worked with a single system for the last 10 years, this does not automatically validate their ability to maximise HRIS system efficiencies, create reports or undertake data integrity validation.  It is important to understand exactly what their user experience is and whether they are actually super users, if that is a requirement of the position.

Again, the outcomes required of the position are an important pre-cursor to enable the recruiter to seriously examine each candidates HRIS systems experience.  Your candidate pool may be filled with people proficient only in producing payrolls and creating a handful of adhoc reports and may never even have heard of the concept of maximising the ROI of a HRIS system.

If I was employing a person who had 5-10 years’ experience in a payroll system and in payroll supervisory or management position, then I would be expecting they should be able to demonstrate a long list of improvements they’ve implemented along the way to that system.

I believe recruiters should be asking candidates to demonstrate their experience and previous outcomes in:

  • Improving data quality within HRIS systems to ensure data integrity and compliance
  • Creating cost and production efficiencies by implementing processes, creating automations and removing duplication of effort
  • Advanced report writing experience (or excel capabilities with extracted data) to increase analysis and reporting capabilities
  • Understanding the concept of and delivering  ROI on a HRIS system

How do I as an employer or recruiter, not exclude the best candidates from applying for this position?

In simple terms, employers and recruiters must truly understand the role… especially the required outcomes, as already discussed.  Where the employer stipulates particular HRIS system experience as a pre-requisite, an honest and open discussion by the recruiter will reveal whether this is a real or perceived position requirement.

Simply raise the questions voiced in this article with the employer:

  • What are the particular HRIS System outcomes required of this position?
  • Can this only be provided by a candidate experienced in one HRIS system, or are there comparable systems or transferrable skills?
  • Is there an existing Subject Matter Expert in the business that can be utilised by a Payroll Manager candidate with superior HRIS systems improvement experience, but lacking experience in the required HRIS system?
  • How can recruiters be sure that dedicated experience in a single HRIS system isn’t more than simple payroll processing knowledge? Does the candidate know how to manipulate data, write reports, analyse system efficiencies?  How will candidates demonstrate their experience in achieving the HRIS system outcomes required?

So, it’s over to the employers, recruiters and payroll manager candidates now… what is your experience?  Do you have a view point on whether HRIS systems experience is a transferrable skill?

If you have any questions you would like to raise personally, please email Louise Vidler at The Professional Payroll Manager.

© 2014 Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager.  All rights reserved.

All materials contained on this web site not otherwise subject to copyright of other parties are subject to the ownership rights of Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager. Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager authorises you to make a single copy of the content herein for your own personal, non-commercial, use while visiting the site. You agree that any copy made must include the Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager copyright notice in full. No other permission is granted to you to print, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, upload, download, store, display in public, alter, or modify the content contained on this web site.

December 8, 2013

Turn Your Payroll Service into a True “Service Excellence” Centre


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The term ‘Payroll Service’ is often an oxymoron, for in many organisations where there is a payroll department, there is a complete lack of actual customer service.  Please don’t take offence, I know we all work hard and have relenting deadlines to achieve, but we as an industry need to take a good hard look at instilling service excellence, and some individuals in the industry, just need to learn to treat others as they would expect to be treated.

Almost every day of your life you have a customer service experience.  You owe it to yourself and your customers to take stock of these experiences and note how each interaction affects you emotionally and ask yourself honestly, if your customers experience the same emotions in their dealings with you or your team.  The basic emotions people experience in a customer service situation are one of: Joy; Satisfaction; Frustration; Disappointment; or Anger.  It is up to you how each customer walks away feeling.

There are a few things in payroll I am an advocate of: compliance, efficiency, integrity and service excellence.  The first three are relatively easy enough to turn the tables on with some effective management and some good business practices.  Service excellence though, is the tough cookie.  You, your team, your culture, your leadership and your business processes will determine the level of service that is achievable.

Important steps to achieving service excellence are:

  1. Understanding exactly what service excellence means
  2. Understanding the current perceived level of service – yours, theirs and the reality in between
  3. Taking a serious look at your interactions with your customers (every single person or entity you transact with) to identify your “moments of opportunity”
  4. Deciding what service excellence would actually look and feel like at each of those “moments”
  5. Setting the wheels in motion to elevate your service standards and practices

Understanding Exactly What Service Excellence Means

Service is defined as an act of helpful activity; to help or aid; to do someone a service

Excellence is defined as the fact or state of excelling; superiority or eminence

To achieve service excellence, you don’t need necessarily require a budget, you don’t need to employ a management consultant and it’s not entirely necessary to implement an enquiry management system.  You do need however, to make a decision as a team to define what the standard will be and commit to exceeding it, and you absolutely will need to build solid processes and business systems to consistently achieve excellent outcomes.

Understanding the Current Perceived Level of Service

In the standard payroll office, you usually never hear from your main customers – the employees – unless they perceive there is a problem.  You don’t have people ringing in to thank you for a pay well done.  So if your phones are ringing off the hook, you have some serious work to get through to become a service centre of excellence.

If your phone is not ringing off the hook with payroll queries though, don’t think you can sit back and relax.  Are your customers happy?  Are management satisfied with your performance?  Do people in the organisation value your work?  Just because the pays are being processed correctly, does not mean that your customers are happy with your service.

You will need to obtain some brutally honest information from employees and management, such as what they think of your service; what they would like to receive from you; where they think you could improve; and what they think could be done differently.

Going down this road can be a difficult one for some, as you will always receive some seriously negative feedback, at the very least.  Your opportunities though are endless, as you can justifiably and quantifiably turn around the service levels and increase staff morale.  If you ask the right questions, you will receive invaluable information to assist you in turning your payroll process into a valued service centre.

There are various ways to find out how your service is perceived:

  • Conduct a service survey with your management and employees
  • Conduct open feedback sessions with small groups of your customers
  • The simplest one of all – constantly listen to what people are asking and telling you in their daily queries

In addition to understanding what your customer’s perception of your service is, it is imperative to understand your payroll team’s perception of their own service.  Do they think they are providing brilliant service?  Can they identify opportunities for improvement?

As anyone in service or management should know, the key to identifying service opportunities is to understand the “pains”.  Wherever someone experiences an issue, a dissatisfaction or cries out for a better way, these are the where the opportunities to implement improvements exist.

If your customers have difficulty accessing information, this is a “pain” that can be addressed by making it easy for them to access the information they need.  If your payroll team are overwhelmed with enquiries, you can address your team’s “pain” by implementing a FAQ or building a system to ensure the common queries are answered pre-emptively.

If management are consistently seeking reports from your team, build these in to your processes as automated functions and make them available for use by management.  The possibilities to eliminate pain points are endless.

Take a Serious Look at Your Customer Interactions

Once you’ve asked all the right questions of your team and your customers to establish the perception of your service, you then have to fill in the reality between the two, by taking a good hard look at how your service is conducted.  Ask the following questions as a starting point:

  • How does your team interact with customers?  Are they helpful?  Are they respectful?  Do they welcome customer interaction or dread it?  Do they explain or blast policy or rules at them?  Is their conduct of an excellent standard?  Are customer queries an interference to their work at hand?
  • What do you provide? What is the standard of it?  Is it professional?  What purpose does it service?  Is it useful?
  • Is there quality and efficiency in the processes involved in responding to enquiries?
  • What are the commonly asked questions and requests?  Should you be pre-empting these and delivering information and resources to minimise or eliminate the questions and requests?
  • How difficult is it to do business with your payroll service?  Is someone available at all times to respond to questions?  What are the wait times or turnaround times on responses?  Do you enforce unreasonable shut off times?  Do your team members send all calls to voice mail when they are busy?

Deciding What Service Excellence Will Actually Be

You, as the Manager, need to determine what the acceptable service standards will be and what “excellence” will look like.  Based on your team members, your opportunities and constraints, based on the outcomes required of your position and based on the political arena of your organisation.

If you have a Service Level Agreement (SLA) in place, obviously you will need to ensure you continue to meet, or exceed, the service levels defined in the agreement, but in the process of transforming your service levels, this may also be a great time to revise the SLA and make it more meaningful and service oriented.

One of the things I am always astounded by is that payroll teams are happy enough to shout that payroll is a “critical” business process when it comes to requiring the support of IT and other teams to get the payroll into the bank accounts on time, but they don’t always assume the same “critical” determination to an individual employee whose pay has been missed or short paid.  This is a key area for improvement and would be one of the employee’s greatest pain points in many organisations.

Recognise that while a non-payment or a short payment to an employee may simply be perceived as a transactional error to someone in your team, who has more important tasks to achieve today, to the employee though, this may mean the difference between feeding their children or putting petrol in the car for another week.  It is never our job to judge, but to deliver on the promise of on time and in full payment of wages.

Setting the Wheels in Motion to Becoming a Service of Excellence

Implementing a Service Charter or a Service Standard would be a great starting point for determining the base line of your service levels.  As the Payroll Manager, you must start with a foundation of what you want your Customer Service Charter to be and then involve your staff to help build it.

