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The skills to shape your payroll career

03/09/2021 minute read Junaid Jawed

Taking place on the 6th to the 10th of September, we are celebrating Chartered Institute of Payroll Professional’s (CIPP) National Payroll Week, which was established to raise the profile and awareness of payroll in the UK. It gives greater exposure to the effect the payroll industry has in the UK through the collection of income tax and National Insurance; especially when you consider the £249 billion* paid to the government through income tax and national insurance contributions. It is important to recognise the impact your payroll team has on your organisation, as their role is vital to your overall success. In most UK organisations, payroll is deemed the largest expenditure and therefore should be managed by qualified professionals that demonstrate the skills required.

At Advanced, our payroll team is led by Voirrey Ellison, and amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and its ramifications, she exemplified the traits of a payroll hero. Voirrey’ s hard work and determination was formally recognised earlier this year, as she won an award for reflecting an Advanced Value, her remarkable ability to deliver excellence. Voirrey fell into her career in payroll, though her original dream being was to join the Royal Marines Band Service. As this dream became unfeasible, she stumbled into an accountancy firm looking for an apprenticeship and recognised the joy in working with numbers and tackling its daily challenges. Twenty-three years later, she notes the most rewarding element of her role being the impact it has on Advanced employees, and in knowing that her job positively impacts their livelihood and enables them to thrive and succeed. Ahead of celebrating National Payroll Week, Voirrey shared the secrets to payroll success and the skills that helped to really shape her payroll career: communication, problem-solving and working under pressure.


Voirrey highlights how clear communication plays a vital role in a payroll professionals role life, and how being able to vocalise your thoughts and questions is key to gaining a better understanding of payroll.’ ‘It’s important you understand what you’re saying to people and deliver it appropriately. If you say the wrong thing, you lose their trust and faith. You are essentially responsible for their livelihood, so trust is necessary and good written and verbal communication is an essential skill needed to navigate the role. It’s also really important that you are able to ask questions, because not everything will be understood as soon as you begin the role, so by asking questions you display initiative and willingness to learn’.  

‘I’ve had many situations where someone has not understood what they’re doing, and because they did not say something, they did not receive the support they needed and ended up becoming more and more confused. In an operational role it’s important you have a firm understanding of the processes and if you don’t, just ask someone and they will help you’. 

‘Internal communication is vital also, it’s important that you understand how to speak to your team. Ever since lockdown began, I put in a team meeting every morning so we can all catch up before we begin our day, it’s very short but it really helps to maintain clear communication, check in with the team and helps us to support and work with each other.’

Problem Solving

As highlighted by CIPP, Payroll is much more than just pushing a button, and can benefit organisations through strategic decision making related to overall reward and remuneration. In many situations, payroll employees will find themselves looking at a figure which will not make sense and have to trace back this number to its origins, so they can grasp a firm understanding of what may have gone wrong. It could also be having to work around a problem to come up with an innovative solution that helps the business to meet its objectives. Voirrey comments: ‘Problem-solving is key, having the intuition to recognise any errors and being able to come up with solutions really quickly is the marker of a true payroll professional’. Amid the furlough scheme, we were absolutely swamped with work and to be able to understand the new processes and develop methods to accommodate it swiftly really helped the team to manage their workload effectively. Government guidelines really helped but having a team who think outside the box allowed them to really use their initiative, and gain a good understanding of how to apply these changes to their accounts.

‘I have made mistakes before, notably missing a BACS deadline. This was a massive mistake I’ve only made once in my career, and the impact was huge and I could not help but beat myself up about it because it was something that I had control over. To prevent me from ever making a similar mistake – I map out my plans and deadlines in front of me every day, to make sure I am constantly aware of any changes or timelines I need to be working to. We did manage to rectify the situation, but I learned from it and I encourage all my team to do the same, problem-solving is not just tackling problems that exist, it’s preventing them from ever happening’.

‘The best method to avoiding any issues for us is always to obtain a firm understanding of our payroll solution, OpenPeople, and any updates so we use it appropriately. By tailoring our methods to the software, we prevent any mishaps as systems simply do as they are told, any problems that occur tend to derive from human error.’

Working under pressure

Resilience comes in many forms, from having to bat away the ‘add another zero’ jokes, to establishing boundaries with colleagues for them to adhere to the payroll process. Voirrey flags how negotiating with stakeholders can be challenging. ‘A lot of people come to us and try to squeeze in some last-minute changes, but it really just does not work that way. I don’t think people understand that if we permit one person to bend the process to their will, it opens the door for everyone to ask for similar requests and disrupts our process completely.’ 

‘Building out a process that operates successfully and takes into consideration the role of my team is tricky, but I’ve been really fortunate with Alex Arundale  (Chief People Officer) as she has really given me the ability to lead the process in respect to payroll, and the operational control embedded in my role allows me and the team to function in a way that best accommodates us and the business.  Many people work on a timeline that’s based on their objectives, for us it will always be to a monthly basis. Our processes are designed to ensure we are able to meet our monthly deadlines, and myself and the team demonstrated our ability to work under pressure extensively this past year. With furloughs, employee absences and overtime we demonstrated our resilience and I’m very proud of us. We live at a different pace in payroll, we are constantly working towards month-end and then suddenly seasons and a year pass.’

Alex Arundale comments: ‘Voirrey and the payroll team have done an excellent job navigating the past year and in keeping the UK paid, we want to take this opportunity to thank them for all their hard work. I encourage you all to do the same and to celebrate your teams this month as part of National Payroll Week.’