The Payroll Professionals: Why Modern Payroll Workers Must Evolve

Global payroll is evolving like never before, and the role of the modern payroll professional is changing with it. As is the role of the payroll leader, which we explored in a separate blog last year. The best practitioners around are those who can forge new ways of working alongside HR, embrace the potential of technology and automation, and fully align with relevant stakeholders.

Achieving this requires a significant change in mindset. What are the keys to getting there, and how big a difference can it make to how both payroll and your wider organization operate?

To find out, the latest edition of the Payday Global Payroll Podcast captured the views of a leading payroll practitioner. Lubomira Kostova, Lead of Strategy and Planning for Global Payroll at Uber, shared her experiences of the pace of change within payroll, and the future direction of travel. Among her insights, five points stood out in particular:


Lifelong skills pay the bills

Lubomira starts by sharing the career path that led to her joining Uber’s payroll team in 2015. Throughout her career, Lubomira found that the skill set she thought was needed wasn’t quite right in reality: “A lot of courses that I did regarded payroll as part of the HR function. When I started working in payroll, everywhere that I worked had payroll as part of finance, which needed a completely different skill set in terms of accounting.”

Expanding this skill set is as vital in payroll as it is in the wider business landscape. But expanding skills more broadly is something that Lubomira suggests payroll professionals should work on. And LinkedIn agrees, in their 2021 Workplace Learning Report they found that upskilling and reskilling is the number one area of focus for professionals right now. Lubomira recommends payroll professionals take a proactive approach to picking up new skills, and that it can help to look ahead: “Start learning through courses, self-learning or any company-provided education. Start educating yourself on very different things. Another area I think would be valuable is to look at areas you’re potentially interested in, even if you don’t yet connect those areas to your current job.”


The First 90 Days- Guide for Global Payroll Leader


The importance of technology

Technology has played a major part in transforming payroll operations, and it’s in this field where gaining new skills will be particularly important. Lubomira highlights a number of different areas where this applies, such as in how automation can be applied and in gaining at least a working knowledge of technical environments. 

But in particular, she feels that getting the most out of data is critical: “The new payroll professional needs to be data-savvy: payroll has a very rich pool of data that can be leveraged for different initiatives. The payroll professional needs to know how to extract and analyze data, and how to influence using that data through stakeholder and relationship management.”


Wider gains through payroll tech

The Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals’ Future of Payroll report found that almost three in five payroll professionals say technology can help them focus on more strategic parts of their job. 

Lubomira has found similarities in her own experience, and says that technology can play a major part in enabling this by lightening day-to-day workloads: “There are a lot of parts that can be modernized, and that’s where you can disrupt,” she says. “Payroll has evolved substantially in recent years, from automation to becoming a strategic partner within the organization to embedding analytics, that can help us do more high-value tasks that can add value to the business.”


Employee experience gets overlooked

On the surface, payroll’s impact on the employee experience is easy to overlook. To the average employee, it might amount to little more than a monthly paycheck, but pay has important touchpoints. Lubomira flags up that many organizations overlook this importance, and that issues around when and how employees are paid can quickly have a negative effect on their experiences.

She stresses the need for clear communications between payroll and employees, saying that “we all need to learn how to interact with the end-user in mind.” But she is also keen to emphasize the value of learning more through data, and in making payroll systems accessible to users.

“In payroll, you can be pretty intuitive about certain things that employees are worried about: when is payday, how do I get paid, and so on. But there are also other queries that employees will want to know about. You need to be able to extract the data to understand what those queries are, and start building up the areas your employees are interested in. I also find having a knowledge base – like a kind of ‘internal Google’ – works very well.”




Making the payroll professional’s voice heard

As payroll’s functions have expanded, it has become more and more integrated into the strategy, planning and decision-making of the wider business. However, many organizations still neglect to include payroll within these processes: CIPP’s research found that only 9 percent of UK businesses have a specific payroll director on their boards.

Lubomira draws on her experience at Uber, saying that payroll worked hard from the outset to be heard by other departments, and is now given more of a fair hearing as a result: “When other workstreams want to address particular challenges, payroll is often invited – even as a consultant – to provide information and flag any challenges or potential issues down the line. That is very different from the previous organizations I’ve been with, and it’s been achieved through payroll being involved in everything from a very early stage. By being vocal about being included, payroll slowly gained that seat at the table.”


Key Takeaways

It’s clear that both individual payroll professionals and organizations have work to do in embracing change and making payroll as efficient, user-friendly and integrated within businesses as it possibly can be.

At an individual level, those that can build up a more rounded skill set, make full use of the technology available to them and who can stand up for payroll at board level will be best-placed for success. At the same time, businesses need to evolve their payroll technology, data and accessibility to serve the needs of their workforce, and to use payroll as a driver towards wider business goals.