I would recommend calling for submissions, then building a draft document for your team to work on further.  This approach shows them that you value their input and gives them ownership from the onset.  Once the charter or standard has been established, have it printed and have all team members sign the document.  Post this document in a prominent position in your work area and if you are really committed, hand it out to your customers.

Further to the Charter or Standard, you then need to start drilling down on particular pain points and moments of opportunity, and start working out how you can transform your service with each of these.

Included in the foundations to great customer service is creating relationships with them and respecting them.  Work on ways to get your staff to meet, to learn about and to put faces to the names they interact with on a daily basis, such as:

  • Include staff members on site visits
  • Place photos of customers and little snippets of information where your team can see it constantly and ‘get to know’ their customers
  • Keep a database on your customers and log all their calls, issues, complaints, praises
  • Have your staff take turns to ensure that every single customer is contacted on a regular basis to ask if there is anything they can do for them to improve the service.

Embed the achievement of service standards into your team’s position descriptions, performance objectives and outcomes and as a baseline measurement for salary reviews to “encourage” your team to deliver on the standards and to understand the importance of servicing their customers well.

Start building the tools, resources and processes to deliver your new levels of service.  Begin setting in motion as many small changes as you can, while simultaneously working on the larger scale improvements.  Here are just a few ideas for you:

Employees

  • One of my pet hates is “onboarding”, where there seems to be a fairly common care factor of zero that a new employee is desperately waiting on their first payment.  The number one task of a payroll service is to pay employees correctly and on time and many fail to achieve this for new employees.  New employees sometimes have no idea when they will receive their first payment.  If they were lucky enough to have completed their paperwork prior to commencing, they presume they are set up in the system.  Communicate with them and with the person responsible for their paperwork, make it easy for them, give them expectations and delight them with your efficiency
  • Attempt to be available to your employees during their working hours, which is difficult if your business has 24/7 shifts, but technology exists to stretch your opening hours beyond 9-5
  • Give them information that assists them to make informed and timely payroll decisions and submissions
  • Don’t shut off the phones because you are busy processing payrolls or having a meeting.  Always have someone available to pick up the calls
  • Make it easy for people to reach the right person, post it on the lunch room walls, post it on the intranet, print it on the pay slips, give your supervisors and managers a handbook, do what you have to do.  Let them know who is who and who is next up the line if they run into issues
  • Build an employee handbook or an intranet knowledge base to share deadlines, FAQ’s and include updates on information such as taxation changes, public and school holidays, employee benefits and more
  • Employee self-service is still unheard of in many businesses even though the benefits and ROI are well documented.  If you haven’t got it, start pushing for it and if you have, start exploiting it for all it is worth.  I know of major organisations who refuse to allow their employees to edit certain areas of employee self-service, specifically bank accounts as they believe it will cause more drama if the employees enter them incorrectly.  Make the employees explicitly aware of the format required and the consequences of getting it wrong and you shouldn’t have any major issues, considering it’s in the employee’s best interest to get it right

Internal Customers

  • Become a vital information resource for the business units you serve by understanding what the information requirements are and finding ways to consistently provide automated information that they can access, rather than continually request from you
  • Understand the deadlines that others are working to in order to prioritise the requests for information
  • Understand what business managers are attempting to do with the information they request, so you can provide it all correctly in the first instance and not have to reproduce reports or rework data and calculations

External Customers

  • Requests for information from external sources and verification of employment queries can be a relentless and time consuming exercise.  Put in a system to simplify the process, mandate internally what the target turn-around times will be and create a report in your HRIS system that automatically produces the data to make the process efficient.  If you have the luxury to do so, allocate these automated tasks to a junior level team member.

Once you start implementing service focussed improvements into your operations, your customers will see and feel the shift.  You will earn greater respect from your customers because they will know you value them.  You will enjoy stronger business relationships with people throughout your organisation and while your team may not be so thankful in the beginning, they will be once you’re on the right track and they are under much less pressure.

Service excellence is achieved by doing the thousand little things right, and working your butt off to consistently do all those little things with excellence.

If you have any questions or some thoughts you would like to raise personally, please email Louise Vidler at The Professional Payroll Manager.

© 2013 Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager.  All rights reserved.

All materials contained on this web site not otherwise subject to copyright of other parties are subject to the ownership rights of Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager. Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager authorises you to make a single copy of the content herein for your own personal, non-commercial, use while visiting the site. You agree that any copy made must include the Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager copyright notice in full. No other permission is granted to you to print, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, upload, download, store, display in public, alter, or modify the content contained on this web site.

November 24, 2013

21 Essential Action Items for the Professional Payroll Manager


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Whether you are in your first role as Payroll Manager or a seasoned Payroll Manager in a new role, then this list should be your starting point for your action plan moving forward.  For those who have been in service at their organisations for some time, you may find value in reassessing where your payroll service stands against some of these action items.

As a veteran Payroll Manager myself, I have amassed a substantial collection of spreadsheets, master forms and checklists that I’ve created over the years and keep improving upon in each new role.  My “Action Plan” is one of those well-worn documents, and each time I commenced a new role, I created a fresh plan of attack for the new organisation.  Following the 21 essential action items I’m sharing with you will enable you to:

  • Derive and process all the information you will require, in the shortest timeframe possible, so you can hit the ground running;
  • Clearly understand the issues and opportunities ahead of you and be able to prioritise them against the corporate goals; the political agenda; the team’s capacity (in expertise and time); how much cash you have to play with; and obviously against the severity of any compliance issues identified; and
  • Enable the payroll service to start hitting easy targets and immediately motivate the team to continue improving on larger scale cost, efficiency and service improvements.

While this list may appear to be exhausting, it is by no means exhaustive.  This is a blog article written within time constraints with the objective of giving Payroll Managers an ideas list of important actions to tak, to truly understand their business, their team, their customers and the issues and opportunities ahead of them.  Understand, that each step you take will unearth another quantity of action items to add to your list.  Keep stepping, keep adding and keep attacking each item one at a time, in order of priority for your organisation, to achieve major transformation.

If you see any major gaps or would like to contribute ideas, I would be very pleased to include them in the eBook that will be resulting from this article at some point.

So are you ready to start rocking your payroll boat?  Here we go…

1.      Stop! Look! Listen! And Learn Everything You Can!

  • Whether or not you are new to the position, keep your eyes and ears open to everything that goes on in your payroll team and within the service itself
  • Ask yourself a few questions.  What is the culture? What corporate politicking exists? What are the company goals, mission and stated values?  Do the payroll team members know what the goals, mission and values are?  Do they operate within the values and towards the mission and goals? How does payroll set and achieve goals in alignment with the corporate goals?
  • How do the payroll team interact with each other and with customers, internal management and stakeholders?
  • Learn to understand the existing business relationships, especially between HR, Payroll and Finance (and if you don’t know why this is important, read my article on Why HR & Finance Must Hold Payroll’s Hand).
  • Get to know your team, individually and as a team dynamic.  Who are the stars? Who is toxic? Who are the real leaders (for better or for worse)?
  • Do any Codes of Practice exist in writing or do your team operate under an informal code?  Evaluate their team and individual ethics, privacy standards, personal and professional conduct, service standards and ongoing complaints or compliance issues with individuals or the team as a whole

2.      Perception Points

From what you seen, heard and learnt from Action Item #1, you should now be building up a fairly decent list of your own action items to address.  Now to add a few more action items…

Ron Kaufman is a master of service excellence, so please do yourself a massive favour and jump on to his website or read his books.  His long ago published book “UP Your Service!” ** introduces and explains the concept and value of “perception points”, whereby every interaction, and throughout each stage of the service cycle, customers have crucial moments when they see, hear, touch, taste, smell and experience you and your organisation.  Each of these moments are “perception points”, and influence your customers’ service experience and their perception of you service as a whole.

Your mission is to view your payroll world from your customers and stakeholders perception.  What do they see?  What do they hear?  What do they touch?  What do they experience?

  • How long does it take for the phone to be answered? How are messages taken and transferred? What is the practice for returning calls? Are you available to take enquiries from your customers out of payroll business hours? What is the standard of your team’s verbal communication?  What is the standard turnaround time for queries?  What volume of queries remain outstanding?  Is there a query log?
  • Are the payroll team members knowledgeable?  What questions are being asked internally by team members?  What information is being passed around the office?
  • Are written communications up to standard by all team members?  Do protocols or pro-forma written communications exist?  Are calculation and report requests presented professionally or are crumpled, hand written calculations provided on recycled payroll reports?
  • Can your customers and stakeholders understand the reports you are providing them or is it all secret payroll codes?  Do employees clearly understand their pay slips?
  • What is general appearance of office?  Is it professional and orderly or is it cluttered and chaotic with piles of filing and archive boxes covering every spare space?
  • What is general appearance of staff members?  Are they dressed corporately or casually?  Do the team members take pride in their appearance and in their workspaces?
  • Do the team members care about their customers, their work?
  • What noise can you hear?  What do your team spend their day talking about?  What is their focus?

