Editor’s Note: Jason Low is the Head of TAPS (The Association for Payroll Specialists), which represents more than 6,500 payroll professionals around Australia. On behalf of TAPS, he is an advisor to both the Australian Taxation Office and State Revenue Offices. Jason has 30 years of payroll experience and is a popular writer and speaker on payroll-related topics. He often speaks and teaches at the Global Payroll Management Institute’s (GPMI) Global Payroll Management Forum.
What impact is COVID-19 having on Australian payroll?
Since the beginning of this pandemic, I have never been busier… but I have also never been prouder to be a payroll professional.
Here in Australia, the government has introduced a $130 billion JobKeeper payment to help keep more Australians in jobs and support businesses affected by the novel coronavirus. Around 6 million workers will receive a fortnightly payment of $1,500 (before tax) through payroll for six months. The payment ensures employers remain connected to their workforce and will help businesses restart quickly when the crisis is over.
Similar schemes and new legislation are being introduced around the world at a rapid pace. Keeping up to date with the changes is overwhelming.
I am sure we are all exhausted yet invigorated by the important role payroll professionals have to play at the moment. Keep up the good work!
What are the other big challenges for global payroll teams and how do you address them?
Payroll is constantly changing. There is no “set-and-forget” or “one-size-fits-all” solution when it comes to payroll. This is especially true when it comes to global payroll. Every country has its own unique challenges.
In Australia, we are seeing employers struggle with award interpretation. New Zealand employers are confused by the complexity of holiday pay calculations. In Asia, employers have to deal with the Central Provident Fund (CPF) in Singapore, Social Security Organisation (SOCSO) in Malaysia, and a range of social insurances in China.
As global payroll professionals, we must constantly remind ourselves that every country is different.
Living in Australia, I see global payroll from a different perspective. We are often one of the countries being managed by a head office based in the United States or the United Kingdom.
I did some consulting work a few years ago with a company that was setting up operations in Australia. In the first meeting, they explained how they paid their employees and how their payroll worked. They had a very specific set of company policies that were not compliant with Australian legislation. After several meetings where they completely refused to follow Australian law as it didn’t match their company policy, I had no option but to resign as their consultant.
When managing a global payroll, it is essential to keep an open mind, trust your local payroll experts, and accept that things are going to be different.
What strategic advice would you give to a company moving from a domestic to a global payroll?
Running payroll for one country is hard work; being responsible for multiple countries is exponentially harder. Start by asking, how do we define payroll? Is it purely about calculating taxes and distributing wages, or does it also include determining what employees are entitled to be paid?
In Australia, taxing employees is much simpler than in the United States. The complexity comes from working out what an employee needs to paid under the National Employment Standards, plus 120 additional legislative sources that provide industry- and occupation-specific entitlements.
To highlight just how complex it can be, one employer has recently admitted to accidentally underpaying thousands of its workers as much as $300 million over the past decade.
Given that even local Australian employers struggle to comply with the complex legislative framework, serious thought is required when moving to a global model. What aspects of payroll are being globalized? What stays in-country?
How can a payroll department provide support on a strategic level to corporate finance, human resources, and other departments?
This has always been the great payroll dilemma. The better we do our job, the more invisible we become. I still recall that in my very first job, my pay was always correct and on time. I had been working there for two years and needed to ask a payroll question when I realised that I had never met the payroll manager. I asked my colleagues about our payroll manager, but no one knew. She did such a great job, but was hidden away in the background.
Payroll has come a long way, but for many, it is still a struggle to raise your profile and provide strategic support. Luckily, payroll impacts everyone and is usually a topic people want to know about. As payroll professionals, we should take every opportunity to share our knowledge with both employees and management. When legislation changes, send an email or run an information session for senior management or employees. You will quickly become the go-to source of payroll knowledge in your organisation.
How do you personally manage to balance work and pleasure?
Loving what you do is a great start. I love the people I work with and enjoy my job, so that is half the battle.
To really recharge the batteries, I love to travel. You can’t beat a cruise for total relaxation, and because your phone doesn’t work, you get the added benefit of being totally unreachable.
I’m guessing most people say that exercise is important…but I’m much happier binging some Netflix.
What is your management and leadership style today?
Being a leader is hard, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I am passionate about customer service and treating people and my team with respect.
When I was in high school, I had a job at the local supermarket. There was one elderly lady who used to come in three or four times a day, each time buying just one item. She was clearly very lonely and would walk around talking to the workers while she was there. One day I was talking to this lady when I noticed my boss was watching me from a distance. It was my first job, and I was still new, so I quickly wrapped up the conversation and apologised to my boss for wasting time and not working. To my surprise, my boss explained that customer service was more important than packing the shelves and that I was encouraged to talk to the customers. It was a valuable lesson, and to this day I put people before revenue and profits, knowing that if we put people first, the revenue and profits will come.
At TAPS, we have three important values. We are helpful, knowledgeable, and accurate.
Obviously, working in payroll, accuracy and knowledge of legislation are essential. But the most important value is “helpful.” As a leader, I need to be there to help my team. We all need to help each other succeed, and we need to help the people who rely on us to be paid.
If you are looking for a little inspiration, I recently watched an excellent TED talk by Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya, who believes that leaders should prioritize keeping their customers happy over the desires of the board.
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Frank J. Mendelson is Acquisitions Editor for the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) and the American Payroll Association (APA).