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by Kimberley Fiume | on Jul 29, 2019 | No Comments

By: W. Peter Randall

In business we tend to think of accounting, payroll, budget and insurance for example as very conservative, slow to change, traditional, ‘button on the shirt, collar starched’, straight laced departments.

When one runs a busy payroll department, one can easily let themselves and their colleagues get bogged down in the day to day grind of; endless pay processing, fire fighting, deadlines and commitments. These departments can then become boring, tedious, unjoyful places to work, mired in redundancy. One can change this by bringing the letter ‘L’ to your pay department.

Quite simply, if we make ‘L’ the second letter of pay, we arrive at the provocative verb, ‘play’ which means quite simply, ‘to engage in an activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose’.

What, heaven forbid! A payroll department having fun? But how can they be concentrating on such serious work and achieving the 99-100% accuracy and correctness ratio their chosen career demands you say?

I put forward that it is exactly and precisely this attitude and atmosphere that makes such gaudy targets achievable.

Recently while working as a Consultant for Leading Edge Payroll Group, I served a sixteen-month stint as ‘Interim Director of Payroll’ for a client. The client’s payroll is multi-province, encompasses some 85 collective agreements, is spread across three very disparate payroll systems and is responsible for disbursing pay for over 12,000 employees.

In this challenging role I had 20 payroll staff and an absolute full slate of improvement and redesign projects on the go. When I came into this position, I started regular weekly payroll team meetings and when I would draft agendas, I would simply have endless items that I thought I must address.

I could quickly see there was no way to fit even half of these items into what I was determined would only be one-hour meetings each week. My immediate approach to seeing how much there was to cover in each meeting, was to give myself less time.

I slotted the first 10 minutes each week for PLAY, sharing, engagement, laughing – in short, I called it, ‘getting away from payroll’. No matter how much we had on our plate or how urgent things were, I always held fast to this promise to my team.

In my mind, we were just way too busy to start the meetings with work. The daily workload placed upon our group was such that it was demanding razor focus, superlative attitude and exceptional team work and cooperation.

We therefore really needed to escape the stress and pressure in these meetings and yet use the time productively to build the team and get to know one another better and more personally.

Now I am by nature a story teller, and I would one week talk of my many overseas travel and volunteer trips and then ask others to share their experiences. Another time I would talk about my three amazing children and my family and then ask others to share.

One week we would play an ice breaker game, another week see an engaging, inspirational or humorous video (for example we watched teenagers try to use a rotary phone!). We then explained why this was so funny to the younger folks in the department and I went into a discussion about how we all come from such different backgrounds, cultures and generations, that we need to constantly understand and remember we all see things so differently.

Just as one of us being age 50 finds using a rotary phone so very easy, another of us at 23 years of age can be confused. This is exactly the same as our payroll department, we may think one a slow learner who is new to our department. However, if we step back, we may realize he or she is; new to Canada, English is their second language and they were last doing Australian payroll in India! All of a sudden, they may not seem such a slow learner, rather the situation is that they simply have all of our jargon, terminology and English double speak added on top of learning the new software.

One week for a special break I played a 20-minute Stuart Mclean, Dave and Morley, Vinyl Café story. (The late Stuart McLean is an iconic Canadian author and radio broadcaster). If Stuart is unfamiliar to you, think heartwarming, family stories for every age and gender such as Mitch Albom captivates us all with.

Staff members came to love these times where we, ‘got away from payroll’ and many commented on them on my last day when my contract came to an end and the new full time Director was to start on the Monday. You see, when one Payroll Administrator starts to talk about making a cake for her cats’ birthday (this as we were all discussing a story of our child and this was her ‘child’), she later tends to offer up a payroll suggestion or adds to a payroll discussion.

The admins and managers tend to find their voice early in the meeting discussing very comfortable subjects in front of the ‘scary Director’ and such a big group. Therefore, later when I say, ‘what approaches do you suggest on our PTO (personal time off) problem’, otherwise silent voices engage and speak freely and naturally. This is not always common in many meetings through my career, often management can ‘preach down at staff’ and so many great ideas and approaches are held in by the silent. Every voice matters and MUST be heard, it was a part-time minimum wage staffer who suggested breakfast to his McDonalds employer. The astute leader hires staff to learn from them and listen to them as importantly as to teach, guide and direct them.

Now to be sure this attitude of play and comradery must be maintained outside of meeting times; the proverbial open-door office is a start, but it must go far beyond this. When anerror is brought forward, we can make the admin feel less nervous and on the spot by talking about when we made a similar booboo or speaking of how many good things they did this week.

Humor and play to me in a stoic, conservative Payroll department are as essential today as the ubiquitous computer is to us. We need to laugh with each other, not at each other. We need to share and learn about the others’ outside life, hobbies, family and aspirations.

Recruitment can in some ways be considered a time sensitive, pressured, emergency room that one must operate in when retention fails. Retention often fails when engagement is lacking as statistics and exit interviews show that more employees leave managers and departments than they do salaries or companies.

One can reverse this and operate in a much more casual, stress-free ER earlier in the process by simply focusing on ‘Engaged Retention’ all through their reports work days.

So, don’t forget to bring the letter ‘L’ to your department meetings and personal work interactions. The only bad joke (when one is tasteful and respectful) is the loss of a great employee because they are too stressed, too bored or simply not feeling appreciated or engaged.

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