** UP Your Service by Ron Kaufman © 2000, published by Ron Kaufman Pte Ltd. ISBN 981-04-2132-X

3.      Start Measuring!

  • Identify the KPI’s, benchmarks and indicators that you want to monitor and get the team to start compiling the numbers for you.  For example:
  1. Error rates including Overpayments and Manual Adjustments
  2. Response times for enquiries and requests
  3. Productivity & Cost per Employee or per Payroll FTE
  4. Time to Produce (whether the payroll itself, or the days it takes for leave forms to be processed, etc.)
  5. Level of Automation
  6. Data Quality of Inputs to the Process
  • Determine if you will measure your numbers against best practice by industry, country, global or payroll service type (e.g.: shared services comparison)

4.      Schedule Meetings With Key Stakeholders

  • It is good practice to request scheduled meetings with stakeholders early on in your new role, but set the dates of the meetings a month or so out so you have sufficient time to truly understand the issues from the payroll teams perspective and are fairly well versed on what kind of issues the stakeholders will raise.
  • Tell your key stakeholders (HR, Finance, Department/Business Unit Managers, Union Representatives, etc.) exactly what you are aiming to achieve and that you need their support to achieve it
  • Create a simple stakeholder questionnaire that is sent to them prior to your meeting to give them sufficient time to give you valuable feedback.  Your questionnaire should ask simple questions such as:
  1. How do you rate the service in general?
  2. Do you trust the payroll service?
  3. What issues do you currently face with the payroll service?
  4. If you request management reporting information from the payroll service, how is it presented and is it useful?
  5. What additional information would you like to be provided?
  6. What improvements would you suggest?
  7. What feedback do you get from your team on the payroll service?

5.      Review Your Budget Against Your Actuals

  • Is the budget reasonable? Is there room to move?
  • Salaries: Are staff paid well? Is there excessive overtime? Are there anomalies between staff member’s salaries? Is your budget wearing the costs of staff who you have no management control over such as HRIS Support, IT or Payroll Accounting?
  • Training:  Is the training budget sufficient for the knowledge requirements of a payroll team? How much training will the budget actually be able to buy?
  • Rent/Lease: Are the charges fair and how do they compare to market costs? Can they be reduced in any way?
  • Telephone: How do your expenses compare to your actuals? Are they excessive?  What formula is used to determine your expense (actual costs or a percentage share)?
  • HRIS Maintenance:  Is it exorbitant? What does it consist of?  Are you paying for modules that have not been installed? Are the support costs reflective of the support you actually receive?  Are you being over charged support costs based on the number of employees you may have had five years ago?
  • Printing & Stationery: Can your printing costs be reduced?  What is the price per pays lip? Can you be supplied at a better price or can you argue for automated pay slips?
  • IT Lease or Recharges:  What are you being charged for?  Are you paying the equivalent cost of leasing brand new computers when your team are struggling on ancient equipment?  Are you being charged a standard IT support fee when you have your own internal IT support personnel?
  • Interdepartmental Recharges:  What are you being charged for as a standard interdepartmental fee? Can these be reduced in any way?
  • Bank Fees:  Calculate what the bank fees should be based on the average number of payrolls and employees processed are and determine if you are wearing excessive fees due to out of cycle payments and adjustment pay runs
  •  Late Fees, Penalties & Legal Fees: based on the value in your expenditure, is there a problem or two in this area that needs to be addressed?

6.      Create a Running Totals Payroll Reconciliation Spreadsheet

  • Each payroll process should be reconciled within a global spreadsheet to provide running MTD and YTD totals to ensure the payrolls are continuously reconciled and no end of financial year surprises occur.  Incorporate not only the Gross, Tax and Nett Values, but every amount calculated for Superannuation, Deductions, Payroll Tax, Fringe Benefits Tax and so on to cross balance all totals every single pay for the This Pay, Month to Date and Year to Date values.
  • This aides General Ledger Reconciliation by identifying variances immediately enabling them to be rectified immediately and not remain on the reconciliations as carried forward items until someone is forced to make the time to reconcile the variance three minutes before year end
  • Global balancing ensures errors in MTD and YTD totals are picked up prior to rolling over incorrect totals in your HRIS system and it eliminates the potential issues with rollbacks and restores
  • If global payroll reconciliations are compared against standard payroll or prior payroll totals it also minimises the risk of undetected overpayments or underpayments of wages, taxes, superannuation or deductions

7.      Review Your Team

As a manager you would love nothing less than to lead a knowledgeable, competent, efficient team of individuals who are working to their abilities and strengths and are motivated to deliver compliant, efficient and service excellence focussed payroll services.  Living the dream?  Now back to reality…

  • Review the position descriptions for each role to ensure they are up to date, are best practice standard, are comprehensive and cover all requirements of the position including service standards, deadlines, required tasks, outcomes and encourage personal development of each individual
  • Individually assess the competencies and capabilities of each team member against their job description.  How can you up skill or cross train to ensure all employees are meeting or exceeding the base competencies of their position?
  • Establish whether there are existing Performance Targets?  Are the targets realistic?  Have they achieved them? Do they correspond with the strategy of the payroll service?
  • Review the salaries of the team members, if you didn’t already in the budget review.  Are they equitable within the organisation and within the industry? Do they reflect the competence of the individuals?  Are there any stand out disparities?
  • What is performance management process?  Are salary reviews tied in with performance objectives? Review them, align them and implement them
  • Meet with each team member individually and have them explain the functions of their position, the issues they face, the resources they require and what improvements they think should be implemented
  • Perform a time study over the course of a payroll period, or a month if there are month end demands on the team member. What do they spend their days doing, compared to the rest of the team?  Understand the variances and the reasons for them.  Are there team members not working to capacity? Are there stand out team members who produced significantly more than others?  Are these anomalies justified by manual processes; continually poor or late inputs into the payroll; additional tasks; or do they simply not have the skills or resources required to perform efficiently?
  • Compare the workloads of the team members. Are they comparable? Who is outperforming or underperforming and why?  Is there disparity in the number of employees assigned to each team member?
  • Assess the attitudes and efforts of your individual team members towards service excellence, prioritization, compliance, innovation, values and team work, etc.
  • Do you have staff turnover issues? If yes, you obviously need to understand why and if no, why are these people so content in their jobs?  The answer may not necessarily work in your favour
  • Discuss with HR any ongoing personnel issues that you need to be aware of for your team
  • What does service excellence mean to each team member individually?  Are all team members on the same page or do you have to redefine “excellence” to them?
  • Analyse the culture of your team.  What cliques exist?  Do you have toxic employees?  Is anyone being bullied?  Who are the wanna-be’s, the divas and the superstars?  Who are the assigned leaders and are they effective?

8.      Start Identifying and Listing The Issues

From all of your work and your stakeholder meetings to this point, you should have documented everybody’s perceived issues and identified many more based on the facts.  Normally when a new payroll manager arrives at the helm, people are jumping over each other to make contact with the new manager to have their outstanding issues resurrected and resolved.

On top of the possibly endless list you have amassed to this point, now would be a great time to review the last auditors’ report and conduct an extensive compliance review of your own.  Conduct data integrity reviews; check that tax, leave, superannuation, payroll tax, workers compensation and accruals and such are calculating correctly and so on.

Don’t be too concerned that you have an action list with 8 gazillion items on it and have not had a chance to allocate target dates for the longer term projects or tasks.  Allocate as many of the little tasks as you can amongst the team members to get through the little stuff, which is usually what makes the most noise.  Customers and stakeholders will see action taking place and perceptions will begin to shift.

A word of warning on allocating issues to team members:  if poor response times and unanswered queries is endemic in your team, allocate one task at a time, approve the final resolution or response and then allocate the next task.

9.      Implement an Error Measurement System

Instead of re-writing the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of Implementing an Error Measurement System, please refer to my article You Absolutely Must Measure Payroll Error Rates!

10.  Establish Your Overpayments Situation

Overpayments of any kind are a risk to the organisation.  Overpayments highlight the extent of the flaws in your payroll process, are a debt recovery issue, can raise Fringe Benefits Tax issues, add to the cost of payroll production due to the retrieval efforts and can cause further payroll errors in the recalculation or entry of the ensuring adjustments into the HRIS system.

  • Document every overpayment that is currently outstanding in a spreadsheet and establish what arrangements have been made for the recovery of each overpayment
  • Investigate how each overpayment occurred and implement process steps to eliminate the risk of further overpayments for the same reason/s
  • Work on reducing the unrecovered overpayments as a matter of urgency
  • Build a compliant system for managing employee overpayments incorporating legislative and HR policy requirements

11.  Review Current General Ledger Reconciliations

  • What state are they in?
  • What outstanding issues exist?
  • Who is currently responsible/accountable?
  • Are they reviewed and authorised by Payroll Management?
  • Are the Segregation of Duties requirements met with the General Ledger Reconciliation process?

