Editor’s Note: Zennie Sjölund is the Divisional Director at SRF Konsulterna (Sveriges Redovisningskonsulters Förbund—the association of Swedish Accounting and Payroll consultants) where she has overseen establishing a certification for payroll professionals, a standard of Swedish payroll process (SALK) as a code of conduct, enhanced training and education within payroll, and also provided input to Swedish legislation. Sjölund started in payroll in the late 1990s at Sema Group as first assistant product owner and later product owner of a local, specialized payroll software. She has also worked as a consultant and trainer, always with a focus on payroll intelligence. In 2010, Sjölund became involved in founding Löneföreningen, a member organization for payroll that soon merged with SRF Konsulterna. That marked the beginning of building up the payroll industry in Sweden, and in 2013, she started working full time at SRF Konsulterna.
What resources/tools do you use to stay current on the latest trends and legislation in global payroll?
I find that LinkedIn, with all of its networking opportunities, is a true source of inspiration and knowledge. I spend a lot of time reading posts and articles referring to global payroll.
What are some of the most important emerging issues for global payroll professionals?
Recognition. We are still a profession taken for granted.
How did you become involved in global payroll?
I have been interested in taking part in payroll’s progress since I became part of the industry in the 1990s—at first on a national level, but then when I moved on to more international companies that broadened my perspective.
What are the most important qualities of a leader?
Sensitivity and clarity—to make people feel secure so that they can make wise decisions on their own but not hesitate to bring up ideas or problems.
Can you share your views on the strategies you use in team building?
Trust is important, and that must be built. I show trust in my team by letting them take initiative and plan their own work. I believe in public positive feedback while using constructive criticism in private.
What are some pieces of wisdom—your on-the-job experience—you can share in regard to being effective, efficient, and legally compliant in the sphere of working in global payroll?
Network and work together to take on the challenges of managing global payroll. It’s so valuable to be able to contact a person you trust regarding issues in legislation.
What are some of the personal challenges you’ve faced in global payroll and how have you met them?
When there are profound differences in values and structures, for example in tax systems, you need take a step back and sometimes question what is normal to you and realize the other person’s reality.
What have you learned about world cultures, similarities, and differences that impact your work in global payroll?
People are very much the same all over the world. The peculiarities you find in a person are more about their personality than their culture or countries they live in.
What are areas of additional education and training do you think will be important to global payroll professionals?
I think that you must be agile in mind and look for adaptive learning. There is a need for more technical knowledge since payroll is becoming more digitalized and automated.
How would you advise someone whose company is just beginning to expand to a global payroll, regarding risk management and compliance?
Get a good software supplier. It comes down to the ability to run payroll knowing all the in-country legislation.
What are some of the most important emerging issues in global payroll compliance and risk management?
Employment conditions will become more complex. Globalization in combination with technology, Industry 4.0 (automating traditional manufacturing), and companies becoming more international will impact the labor market. The growing gig economy, posted employees, and other values in life change the playground of the employee, adding new payroll challenges. Consider where the employee is situated, what the rules are for tax, when an employment starts and ends, and what happens if more companies measure results rather than time spent on a task.
How do you personally manage to balance work and pleasure?
I am not as good as I should be, but I am getting better. When you have the privilege to work with something you are passionate about and you see progress, work becomes pleasure as well. It is harder though during these pandemic times to draw the line.
What are you reading? Are there any books you've read that you recommend?
I read a lot of books about Nordic crime. It really gets my mind off work. Since a lot of my work is about reading and writing and conveying information, you need something easygoing to balance it. But I also like biographies, especially about strong women such as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s “Madame Secretary.” People are fascinating. We are all humans with our own interesting story, some more famous than others.
What would you say was your most important developmental experience?
It is hard to say, but I think I got an early experience of coping with more than you think you can. In my early 20s, we were transferring payroll software from DOS to Windows. My colleague was the product owner with the payroll knowledge. I was employed to assist. She left the company and went to our top competitor, leaving me to handle it all. That was tough, but I made it through and, after that, I cannot see challenges as anything other than something to conquer. Nothing is impossible if you are determined. It might take a while, not everything happens overnight, but with patience, you will get there.
What do you like most about your job?
That I truly make a difference; to be able to have foresight, work toward a goal, and complete it. I work with so many wonderful people. It warms my heart to be able to say that we put competition aside for the benefit of the payroll industry. For example, I mentioned the colleague who went to our competitor. Today, I have brought both these companies together, with the rest of the Swedish software suppliers, working in a collaboration to solve important issues impacting payroll, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), COVID-19, and application programming interfaces related to government. This is something I never would have thought possible 20 years ago.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time for?
I would like to learn more languages and get better at those I have studied.
What has been your greatest accomplishment?
I must put my work aside to answer this question. There is nothing greater than my daughters.
You’ve achieved so much in your career—what else would you like to accomplish?
I have a vision of payroll within Standard Business Reporting and how we can make a big positive change. For that, we need to collaborate even more and stand up for the knowledge and recognition of payroll. There are always new challenges, and that is what makes our industry so vivid.
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Frank J. Mendelson is Acquisitions Editor for the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) and the American Payroll Association (APA).