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Overcoming Stress In The Payroll Department

Payroll processing involves taking care of your employees’ monthly cash flow and that seriousness alone can weigh down heavily for payroll staff. When getting down to processing payroll for each employee, it involves in-depth knowledge of local payroll laws and tax contributions, statutory deductions, internal payroll process, and managing employees’ payroll queries. There is simply no room for error, which is why everyone knows that working hard is sometimes necessary, particularly around the busiest times of the month.

Payroll deadlines can cause stress levels to rise. If a problem occurs or payroll calculations are inaccurate, that is when the midnight oil starts to burn. Delayed salary payments may result in disgruntled employees peppering the HR departments for clarifications, and eventually seek employment elsewhere. Overpayments can also be a nightmare to recover. All these can result in payroll staff feeling overworked, overstressed, drained, burned out, undervalued and underpaid.

Most people do not know when to switch off, and this is a huge concern. Numerous research has shown that stress contributes to decreased employee productivity levels, high error rate and poor quality of work. A stressful workplace may also result in high absenteeism rates due to health problems among employees, such as anxiety, emotional disorder, and even depression. According to Mercer’s Asia-wide Healthy Minds at Work Assessment conducted between July and September 2020, it found that of the 2,500 employees across 9 industries surveyed, 83% indicated that working overtime more than 3 times a week is a common occurrence. Additionally, more than 70% report working even on their rest days or beyond regular work hours.

Keeping up with payroll workload is no doubt a stressful period especially around important payroll deadlines. However, it is still important to ensure that payroll staff’s mental well-being are in check to drive high productivity levels. Here are 4 ways to help staff manage their anxiety and stress levels during payroll peak periods:

Take a break

Be it a short weekend getaway or a day off just to lounge by the side of the pool without having to worry about work helps one to relax and unwind. If staff are reluctant to take time off particularly during closer to payroll deadlines, it is important for managers to reinforce a culture that allows staff to take personal time off without them feeling “guilty” or worry about workload piling up during their absence.

Enforcing mandatory time off may be a useful solution to handle situations where staff are reluctant to take time off for fear of being viewed as “lazy” or “irresponsible”. For instance in the banking industry, employees are required to take one to two weeks of block leave, where clients or team members are not allowed to contact the employee unless for urgent work matters. The same approach can be applied within the payroll department, albeit for a couple of days. Not only does this allow managers to effectively plan workload and resourcing based on these pre-arranged schedules, it “forces” staff to take the much-needed time off to relax and come back to work feeling recharged and refreshed.

Recognise tasks that are of top priority (and those are not)

Most payroll staff are familiar with being inundated with endless payroll-related queries from employees or face ad-hoc payroll issues. Commonly-raised queries tend to revolve around annual leave deductions, statutory contributions, tax withholding, incorrect calculation of prorated salaries, overtime calculations – the list goes on.  Struggling to resolve all queries at one go can put a strain on the payroll team. The key is to prioritise issues or tasks that are more critical as opposed to others.

To help decide which are the more critical tasks or issues, consider the business and people implications of the problem. Will this problem affect the entire business or department? How will it impact the business in terms of costs and operations? Is this issue employee-specific? How will it affect the employee? By taking into consideration these broader implications, it will help to narrow down which are the more critical issues that need to be resolved first. For example, a glitch in calculating employees’ overtime allowances in the payroll software would be viewed as a more critical payroll issue as compared to an wrongly-printed compensation element on Employee A’s payslip. By prioritising tasks based on the business and people’s criticality, this will enable the payroll team to resolve issues and problems in a timely and effective manner.

Identify opportunities to streamline payroll processes

Simplifying and automating manual payroll tasks help to free up valuable time for payroll staff to focus on strategic initiatives and process improvements. According to Deloitte’s 2018 Global Payroll Benchmarking Survey Report, 50% of organisations who outsource their payroll functions report manually entering or loading payroll inputs and adjustments into their payroll system as two of the most time-consuming aspects of payroll processing.

With the rapid advancement of technology today coupled with the increased number of external payroll vendors, organisations today are able to automate or outsource administrative payroll tasks. Next-generation technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and engagement platforms helps to boost the mundane nature of payroll by including payroll insights and trends to help business leaders make strategic decisions on payroll process improvement. At the same time, it takes away the stress of having to navigate payroll complexities, including managing multi-country payroll operations or payroll legislations.

Stay connected within the payroll industry

Keeping up with other payroll practitioners can be a great way to help alleviate payroll stress. Payroll is one of those business functions that is subjected to regular labour and employment law changes. Staying connected with relevant HR or payroll groups can help payroll staff to stay abreast of ongoing changes in payroll laws, ensuring accuracy and compliance when processing payroll.

Connecting with other payroll or HR practitioners also encourages knowledge exchange in terms of payroll best practices and resolving common payroll issues.

Managing payroll stress is a responsibility that lies with both managers and staff. Business leaders and managers need to forge a culture that supports employee’s mental and physical well-being. This starts by educating managers and employees on the telltale signs of stress and implementing channels and initiatives to support employees. An open communication culture is also key to encouraging employees to flag out when they are feeling overwhelmed and burned out. At the same time, staff need to be able to identify early signs of stress and voice out when they are struggling to keep up with workloads and deadlines.

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