12.  Review All Documentation

To ensure your team are working with compliant and effective resources, it is imperative to assess what tools and resources they are utilising.  Additionally, all team members should be following the same best practice procedures for payroll production and its associated responsibilities.  Review the following as a minimum:

  • Are all staff utilising the most current (and the same) awards, payment rates, tax rates, calculation tools and such
  • Does a Payroll Operations Manual exist?  Is the best practice payroll process documented? Is there an accompanying payroll processing checklist tailored to each payroll processed in the HRIS system?  Are your team actually using the checklists and following the procedures?
  • Review all applicable HR and Payroll policies to ensure the policies comply with payroll legislation, are consistent with best practice and are aligned to both the payroll team’s and the organisational goals
  • What is the standard of communication by each team member?  Do you utilise pro-formas to ensure a consistent and professional image is conveyed?  Is communication timely and courteous and does it use thought out responses?
  • Are all payroll master forms designed with both the completer and the data enterer’s ease of use in mind?  Is all information being retrieved compliantly?  Do they look professional?
  • Are standard processes and formats utilised for adjustments, back pays and terminations?  Are your team members using automated spreadsheets or HRIS system functionalities or are they resorting to paper based, manual calculations?

13.  Review System, Data & Transactional Securities

  • Are secure levels of authorization in place?
  • Are appropriate segregation of duties in place?
  • Who has access to the HRIS system, payroll records and the payroll service?  What data security measures are in place?  Do you have a Privacy Policy that is compliant with Privacy legislation?
  • Where is your data stored?  Is it secure?  Who can access it?

14.  Review IT Policies and Procedures

  • Is there a Disaster Recovery Plan in place?  Is it comprehensive and include varying disaster scenarios?  Are contingency plans mapped out?  Are contingency plans communicated to your team?
  • Is there a Service Level Agreement between IT and Payroll?  Is Payroll defined as a business critical operation?  What level of service will Payroll receive in times of payroll emergencies or out of business hours?
  • What backup systems are in place?  Are these systems sufficient to recover lost systems or data in peak periods?  Are they sufficient full stop?
  • Are all electronic payroll files stored in a central location and accessible by all personnel authorized to access them?  Are naming conventions utilised by all payroll team members?  Do team leaders and managers have access to each of their team member’s files?
  • Do team leaders and managers have constant access to all corporate email accounts of their team members?  If one of your team members is absent, how will your team continue to access and manage their emails?  What IT process exists for terminating employees?  Do they simply de-activate the accounts, thus losing access to historical emails by the payroll team?
  • Do team members have personal emails streaming through to their corporate email addresses?  Do team members understand that work email addresses are not private?

15.  Analyse Potential Cost & Efficiency Gains

  • Perform a wastage analysis
  • Identify every conceivable cost and process efficiency and analyse what benefits could be gained by pursuing alternative solutions
  • What manual processes can be automated, preferably within the HRIS system or alternatively automated with available programs or developed applications
  • Always propose an alternative project or area to expend the savings, or you may simply have your budget reduced for the next operating year

16.  Create a Reporting Calendar

Document absolutely every function that is required to be performed on a regular basis; the owners; the approvers; due date; completion date and share the document with the whole team.  This keeps everyone on track with due dates and allows team leaders and managers to liaise with team members on upcoming requirements. Configure your automated reporting calendar to red flag incomplete work when the due date is nearing and monitor it religiously to ensure service standards are maintained at the very least.

17.  Define the Payroll Service Standards

This should be done after you have a clear understanding of what the current service standards are and should take into consideration:

  • The ethos of your payroll service and those that work within it
  • the practicalities of the processes involved in the payroll service and your ability to deliver on the service standards
  • the predefined service standards in SLA’s, EBA’s, HR policies, legislation, company policy and historical practices
  • inclusion of HR and Finance in the consultation process, if your revised standards are going to cause industrial or financial issues

It doesn’t matter whether you name it a service standard, a credo or a charter, as long as you and your team own it.  As the Payroll Manager, you should start with a foundation of what you want your Payroll Service Standards to be and then involve your staff to help build it.

I would recommend calling for submissions, then building a draft document to give to your staff to further work on.  This approach shows them that you value their input and gives them ownership from the onset.  Once the charter has been established, have it printed and have all team members sign the document.  Post this document in a prominent position in your work area.

This is your team’s promise on how they will do business with their customers, their colleagues and their stakeholders.  Ensure you review the draft Payroll Service Standards against corporate policies, award or legislative requirements, defined service standards in SLA’s and have analysed the practicalities of meeting and exceeding the service standards you’ve stated.  Involve HR and Finance in the review of your service standards to predetermine any industrial or financial issues that may ensue.

18.  Become a Knowledge Resource

A knowledge base, for those that haven’t seen one previously, is exactly what it sounds like: a base point where knowledge is stored, to be accessed by those who need to understand information, requirements, policies, procedures and so on.

If you are in a large organisation, there has probably been a great deal invested in the design and creation of an intranet to service as a knowledge base for all the business and support units.  Smaller organisations may not even have an intranet, in which case your knowledge base can be provided in print format in the form of Employee Handbooks, New Employee Packs, Information Handouts, Administrator & Manager Guides to Payroll and internal Payroll Operations Manuals.

For more details refer to Creating a Knowledge Base

19.  Create a suite of exception reports for compliance and data integrity

  • Data Integrity: create a new employee report that can be checked for data integrity either manually by your payroll team members or preferably dumped into an excel spreadsheet that with the use of formulas, will automatically validate and cross check data to highlight any anomalies
  • Fraud: Duplicate employees, duplicate bank accounts, unterminated employees who have been paid termination components, nett pay matching from payroll reports to bank deposit files and report casual employees who remain unpaid for a defined period in an attempt to have them authorized to be terminated or suspended to eliminate chance of payment by error
  • Fraud:  Create a head count report that shows running month to month balances to monitor current, new hires, transfers and terminations
  • Manual/Offline Payments: produce a listing of all offline entries to reconcile to manual/offline payments processed in separate EFT files or cheque runs
  • Overpayments:  report on all payments in excess of a specified amount or utilise a formula based on the employees rate of pay and standard hours
  • Superannuation:  automate the checking that all employees have a fund, contributions equal the correct percentage, identify exclusions such as under age of 18, worked less than required work hours per month, compliant funds review, maximum contributions have not been not exceeded
  • Cost Efficiency:  produce leave balance reports to highlight excessive or negative leave balances to business management
  • Terminations: produce a report of all termination payments made and the system termination dates, termination flags and autopay flags of these employees to ensure no terminated employees are overpaid by having incorrect flags in the system
  • Where minimum wages exist, produce a report to highlight those not receiving the minimum wage (ensure you include a column to show if the employees are trainees, apprentices, volunteers or under the adult minimum wage age)
  • Autopay Flag Review:  to ensure only necessary staff are flagged to be autopaid.  Casuals or terminated employees at the very least should not have autopay flags.
  • Tax File Number Expiry: In Australia, employees have a minimum time frame to submit their tax file number to their employer, after which time they are to be taxed at the highest marginal rate.  This report can be utilised not only to advise payroll when the tax rate is to be raised, but also to advise the employees that they have not yet advised their tax file number and they face tax consequences if they don’t wiggle their tails

20.  Invite Your Payroll/HRIS System Provider in for a Review and Demonstration

  • If you aren’t a super user of your HRIS System, ask your HRIS provider to meet with you to review your licence and modules and explain how you can maximise the full potential of your HRIS system
  • What can the system actually do?
  • What automations are available?
  • How much are we currently utilising?
  • What add-ons are available?
  • What is our current maintenance cost?  Are we achieving ROI?
  • Can we create tailored reports?
  • Can we create tailored screens?
  • Can we automate reports to be produced on schedule and be automatically emailed to recipients?

21.  Conduct a Customer Satisfaction Review

A customer satisfaction review should enable you to:

  1. Establish what the external perception of your service is as opposed to the internal perception;
  2. Identify value added service opportunities worth considering; and
  3. Provide evidence to support adapting your service standards and offerings, or the perception of these, to achieve service excellence.

A simple survey with the least possible questions, should be created to ask the following questions:

  1. How are we doing?
  2. What can we improve?
  3. What would you like us to do that we aren’t doing?
  4. What infuriates you?
  5. What pleases you?

Phew! There’s your next year mapped out for you!  Even though this article has resulted in excess of 4,600 words, I truly believe as a Professional Payroll Manager, that these 21 Action Items are the absolute minimum effort required by an incoming manager to build an efficient, compliant and service excellence focussed payroll service.

If you or your organisation need assistance with knowing where to start or requiring tools to guide you through any of these processes, please email Louise Vidler at The Professional Payroll Manager.

© 2013 Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager.  All rights reserved.

All materials contained on this web site not otherwise subject to copyright of other parties are subject to the ownership rights of Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager. Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager authorises you to make a single copy of the content herein for your own personal, non-commercial, use while visiting the site. You agree that any copy made must include the Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager copyright notice in full. No other permission is granted to you to print, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, upload, download, store, display in public, alter, or modify the content contained on this web site.

March 18, 2012

Salary Packaging and Tax Effective Employee Benefits


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Human Resource teams go to great length to research and offer Employee Benefits Programs to employees to achieve their organisational goals and Finance Managers work their hardest to evaluate and implement cost minimisation strategies. The provision of well researched and planned employee benefits can achieve both!

