Payroll departments under pressure but ‘unsung heroes of the hour’

Around a third of payroll departments have been put under pressure due to the coronavirus outbreak – citing reduced team capacity, remote working challenges and concerns about staff having the right infrastructure and resources to work from home.

The survey of payroll decision-makers by Zellis, a payroll and HR software provider, found that 30% of organisations lost payroll capacity in March and April, with 44% not confident in their ability to run the payroll function if staff members are ill with the virus.

Eighty-five per cent employ fewer than 10 payroll staff, and 15% said their employees did not have access to tools and resources to enable them to work from home.

Four in 10 had concerns over their ability to react to emergency government measures such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and changes to sick pay.

Almost two-thirds (64%) had either changed payroll performance targets or deprioritised other work so they could focus on more pressing tasks.

Fifteen per cent had run the previous month’s payroll as a contingency measure, despite the fact this could cause issues as payroll values change over time – for example when pay is reduced for furloughed workers.

A third worried that the coronavirus outbreak would have a long-term impact on how their organisation ran payroll and HR operations.

Thirty-nine per cent said they would develop stronger business continuity plans to prepare for future incidents, while 27% planned to accelerate the adoption of automation to reduce the dependency on manual payroll processing.

John Petter, CEO of Zellis, said that the coronavirus crisis had shown “just how integral” the payroll function is to an organisation.

“It plays an essential role in supporting the wellbeing of staff members, especially those who are ill, looking after loved ones, or furloughed.

“In managing complex and time-sensitive changes under significant pressure – sometimes without all of the right resources to hand – payroll teams could be considered unsung heroes during this extremely difficult period.”

However, while payroll staff have been designated as key workers, which will have eased some pressure on employers, this “isn’t a substitute for proper business continuity plans”, he added.

Vickie Graham, business development director of the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP), added:
“It’s positive to see that 32% of respondents believe the coronavirus outbreak will have some form of long-term impact on their payroll and HR operations. It’s likely that this impact will include more flexible working arrangements, moving payroll to the cloud, and enabling a greater work-life balance.

“I think that we can all agree that payroll professionals have become unsung heroes of the hour, working tirelessly and relentlessly to keep the UK paid.

“The CIPP will be lobbying the government to recognise this work and the profession during, and as we move out of this pandemic, to ensure that payroll professionals are given the recognition that they deserve.”

Graham said the CIPP would also campaign for an increase in succession planning and business continuity plans for payroll teams, so that those working within these departments are not as impacted should something like this happen again in the future.

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