Editor’s Note: Dottice M. Brown, MBA, CPP, is the Director of Global Payroll Training with Xerox HR Services. She is responsible for the development and delivery of global payroll training throughout the Xerox HR Services footprint by reviewing its strategy, development, and delivery methods. Her many years in payroll operations for the former Bell Atlantic (now Verizon), and a five-year stint in academia as an adjunct college professor, allow her to combine knowledge of the payroll environment with unique and effective teaching skills to address cultural and linguistic differences.
Tell us about your experience in global payroll with Xerox HR Services.
I joined Xerox HR Services in May 2005, and my first assignment was to teach the elements of payroll to Employee Service Agents and Payroll Processors who were spread across various geographic locations outside the United States. I quickly realized that, due to cultural differences, my audience needed to be prepared for the linguistic differences. When an employee calls with a payroll inquiry, it is critical that the Service Agents understand the request. When UK client employees refer to their “contribution to a scheme” it needs to be evident to the Service Agent that they are referring to their social benefit plan and—not some underhanded plot. I guess I was drawing from my own experience after migrating to the United States, speaking the language fluently but having to learn cultural idiosyncrasies.
Before diving into subjects such as payroll tax and compliance, I focus on teaching the “universal language of payroll,” mapping local idioms to global concepts. So, when an Australian client mentions the “ATO” or National Employment Standards (NES), it becomes clear to trainees that these map to the U.S. IRS and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), respectively. Likewise, a salary “sacrifice” is just an employee’s agreement to pay a portion of the cost of employer-provided benefits. Every culture has distinctive features that are as unique to that culture as they are foreign to others. I recall one of my trainees from a non-English-speaking culture asking me what it means when someone says, “It just does not add up.” It’s a phrase we take for granted, but to one who is unfamiliar with our mode of expression, unless you are referring to arithmetic, “it just does not make sense.”
What emerging trends or issues have your attention in global payroll?
As companies expand globally, we still need to conserve and take advantage of economies of scale. Having processing centers/back-office operations in geographically diverse locations is a necessity and will require this blending of cultures; not a true blending but an appreciation and respect for varying beliefs and customs.
Is there a frequently asked question that you think will no longer be part of the conversation in global payroll?
Currently, for the most part, we are learning to navigate the international legal and regulatory waters. As we conquer these challenges, some questions may no longer be asked; however, as we gain experience and become more knowledgeable, we will be focusing on operational efficiencies. The question therefore will no longer be, “How do we get things done?” but “How can we do things better?” Employees no longer will consider themselves country-centric but employees without borders. It’s really an exciting time to do business.
What resources do you use to stay current on the latest trends and legislation in global payroll?
This may surprise you, but mostly I read and listen to international news. I really want to get a feel for each country, the culture, and what our employees will face when they communicate with natives of countries whose names we cannot pronounce. Of course, I keep abreast of changes via the payroll professional publications from the American Payroll Association (APA), Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI), and Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP).
How did you become involved in global payroll?
It was not a planned career path; it just happened. At first, I was assigned to teach USA payroll to Service Center Agents and Payroll Processors who had no payroll knowledge and were non-USA-based. I quickly realized the need to socialize them with linguistics and terminologies prior to introducing the nuts and bolts of the USA payroll legal and regulatory environment. After that experience, my employer took on several multinational clients. It was just a natural segue.
What are some pieces of wisdom you can share in regard to being effective, efficient, and legally compliant?
The frontline employees are the face of the company. If they are knowledgeable, positioned to scale cultural barriers, and communicate effectively, other challenges will easily be overcome.
What have you learned about world cultures, similarities, and differences that impact your work in global payroll?
There is no right or wrong culture, and we are all proud of our local customs and mores. All people have the same basic needs, but we may express them in a slightly different way. The country culture drives the benefits that are offered in the workplace. Some cultures are very family-oriented, and therefore you will find very liberal vacation, parental leave, and individual benefits. The large majority of countries dictate the laws governing the employer-employee relationship. Some are skewed toward employees and others toward employers.
What areas of additional education and training do you think will be important to global payroll professionals?
Communication—whether written or oral—is very important. Effective communication will override many challenges. Employees who work outside of payroll do not understand most payroll jargon. Sometimes we need to go beyond what the employee is saying to what the employee is really thinking. One anecdote I recall is an employee asking if his net pay would remain the same after he “marries a wife with three children.” While I could not give him a definitive response, I had to know enough to understand he was thinking of whether the increase in cost for his medical benefits will be offset by the tax allowance for his four new dependents.
How do you personally manage to balance work and pleasure?
Is it safe for me to tell you that work, for me, is pleasure? Sometimes, based on the various time zones, I may need to conduct a training session at odd hours; 4 a.m. or midnight. I have met many, many wonderful Xerox employees in various countries and cultures who are willing and eager to learn. They send me pictures, we exchange stories—and it’s just as if I have them in my classroom. It’s fun, especially when we discuss the different social mores. My trainees are eager to discuss and compare their characteristic customs and conventions, and I capitalize on these icebreaker activities to enhance their ability to respect and communicate with clients and coworkers globally.