The age old debate between Tax Minimisation and Tax Avoidance remains, but where you can legally obtain a tax deduction why wouldn’t you! Employers should be looking to these tax advantages and promoting them to their most valued assets, if they truly feel that they are the organisations’ most valued assets.

Kerry Packer, the iconic Australian billionaire media magnate and rival to Rupert Murdoch said in a tax investigation in 1991 – “I am not evading tax in any way, shape or form. Now of course I am minimizing my tax and if anybody in this country doesn’t minimize their tax they want their heads read because as a government I can tell you you’re not spending it that well that we should be donating extra.”

A Disclaimer for Me

The information contained in this article is based on Australian knowledge only and any action taken as a result of this article is to be thoroughly investigated as to its’ currency and legitimacy with the appropriate taxation legislation in Australia and any other country you seek to apply any information from this article to. While I am only discussing Australian options, there will be similar options in other countries and these will provide food for thought for your particular country, organisation and circumstance.

A Disclaimer for You

Individuals Are To Be Explicitly Encouraged to Seek Professional Financial Advice!

I’ll say it another way… You absolutely must advise individuals to seek professional advice from their taxation department, their financial planner or accountant prior to taking up any financial related salary packaging or employee benefits programs. Each employees’ financial situation varies significantly and there are financial consequences in salary packaging and encouraging people to utilise tax advantages that may not suit their individual financial situation.

Why Would We Bother?

A carefully planned salary packaging system can provide various cost savings to an organisation. Many automatically think that the company has to incur the fringe benefits tax (FBT) on employee benefits. On the contrary, the salary package can be structured to incorporate the FBT component, or employees can make voluntary after tax contributions to minimise the FBT liability, or both.

I will restate the “Knowledge is Power” and “Fore Armed is Forewarned” from the previous article. A benefit of working for your company does not have to be a physical benefit; it can be the provision of empowering information that assists the employee to make decisions for a better future. Some of the information in this article is simply that, tax advantages that are open to individuals no matter which company they are employed by, that they simply may not realise it exists.

If you are the one that opens their eyes, then they will hold you or the company higher and value the contribution you have made to them. If you dedicate some time to seek, offer and advise employees of tax effective salary packaging and tax deductions or offsets, they will believe that you truly do care and that you are serving their best interests. You will gain credibility, build business relationships, contribute to employee morale and more. From a human resources perspective, there are so many reasons to bother and these are listed below.

Liaising with Human Resources & Finance

There are very few organisations where the Payroll Manager will be able to get most of these offerings across the line without liaising with HR & Finance, with some managers even wondering how you dare to have the audacity to bring them to the table. I recommend you do your homework and have prepared submissions that sell the implementation to both your HR & Finance people.

Highlight the benefits to both the organisation and the employees, do your numbers, study the social wellbeing aspects, calculate your numbers and present the ideas that will require organisational approval. If you can work with the management of HR & Finance to bring some or all of these ideas to fruition, your employees will be thankful, at the very least.

Key Arguments for Finance

  • Potential cost savings of carefully planned salary packaging
  • Zero cost effect to the organisation of the tax minimisation offerings
  • Potential to reduce turnover, thus reducing the cost of employment and the cost of payroll production

Key Arguments for HR 

  • Actively contributes to Employee Engagement
  • Contributes to Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Steers you in the right direction to becoming an Employer of Choice
  • The provision of valuable financial information contributes to relationship building, trust and loyalty
  • Employees achieve more with the same rate of income and perceive they are being rewarded

What’s In It for the Employees?

  • Employees obviously receive greater benefit from their salary or wage
  • The increased perception of working for an organisation that does actually value them

Beware of Award or Industrial Instruments Excluding Employees

In Australia, we are undergoing a modernisation of our industrial relations system and the employment awards within it (although some would question the use of the word “modernisation”). There have been awards that specifically exclude salary sacrifice arrangements, so ensure you review your employees’ industrial instruments for exclusions.

What are Non Salary Packaged Tax Minimisation Options for Employees?

The Australian Taxation Office has common tax offsets available to individuals. It is well worth investigating the offsets in your country and utilising your knowledge base (from Innovation 1 – Creating a Knowledge Base) to advise employees who may not know these exist or that they are entitled to claim them.

Pre-Declaration of Income Tax Returns by Employees (ITWV Variation)

In Australia this is known as an Income Tax Withholding Variation Application (ITWV) or if you are old like me, the former terminology is the 221D Variation. Do not presume that wage earners are automatically excluded from this as I’ve met many people with multiple investment properties, hands in businesses and all sorts of tricky financials who are school teachers, tradespeople and process workers.

The ITWV Variation Application allows employees to apply for a variation on their tax rates by anticipating their future tax return. Instead of waiting until the end of the financial year to claim, if approved, they will receive a reduced tax rate during the current financial year and will receive additional net pay on a per pay basis.

Publish information and forms on your knowledge base for employees who may not know that they can apply for tax variations on their earnings.

After Tax Voluntary Superannuation Contributions

Any employee can contribute additional after-tax monies to their compliant superannuation fund. There is no immediate financial benefit from this, but it has the potential to change an individuals’ future. If the employee is a low or middle income earner though, they may be eligible for the Superannuation Co-Contributions Scheme, where personal after-tax superannuation contributions may be matched by the government, up to $1,000.

After Tax Voluntary Spouse Superannuation Contributions

Additionally, if an employees’ spouse works part-time and is on a low income, they may be eligible for rebates on contributions (to a threshold) that they make to their spouses’ superannuation.

Deferred Income Payments

It is legal, under Australian taxation law to defer employee payments (by request of the employee) so the tax implications in one financial year are minimised. It is only viable to do this if the following financial years’ earnings are not going to be impacted greatly by the withheld payment. If an employee is going on parental leave, taking an extended period of leave without pay, or retiring this is an option that could have significant financial benefit for the employee.

Workplace Giving

Although this is technically salary sacrifice, it does not usually fall within the same structure or framework as the offering of salary sacrificed employee benefits as it is governed by separate legislation and is to be made available to all employees.

If your organisation is active in the community and values its’ corporate responsibility, you could work with your management team to encourage the board to commit to matching contributions. Your employees will feel that the company is working with them to improve the community. This program has so many benefits in the eyes of employees, it’s hard to understand why after years of the legislation being enacted, so many organisations still haven’t got a Workplace Giving Program in place.

Open discussion with registered business owners or ABN Holders to test the legitimacy of them contracting to your organisation.

This is an area of risk, but again, if researched and managed properly is a potential winner for organisations and employees. There are many people employed by organisations that have businesses registered and are true or legitimate contractors. Organisations should really investigate the cost savings of employing these people as contractors, providing they can pass the employee-versus-contractor test under the taxation system.

Use your Current Creditor List as a Potential Employee Benefits List

Almost every organisation has creditors (and debtors for that matter) who wouldn’t mind expanding their businesses and creating a few new customers. If your business is sizeable enough, it is worth speaking to a few of these other organisations to see if they would like to offer benefits or discounts to your employees, to potentially increase their customer base. Employees will see the benefit in discount or special offerings for:

  • Vehicle leasing or purchasing
  • Banking or Financial Products
  • Tools and equipment
  • Computers and computer software
  • Practically anything is of value to someone!

Partner with Personal Service Professionals to Provide Employee Benefits

Find professionals that are willing to offer their services at a discounted introductory price, with the potential to create a larger client base. Any professional who understands the lifetime value of a customer, would jump at the chance to service a reasonably large potential client base.

If you directed 100 new clients to a professional on the first occasion, the lifetime value of that customer base alone would far outweigh any introductory discount on the initial service. A percentage of the initial 100 clients will refer the professional to their friends and family. If that professional returned every six to twelve months and secured new employees as customers their business will grow exponentially just from your partnering invitation.

What can you offer?

  • Will & Estate Planning
  • Financial Planning
  • Budgeting Assistance/Debt Reduction Strategist
  • Health Insurance Analyst
  • Home Loan Analyst
  • Tax Preparation Services
  • Legal Services

You could also partner with local businesses to provide discounts or loyalty programs such as Car Washes, Cafes, Dry Cleaners, Automotive Repairers, Home Maintenance & Cleaning, Tradespeople… the list is endless and your employees will love it.

Salary Packaging Employee Benefits… now it becomes more complex

Public Benevolent Institutions (Charities) and Hospitals in Australia In Australia

Public Benevolent Institutions, Hospitals and similar industry bodies are legislated separately for salary packaging. If your employer falls under this legislation, fringe benefits are offered and taxed separately and differently to the standard Fringe Benefits Tax legislation.

Employee Benefits are “Fringe Benefits”

Under the Australian Taxation System In Australia, employee benefits are not income taxable but are fringe benefits taxable (including benefits provided to spouses, family members and associates as a result of the employment of the individual).

Minimise the FBT liability by Employee Contributions

FBT liability is incurred by the employer and is a major discourager to organisations. Employees who make voluntary FBT contributions can minimise or eliminate the employers FBT expense. Your organisation can offer salary packaging with a company policy that provides that employees will incur the FBT liability and incorporate it into their salary package or have them make after tax contributions.

