Editor’s Note: Melpomeni Nikas is the Global Payroll Manager at Two Sigma Investments, LP where she oversees the development, implementation, and maintenance of the global payroll operations while ensuring a high level of accuracy and regulatory compliance. Nikas has nearly 20 years of professional experience across various industries. She has a B.S. in finance from Rutgers Business School.
How did you get started in payroll?
I started my career as a payroll analyst at an HR and payroll service company. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of experience; however, the company offered training and certification programs. I’ve had opportunities through the years to explore many avenues of payroll in different sized industries and products. I have also been fortunate to have amazing mentors throughout my career, both within and outside the payroll function.
What do you see as the changing role of the payroll professional?
There has been more focus on cross-departmental collaboration between payroll professionals and other functions. As payroll technology develops, there are opportunities to create a robust “hire to retire process” with partnering teams by understanding their complex business operations. The synergy between teams lends itself to create a proactive environment, which in turn reduces the company’s exposure to potential risk that is typically a result of a reactive approach.
What are the biggest challenges for payroll teams, and what is emerging to address these challenges?
COVID-19 quickly changed the landscape of payroll and created tax complexities with the frequent regulatory changes. You now see many companies trending towards a future of hybrid or fully remote work arrangements for their employees, which creates challenges for income tax withholdings. Updates to automated payroll systems are emerging to adapt to the framework put forth by the federal, state, and local governments, but ultimately it is the payroll professionals who need to ensure compliance and stay up to date with the latest changes.
What strategic advice would you give a company moving from a domestic to a global payroll?
I would suggest that the organization first evaluate what service model would best suit their company’s needs, whether it’s a centralized, decentralized, or all in-house global payroll. The organization’s leadership should also meet with global vendors in order to gain a real understanding of pricing, what services are offered, and how much control and visibility you would have. Discuss their global reach, industries served, data security, technology, and local expertise. Also, creating a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis, which can be helpful in weighing your options. Finally, select a model that can grow with your company as part of your long-term business plan.
What are the communication challenges of a global payroll leader?
Communication across global teams can be difficult at times due to regional laws and evolving regulatory changes. Having a standardized HR platform that is flexible to the region-specific payroll is important to keep the partnership aligned between teams. Collaborating on data transfer processes and improvements is pivotal to understanding the needs of each region.
What is the difference in responding to urgencies in global payroll versus U.S. payroll?
There are many challenges when responding to urgent requests from global payrolls. In the United States, there is flexibility on timing of adjustments, while globally there are region-specific constraints and, depending on payment frequencies, corrections may take up to a month to be processed. Also, if you are running payrolls outside of that region, time zone differences can present their own set of challenges.
What would you like to see payroll vendors address in the next three years?
Developing a more sophisticated tax withholding platform would be ideal. Often payroll professionals must customize their systems to accommodate complicated tax withholding calculations and to provide a seamless employee self-service experience.
How can a payroll department provide support on a strategic level to corporate finance, human resources, and other departments?
As a payroll professional, you’re proficient in problem solving, data analysis, and auditing. You can use these skills in many ways, such as providing trend analysis data to assist in cash forecasting or offering feedback of reoccurring patterns for process improvements.
What are some pieces of wisdom from your on-the-job experience regarding effectiveness and efficiency?
Payroll is mission critical so getting the most out of advanced technology is important, especially during times where you need to exercise your business continuity plan. Some tips include:
- Implementing a paperless payroll process can be useful to minimize data entry errors, securing sensitive information, and creating effective audit trails
- Creating an automated periodic checklist can be helpful for you and your team by enabling everyone to stay organized and know where you are at all times during the payroll processing
- Be curious and explore new platforms to find innovative ways of processing the payroll
- Communication is important for delivering clear objectives and staying up to date on new rules, regulations, and process enhancements
What career and life advice do you give to a new payroll employee?
Payroll has become progressively complex, so take every day as a new opportunity to learn. Leverage payroll communities and publications, such as LinkedIn, the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI), the American Payroll Association (APA), and Bloomberg BNA to stay up-to-date on legislative changes and best practices. Build solid relationships with your peers and business partners so you can coordinate efforts and build effective processes. Lastly, know that mistakes will happen and that they can be fixed. Take the opportunity to evaluate what caused the error and suggest process enhancements to avoid it from happening again.
How do you incorporate professional development into the lifestyle of a full-time job?
I think there are many ways to continue your professional development, including some that may be less traditional. These include:
- Attend seminars and conferences
- Join forums
- Participate in charity and/or fundraising events
- Cross-train with a business partner
- Become a mentor in any capacity
- Participate in team-building events
How do you manage to balance work and pleasure?
It’s often difficult to disconnect when you find a career that you’re passionate about. In payroll, each day can bring its own set of challenges, so staying fluid and prioritizing your workload can help to make it more manageable. I’ve found that it is important to build a schedule and set boundaries to avoid burnout. Each day, I make time to talk to friends and family, work out, or go for a walk or bike ride. I love to travel, so I try to do that as often as possible as well.
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Frank J. Mendelson is Acquisitions Editor for the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) and the American Payroll Association (APA).