Organisations can Claim Back the Goods & Services Tax (GST)

Where the organisation provides a benefit, then the amount expended on the benefit becomes the organisations expense. The benefit provided to the employee is a good or a service purchased or leased by the organisation and therefore, the organisation is entitled to claim the GST back on that expense (taking into account Goods & Services Tax legislation, record keeping requirements and the actual “claim ability” of certain items).

Without an effective and efficient management system, managing the GST claim back of employee fringe benefits can be an administrative nightmare. As with all complex administrative processes, a good think, a good plan and good management will resolve the issues.

A warning for employers who provide employee benefits

If you provide cash benefits to employees, such as Expenses Payment Cards, the obligation is on the employer to ensure employees are purchasing legal goods and services. An expenses payment card program should not be implemented without the explicit requirement to produce valid receipts to support the expense, which should tie in to the expenses payment card statements, which the employer should receive digital copies of for record keeping and benefits management purposes.

A warning for employees who receive employee benefits

If an employee receives an employee benefit under a salary sacrifice arrangement (including all purchases on expenses payment cards), the employee is not entitled to any of the following:

  • Claim an income tax deduction for the expenses
  • Claim GST on the item as they did not purchase it
  • Depreciate the asset on an income tax return

It is important that employees understand this, as they may be falsely claiming deductions on tax returns.

Example 1: Right to claim Educational Expenses Tax Deduction In Australia, we have the ability to claim deductions for certain educational expenses for our children. If an employee has an expenses payment card issued by the employer as an employee benefit and uses that card to purchase a computer, monthly internet connection fees and stationery for their claimable school child, they will not be able to claim these items as a legitimate tax deduction. These items were legally purchased by the employer and the employer has the right to the expense as a business deduction and any associated GST. For the employee to claim a legitimate tax deduction on these items, they would have to purchase them out of income taxed earnings.

Example 2: Claiming a purchase as a legitimate business expense If an employee also happens to own a business and purchases business items on an employer provided expenses payment card (or physically receives these items as an employee benefit), the employee is not entitled to claim these items as legitimate business expenses, not claim the input tax credits on them. These items are not eligible for depreciation under the employees business either, as they are not legitimate business expenses. The goods or services were legally purchased by the employer and as such are legitimate business expenses for the employer not the employee.

Example 3: Using Employee Benefits for Investments (Properties or Other Investments) Serious issues arise when employees utilise employee benefits (including expenses payment cards) to fund investments (properties or otherwise) or purchase items for investment properties. Again, an individual cannot claim a tax deduction where the investment or the purchase has legally been made by the employer, through the provision of an employee benefit.

Example 4: Claiming Home Office Expenses on a Rented Home where the Employer Makes Rental Payments under a Salary Sacrificed Arrangement An employee has their total rental payments paid under a salary sacrifice scheme and all other expenses are paid by the employee from after tax wages, including their utility bills. If the employee or their spouse is a business owner and seeks to claim their home office and a portion of the utilities as a tax deduction, they are not entitled to do so. It is not a legitimate tax deduction as the employer is legally paying the rent on the home. They are entitled to claim a portion of the utilities however as these were paid from after tax wages. If your organisation offers benefits that could impact individuals in these ways, it is imperative that you advise them of these issues. Mortgage/Rental payments and expenses payment cards are the two primary areas of concern, but there are others.

Basically, employees need to understand that if they are not paying tax on it, they shouldn’t be able to claim a tax deduction on it!

What Can You Offer With Your Salary Packaging?

An employee can be provided any legal benefit and if the organisation agrees, just about anything can be paid or provided under a salary sacrifice arrangement, again provided it is legal. Any offer of salary sacrifice should be accompanied with strong encouragement to the employee to seek professional financial advice, as some benefits can actually expose the employee to financial losses in other areas.

An example of this is the salary sacrificing child care fees in Australia, which would increase the employees’ assessable income with the additional fringe benefits value added to their gross reportable income. This in turn, could reduce the employees’ claim to childcare rebate, making the employees’ child care fees even more exorbitant than they already were.

If you have a staff cafeteria, it is common to offer meal expenses payments as an employee benefit whereby staff make their purchases as they choose and the bill is paid by the employer to a pre-determined annual value.

Other offerings can include:

Health and Wellness Programs

  • Weight Watchers or similar
  • Quit Smoking Programs
  • Nutritionist
  • Gym Fees
  • Health Insurance

Life & Other Insurances

  • Life Insurance (there is now a minimum requirement in super funds)
  • Funeral Benefit
  • Total & Permanent Disability (TPD)
  • Accident Cover
  • Trauma Insurance
  • Income Protection

Note: Income Protection insurance is claimable as a tax deduction at Item 24 on the Individual Tax Return, so professional advice should be sought on the tax effectiveness of salary packaging Income Protection Insurance.

Payment of Student Loans

Employers could offer payment of student loans (HELP/SFSS Debts in Australia).

Employee Benefits Exempted from Fringe Benefits Tax

The Australian Fringe Benefits Tax legislation has the “minor benefits” exemption. A minor benefit is a benefit which has a ‘notional taxable value’ (grossed up value) of less than $300. Where you provide an employee with separate benefits that are in connection with each other (for example, a meal, a night’s accommodation and taxi travel) you need to look at each individual benefit provided to the employee to see if the notional taxable value of each benefit is less than $300.

Don’t think you can provide a myriad of minor benefits to an employee though, as a consistent provision of benefits of this kind, could be construed as an expenses payments fringe benefit.

Please note that employers must report on Payment Summaries, all Fringe Benefits items $2000 and over (grossed up value, per the Payment Summaries gross up method) and this has to be taken into consideration by employees for determination of assessable income for other financial situations.

Industry related education and training courses would be accessed by more people if they were more affordable. Offer employees access to it appears that someone else is footing the bill for it. While this is salary packaging, I’ve separated it from the salary packaging section, as an industry or “in the course of your profession” course does not fall under standard employee benefits incurring fringe benefits tax.

Professional memberships and subscriptions to trade journals or industry publications can be provided to employees either as a company offering or under a salary sacrifice arrangement, if the budget doesn’t extend to servicing all of your employees’ professional subscription and membership requirements.

There is provision in the Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act (Section 58N) to provide Emergency Assistance as exempt employee benefits. Benefits you provide by way of emergency assistance are exempt from FBT. Emergency assistance is assistance for immediate relief of a victim, or potential victim, of an emergency where the assistance is any of the following: first aid or other emergency health care; emergency meals, food supplies, clothing, accommodation, transport or use of household goods; temporary repairs; any similar matter.

Read up on this before you offer it though as there are restrictions on the provision of “health care” and these few paragraphs do not cover the complexity of Emergency Assistance as exempt employee benefits.

Salary Sacrificed Superannuation

Salary sacrificed super contributions are not a fringe benefit and are treated as employer contributions. Employers receive the tax benefit of paying additional funds into employees’ complying superannuation funds. There are complex restrictions on salary sacrificed super though and both employers and employees must remain vigilant of the contribution caps, maximum thresholds, concessional components and age based limits.

The tax on entry of funds into a superannuation fund is 15% (and 16.5% on exit), so an employee pumping salary sacrificed super away needs to take into consideration their retirement needs and the tax rate that would apply to this money if they earned it as salary or wages.

Beware of the caps! There are caps on the amount of concessional (before tax) and non-concessional (after tax) contributions you can make each year. If you exceed the cap, there is an excess contributions tax of an additional 31.5% of the amount exceeding the cap.

Access to Financial Assistance Outside of Your Organisation

This was mentioned in the Innovation 1 article, but is such a pertinent item in todays’ crazy world with environmental disasters, high divorce rates, the rise in terminal illnesses, the collapse of the housing markets and all the other day to day tragedies we face as a community. Your employees may be in desperate need of financial assistance and most of us don’t like to advertise our desperation, so if we post on our knowledge bases ways to access financial assistance, we are providing an invaluable community service to our employees.

Look on your local council, state & federal government and welfare department websites for information that would assist your employees. Private companies also are able to assist in times of financial crisis, such as mortgage providers freezing loan repayments, superannuation funds releasing funds for crisis and so on.

Advising Employees of Available Tax Deductions & Tax Offsets

It costs nothing to post information on your knowledge base about employee eligibility to legitimate tax deductions and tax offsets. Many organisations are wary of their liability in providing such information, which is easily waived by posting tax department published PDF files or internet links to your taxation departments publications.

Some people do not realise that they are entitled to claim for the travel between work and their training institution, or the difference between what they normally would travel for work and the extended travel to a training course or business meeting. This is a value add for your “customers” that may have a significant impact on them.

Self Education expenses is another area where employees may benefit from more information as they do not realise the extent of the deductions they are entitled to.  Additionally there is the Housekeeper Tax Offset; Education Tax Refund; Family Tax Offsets; and Investing on Behalf of Children.

Now to Get Started…

The offering of employee benefits is a minefield, but it’s a minefield worth crossing if you truly want to offer your employees the best value out of their salaries and wages and provide an employee benefits program that engages rather than alienates employees.

If you are unsure what your employees would be interested in, ask them! Even if you got together a working party and included a cross section of your employees in that working party to begin the big picture design. If you do your homework and it falls on deaf ears, at the very least you can begin to populate your knowledge base with the wealth of information that employees could utilise on eligible tax deductions and tax offsets. If they know about these options, they can plan for them and save their receipts.

Should you decide to embark on this path, I wish you well in your endeavours and as always would love to learn more from you or help you in your journey. You can open discussion via this site or contact me directly at louisevidler@optus.ap.blackberry.net

© 2012, Louise Vidler

Excerpts from the Australian Taxation Office:

About tax minimisation and tax avoidance schemes

You are entitled to minimise your tax liabilities through investment activities and to receive the benefits provided for under the law. Tax minimisation is when you legitimately arrange your tax affairs to reduce the amount of tax you pay. These arrangements comply with both the letter and spirit of the law. However, investment schemes and legal structures that do not comply with the law are considered to be aggressive tax planning arrangements – referred to as tax schemes. A tax scheme is an artificial or contrived arrangement to avoid or defer tax obligations. Schemes often involve a series of complex transactions. They typically move funds through several entities, such as trusts, in order to avoid or minimise tax otherwise payable. Schemes may also involve distorting the way funds are being used to enable a taxpayer to claim deductions they are not entitled to.

What is a salary sacrifice arrangement?

A salary sacrifice arrangement is also commonly referred to as salary packaging or total remuneration packaging. It is an arrangement between you and your employer, whereby you agree to forgo part of your future entitlement to salary or wages in return for your employer providing you with benefits of a similar value.

What are the requirements for an effective salary sacrifice arrangement?

The requirements of an effective salary sacrifice arrangement are: • the arrangement is entered with your employer before you perform the work • there is an agreement between you and your employer • there should be no access to the sacrificed salary – if a fringe benefit that has not be provided by your employer is cashed out at the end of a salary sacrifice arrangement accounting period, the amount cashed out is your salary and is taxed as normal income.

If you have any questions you would like to raise personally, please email Louise Vidler at The Professional Payroll Manager.

© 2012 Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager.  All rights reserved.

All materials contained on this web site not otherwise subject to copyright of other parties are subject to the ownership rights of Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager. Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager authorises you to make a single copy of the content herein for your own personal, non-commercial, use while visiting the site. You agree that any copy made must include the Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager copyright notice in full. No other permission is granted to you to print, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, upload, download, store, display in public, alter, or modify the content contained on this web site.

March 14, 2012

Creating a Payroll Knowledge Base


ppm logo - Edited (2)

“Ask yourself who uses what you do and how valuable to them is what you do.  Then ask yourself whether they recognise themselves as your customer.”  Anonymous

Note: I have attempted to eliminate usage of country specific names and terms for ease of reading by a global audience.

 A knowledge base, for those that haven’t seen one previously, is exactly what it sounds like: a base point where knowledge is stored, to be accessed by those who need to understand information, requirements, policies, procedures and so on.

If you are in a large organisation, there has probably been a great deal invested in the design and creation of an intranet to service as a knowledge base for all the business and support units.  Smaller organisations may not even have an intranet, in which case your knowledge base can be provided in print format in the form of Employee Handbooks, New Employee Packs, Information Handouts, Administrator & Manager Guides to Payroll and internal Payroll Operations Manuals.

Why bother?

Our first reason to bother with a knowledge base is to provide service excellence.  Organisations invest millions and go to extreme lengths to implement customer service policies and programs for their external customers.  These same organisations espouse strongly their commitment to their most valuable assets: their employees, but what level of human effort or monetary investment is contributed to providing decent customer service to internal customers?  For payroll teams, these internal customers are the employees you pay, the management you report to (hierarchically and the provision of actual reports) and the dealings you have with all other people that “touch” your payroll service.

You’ve all heard the maxims: Fore armed is forewarned; Knowledge is Power; You can’t manage what you don’t measure.  A good knowledge base will contribute to organisational effectiveness and work as a response to each of these maxims.

As you read through the article you will come to understand how a well thought out, constructive knowledge base, that is marketed well, can also significantly impact each of the following:

  • Building the payroll teams’ knowledge and capabilities
  • Improvement of payroll efficiency, compliance and integrity
  • Contribution to the minimisation of Error Rates
  • Provision of value added services
  • Empowerment of payroll team members, employees and participants in the payroll process
  • Provision of transparency in the payroll process
  • Contribution to the protection of intellectual property and business processes
  • Assisting in the building of  business relationships
  • Contribution to the credibility of the payroll process
  • Highlighting the complexity of the payroll process
  • Education of your customers on the importance of compliant data inputs
  • Reduction of your daily reactive fire fighting activities and a turning of the tide into pro-activity

Who are we supposed to serve with a Knowledge Base?

A knowledge base should service the payroll team, all contributors to the payroll process and our multiple customers including the employees we pay, the managers we provide reporting to and the other support units of the organisation including the Finance and Human Resources teams.  Depending on the size and diversity of the organisation, additional support units could include departments that specifically handle Workers Compensation, Corporate Governance, Statutory Taxation, Payroll Accounting, IT or Payroll Systems Administration and others.

For the benefit of simplicity, we will focus on our primary customers:  employees, managers and administrators of payroll information.

How complex does a Knowledge Base need to be?

Stick to the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle every time.  The less complicated a knowledge base is, the more it will be accessed and utilised.  The volume of content you place in it will be driven by the degree of complexity in each payroll or business and the extent of employee benefits the company provides.

What information could employees possibly want out of it?

Ask yourself what problems your employees commonly have.  What are their primary concerns and challenges in the payroll process?  How can you help?  You can build enormous credibility by pin-pointing and addressing your employees’ pain points.  The provision of information that benefits employees and assists them to make informed payroll decisions and transactions, shows that you are empathetic to them and focused on servicing them.

The first place to look for employee pain points is to analyse your most consistent payroll errors and queries and establish what the constants are.

If, for example, you are consistently baffled by the inability of employees to correctly complete a tax form, then this is a must have on your knowledge base.  In Australia, the tax file number (social security number in the US) declaration form has an information sheet attached explaining how to complete the form, but there are always the same issues presenting themselves by employees not completing the forms correctly.  Additionally, if an employee submits their form incorrectly, by law, we are to interpret it using the worst case scenario which can result in taxing the employee at the highest marginal rate.  Living by this rule is easy enough from compliance and processing perspective, but it causes great personal grief to employees, which is then imparted onto the payroll officer handling the aggrieved employees query.

This can be resolved simply, with the introduction of a document on your knowledge base titled “Understanding the Tax File Number Declaration”.  Within the document, an explanation of how the taxation will be applied by certain answers and what the implications will be of not providing a tax file number within the required time limit.  This simple task reduces so much grief and calls employees to action, as it is in their highest interest not to be taxed half of their pay.  I have seen in the US, it is common for employees to misunderstand the W2 and W4 forms, this can be resolved by explaining the difference between, and the importance of, the two forms.  If you need the explanatory note to be a little more “in your face”, attach it to the front of the relevant forms in the New Employee Packages or have it pop up online prior to them accessing the relevant online form.

The key to providing information that calls for action is to use minimal words, maximum impact and the strongest motivators.  Remembering that many people are visual beings, include pictures!  There’s not a lot you can do about the auditory beings, but technology might assist in that one day.

In Australia a few years back, salary packaging was extended by legislation, to all staff of hospitals and charitable organisations, in an attempt to counteract the low award wages and attract people to the industry.  The biggest issue that came out of this though for employees, was the impact the seemingly attractive salary packaging had on their student loans, child support, child benefits and any other welfare payments they may have been claiming.  Employees took up the salary packaging option without realising that it increased their assessable income for all of these other aspects of their lives.  Once the end of the financial year arrived and they started submitting their tax returns, all hell broke loose.  People were being assessed on their ordinary earnings, plus the grossed up fringe benefits and finding they had been overpaid social security payments and were underpaying student loans and child support.  These industries are full of university graduates and also sadly have a high percentage of welfare recipients, in comparison to other industries.  It was chaos.

To counteract this for the future, a guide titled “Understanding Salary Packaging” was introduced to explain these issues and each employee had to sign that they had read the guide prior to taking up salary packaging options.  In the guide, there were massive STOP signs and warning symbols to highlight the potential issues for them.  We provided little tips on how to circumvent future welfare or student loan debts, by explaining how to contribute extra tax to account for the salary packaging impacts.

Another constant query is new employees asking when they will be paid, which should be addressed in induction or orientation programs, but can be added to your knowledge base.

In your knowledge base, include explanations for employees on “what if”, “how to” and “what do I do” scenarios for the common pay queries:

  • What do I do if my pay is short
  • What do I do if I haven’t been paid
  • What do I do if I lose my pay card
  • How to change your bank details
  • How to apply for salary packaging
  • How to apply for leave (and leave payments in advance)
  • Why have you taken garnishees or child support out of my pay without telling me
  • How to complete your timesheet correctly (and preferably legibly)

The pay office is the first point of call invariably, and in most cases we have to redirect the employee back to their supervisor or bank or other area to establish some key facts first.  Minimise these queries, by including the steps they should take, such as talking to their supervisor about incorrect pays as the first step so they can ensure the timesheet was correctly submitted in the first place.

Incorrect bank account details can cause serious headaches and can be addressed with a simple explanation note on the bank details form, or by having employees attach a deposit slip or cancelled cheque to the bank form for verification.  When payments are rejected from bank accounts, it causes distress for employees and wastes valuable time that payroll officers could be utilising adding value to the payroll service.

Once you’ve established some vital information on your knowledge base that serves to eliminate pain points, go above and beyond and provide information that further empowers them, such as:

  • Contact details for the pay office, taxation departments, medical funds, superannuation providers, etc
  • Every single form an employee may need to access in their employment lifetime
  • Updates on legislative or procedural changes that directly affect them
  • New employee packages that explain what they need to know and do (and when they will get paid)
  • Nice to know information from superannuation funds, medical funds, employee share schemes, etc
  • If membership of any third party creditor comes with additional benefits, let the employees know (such as discount offers, insurance offers, etc)
  • Handy website links to government schemes or aide programs affecting your employees (in Australia: Paid Parental Leave, Lost Super, Centrelinks’ Emergency Assistance lines for employees suffering from environmental or personal emergencies and so on)
  • A listing of the coming years’ public holidays
  • Details of your Workplace Giving Program and why they should be a part of it
  • An invitation for feedback or ideas from your employees

What Information Would Managers Want?

Again, start with your pain points – yours and theirs.  Whatever causes grief, can be addressed by arming the right people with the right information.  From my experience, I have learned that these are the kinds of things that Business Managers want from payroll:

  • No noise or fuss (just get it done correctly, every time, and don’t cause me any fuss in the process)
  • A miraculous discovery of how to halve payroll costs (good luck with that one!)
  • Advance notice of any potential IR, ER, HR (and many more R’s) issues that may arise through payroll
  • Assurance that employees are paid compliantly
  • Assurance that the correct number of employees are being paid from the payroll system
  • Correct allocation of all costs associated with the payroll
  • Assurance that the correct amounts are paid for income tax, superannuation, payroll tax, workers compensation insurance, fringe benefits tax, etc
  • Assurance that correct termination entitlements are paid out to employees
  • To spend less time on payroll processing and payroll queries
  • To reduce the overall cost of payroll production
  • Accurate calculation and accumulation of leave liabilities
  • Timely reporting of significant dates (i.e. probation review expiries, special anniversary dates, etc)
  • Advance notice on legislative changes that will affect future payroll costs
  • Budgetary comparisons
  • Overtime, Absence and other payroll costs as a percentage of total payroll costs
  • Assistance with salary reviews via the simplest feedback system possible
  • Information of absenteeism that enables them to pinpoint people and favourite days and see the cost absenteeism is contributing to their bottom lines
  • Workers compensation reporting for submission of annual earnings data to insurance companies
  • Workers compensation reporting on highlights of current workers compensation payments
  • Key employee statistics (average age, years of service, mgt to production ratios, etc)
  • Payroll Issue or Error rates of business units (Name this report carefully in order to build business relationships)
  • If you are a Shared Services Business or Payroll Outsourcer, management want to identify ways to reduce the payroll processing fees (which you can counteract with brilliant service options to again increase them)
  • Effective head count reporting that provides:
    • an overview of the company divisional allocation
    • exact reporting of total employee number
    • alert management to non paid employees left sitting on the payroll
    • alert management to ghosts on payroll
    • highlight volume of new employees and terminations
    • show turnover rates

These are just a few of the things that management want from you.  All you need to do now is start answering these needs one by one.  Your goal is to understand the management teams’ WIFM – “What’s In it For Me” and create reports that are “decision drivers“.  If you haven’t already, learn about Business Dashboards and provide key metrics and statistics that management can easily interpret to know if action needs to be taken to implement improvements.

Talk to, and listen carefully to your management team and learn what information can be provided in value add reports that can drive their operating costs down.  If management discard your expertise at the outset, create the reports and deliver them anyway and managers worth their salt, who understand the numbers, will begin conversation themselves and your reports will come to have some impact.  Ensure you don’t send volumes of information out, as it won’t be welcomed.  Stick to short, sharp numbers and brief highlights of what the information is telling you (i.e.: Absenteeism in Department X is 78% higher than all other departments) to elicit calls to action from management.  The business should welcome your attempts to open discussion about improvement areas.  Word your highlights carefully, as you want to maintain and improve business relationships, not create enemies.

One major consideration in the gathering of data for management reports like these, is the ability of your payroll or HRIS system to extract the data easily and how you present the data.  If you know Microsoft Excel fairly well, you can create some great reports from pitiful payroll data extractions.

How Can We Serve Providers of Payroll Inputs With A Knowledge Base?

The key to providing a completely correct payroll service is the quality of the data inputs coming in to the process.  This information alone should be enough to convince you that the payroll team should partner with every contributor to the payroll process to ensure the quality of the inputs.

Help yourself by helping the administrators of payroll information to understand what the requirements are by giving them a guide that steps through the process from their perspective.  Outline the deadline requirements and explain in simple terms how it should be done.  Not everyone that processes timesheets for a business unit understands the complexities of payroll or industrial agreements.  They only know what they know, and that might not be enough to allow for a seamless payroll process.

Information in the “Administrators Guide to Payroll Processing” should also include helpful items such as:

  • Contact names and numbers of people they can reach for help
  • Payroll processing deadlines (including shut down periods and public holidays)
  • Frequently Asked Questions to enable them to handle simple payroll queries as the first point of contact for many employees
  • “How To” instructions on common issues or queries that they should be addressing
  • Identify common errors and omissions from administrators and let them know the impacts these have on the payroll process (nicely)
  • Any other information that impacts the quality data being delivered by them to the payroll team

What Other Information Would Our Customers Want?

To find out what your customers want to know, there are two simple steps to take.  Firstly, you ask them!  You can ask your employees, managers and other customers what information would help them and then work to provide it.

Sometimes, people do not really know what product or service they need, but have a problem that needs a solution, so secondly, you listen to them.  Listening to your customers should be a systematic, daily process that is built into your personality, let alone your daily functions.  One persons’ anguish or confusion could result in another valuable piece of information that many others could utilise.

Building a Knowledge Base for the Payroll Team

To achieve our end goal of providing a compliant, correct, on time payroll, we need to arm our Payroll Team with the knowledge they require to achieve that end goal.  So many payroll teams operate from disjointed processes that usually vary between payroll officers.  They’ve collected bits and pieces over time and invariably the loss of a payroll officer from the team also results in a loss of valuable knowledge of the intricacies of the process.

To ensure the preservation of organisational knowledge and the competence of your payroll team as a whole, invest your time in collecting, documenting and publishing vital information such as:

  • Documented payroll processes, checklists and deadlines
  • Orientation or induction program contents
  • Master forms used in the payroll process
  • Policies and Procedures relating to payroll processing
  • Legislation and Employment Agreements/Industrial Instruments that relate to your organisation
  • How To Guides (How to Calculate Tax on Termination, How to Pay Upon Death of an Employee, etc)
  • Tax rates and calculators that you need to perform all of your tasks with
  • Links to helpful sites that provide additional information
  • Answers to everything they need to know to serve your customers at their best

How Do We Actually Get People to Start Using the Knowledge Base?

Once you’ve created your knowledge base, the next step is to ensure you drive people to use it.  You have to promote it and refer people to it regularly…  If people ring with questions, you can refer them to the knowledge base on the intranet (or a document that you can email them) and walk them through it.  Over time, this will encourage people to use the knowledge base as their first point of call, until the time comes when your queries start with this conversation – “I’ve just searched the knowledge base and I couldn’t find any information on …”

Encourage your own team to utilise the knowledge base by eliminating all other sources of personal notes and individual processes and holding your payroll teams’ knowledge in the central knowledge base (in print or online format).  Every time someone has a question, a chorus of voices should either say “It’s in the knowledge base!” or “That needs to be in the knowledge base!”

Let’s Get Started Then…

To assist those of you following this series, I’ve opened a conversation on the Linkedin group “The Professional Payroll Manager” and welcome questions, comments or suggestions on the discussion board, so we can all work together to improve our global payroll world.

If you have any questions you would like to raise personally, please email Louise Vidler at The Professional Payroll Manager.

© 2012 Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager.  All rights reserved.

All materials contained on this web site not otherwise subject to copyright of other parties are subject to the ownership rights of Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager. Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager authorises you to make a single copy of the content herein for your own personal, non-commercial, use while visiting the site. You agree that any copy made must include the Louise Vidler T/As The Professional Payroll Manager copyright notice in full. No other permission is granted to you to print, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, upload, download, store, display in public, alter, or modify the content contained on this web site.

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