“Stoicism: Virtue is sufficient for happiness. An ancient philosophy, once one of the most popular civic disciplines in the West, practiced by the rich and the impoverished, the powerful and the struggling alike in the pursuit of the Good Life.”
It would be difficult to find a global payroll professional who would disagree that our job is demanding. Our workforce expects their wages as promised and on time. Questions must be resolved—fast. Processes must be executed flawlessly. The company must comply with the governing bodies, now and always. Although we are judged by our professional behavior, communication style, and deliverables, few appreciate the complexity.
In our profession, where stressors come from all directions, it can be helpful to employ a guiding philosophy. Such a philosophy provides a path for decision-making and can improve our quality of work, strengthen our mental attitude, and allow for a state of calm and self-confidence. It provides a positive example for colleagues who rely upon us—team members across the globe and entry-level practitioners in our profession, who can benefit by example.
This path for professionals was created by the Greek Stoic philosophers, “an ancient philosophy used by everyone from George Washington to Theodore Roosevelt to the New England Patriots as a source of much-needed strength and stamina for their challenging lives.” Philosophy, and more specifically Stoic philosophy, is not just about talking or lecturing, nor is a complex book required reading. Instead, it is something used by people of action to solve problems and thrive. The philosophy redefines obstacles and turns them into advantages. We can understand what we can control and to (really!) accept what we cannot.
In short: Stoicism is very much on point for those of us in global payroll. Join me on a philosophical journey whose destination is becoming the best global payroll professional we can be. Our guide will be the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. Epictetus (55-135 C.E.— pronounced Epic-TEE-tus) taught that philosophy is a way of life that can be embodied by anyone. Anyone. He believed that study of the masters provides a tangible benefit, helping guide people toward leading better lives, all in very pragmatic context. Let’s begin with some of his teachings.
Literally: Focused means “directing a great deal of attention, interest, or activity towards a particular aim.”
In global payroll, we work to deliver an accurate paycheck and provide responsive customer service at the highest standards. Our workforce expects it of us, as we do of ourselves. When we are distracted, it leads to lower performance and service delivery. It can be a vicious cycle. How, then, can we ensure we remain focused?
Accept that some things are in our control—and others are not. We control our opinions, our choices, and our desires. We are responsible for our actions. Our reputation, however, is not in our control. Others will form opinions influenced by their metrics of success. We can’t control others’ actions; they live outside of our control. The pandemic makes that clear. More directly, despite our desire to the contrary, we do not control the end-to-end global payroll process. We surely do not control all the data inputs from other departments and their various systems of record. We take actions to ensure the data we receive is accurate, complete, and in compliance as if our own. However, this caring should not result in frustration or stress about what we do not control. Our focus weakens when we worry about what is not in our control.
Find a balance and accept what is within our responsibility and control. Do not stop caring; stop worrying, stop letting it affect you. Believe me, this is calming. It is pivotal to redirect our focus on what is in our scope.
Instinctively, we protect our body from harm. We do not let people physically push us around. When it comes to our minds, however, the discipline weakens. We are vulnerable to impressions—impressions made through social media of others in general. Lives can look different through the lens of social media. Celebrities and even friends may seem to live charmed lives, impervious to what others are doing or saying, free of distraction. Most of the time, we are unaware of their influence on our minds. The same goes for all employees and stakeholders of global payroll and how we are affected by the opinions they may hold.
As we do against physical aggression, we must protect our thoughts and how they direct our actions: a thoughtful approach is our most prized possession. We should take care to protect our mindfulness and how those external impressions are internalized. Protect self-awareness and appreciation for yourself.
Literally: Unbothered means “not worried or concerned.”
Our deliverables are always subject to scrutiny by employees, HR, finance, legal, IT, tax authorities, social security authorities, and many others. You need to have a very thick skin to work in global payroll; all my colleagues know what I mean. What if the armor you crafted over the many years is penetrated more than you would like? Or consider if the armor was not required, but a shift in mindset is needed instead?
When you act, welcome other’s opinions. If we decide to act, we should expect others to notice. Their reactions can take many forms. Others might misunderstand or disapprove of it, but as a professional, you will do as you see fit. You have the power to stop or reassess.
For instance, when you are ready to take the next step in your career, embrace the chance. It will be thought by some as foolish or even stupid! I, myself, have been seen as a young fool when ready to take leaps in global payroll. I welcomed it and did what I felt was right. I expected to be judged and welcomed all feedback as an opportunity to learn. Go out there and try. Take that new challenge or project. Get that business case endorsed or lead that global payroll transformation.
Be Bold, Be Brave—Act With Pride
Expect people to speak ill of you, and do not bother with defenses. Just smile and think: “I guess that person doesn’t know about all our other faults. If they did, they wouldn’t have only mentioned these particular mistakes!”
Of course, it will affect us to a certain extent, but we will not allow it to get under our skin. For example, we will not be affected by the words of our colleagues who may say they were incorrectly paid, while we know that either: a) they simply do not understand their pay slips, or b) their timecard was not approved before payroll cutoff.
We need to be mindful that another person is not the cause of our irritation, but ourselves. An email cannot cause distress, nor can words. We must be the filters of others’ criticism and words. Yes, that is indeed in our control! By understanding the difference and identifying and analyzing our own perceptions, we can remain unbothered. This, too, does not prevent us from caring.
Literally: Unstoppable means “impossible to stop or prevent.”
Global payroll professionals are committed and knowledgeable. We plan and execute, from strategic planning to operational processes. Still, not everything we plan to accomplish happens. Not everything we desire in our careers becomes reality. Not every business case is endorsed, not all vendor actions supported, technology implemented, or process improvement adopted by all local teams. How does one avoid occupational paralysis and discontent? How can we pivot from this and become unstoppable?
- Accept that what you want to happen does not always happen—Instead, want what’s happening regardless of whether you planned for it and you will find peace of mind. For sure, we should focus on our goals if they are within our control. We want data to arrive, we want policies to be clear, we want accounts to be reconciled—the list goes on.
Discover peace when it does not happen all the time and embrace the new reality: Pivot your mindset to have actually wanted that to happen. Yes, this is a challenge but a great opportunity to show our resilience, put aside our pride, and make the best of every situation! You no longer have roadblocks.
I embodied this practice, however strange it might seem, during the birth of my daughter in 2016. When it became very complicated, I pivoted my attitude on the situation to make an opportunity to showcase what I was made of during the stressful situation. A mental pivot during these scenes helps us to be unstoppable—as energy is directed to where it adds the most value within our control.
It was an opportunity to test my own values and beliefs and to put them into action. Right there, at that moment. It’s easy to have great principles in comfortable situations; testing them in stressful situations is to be embraced as opportunity.
- Nothing stops you. Nothing truly holds you back—Once we understand what is in our control, we will understand what is not: We can create our own success. We are the only ones defining what success means. With focus on what is in your control, you are in the pole position to achieve it. We can be free in adapting our version of success in line with how we develop ourselves.
The Act of Reflection
You do not have to be a philosopher to practice philosophy. However, you must be focused, unbothered, and unstoppable to be a thriving global payroll professional. By embracing these characteristics, you can reach excellence.
I encourage you to enjoy the act of reflection. To help you get started, I encourage you to start with this simple yet effective daily schedule.
- Prepare for the day ahead. Each morning, remind yourself of your reflections from yesterday. Then, envision everything that you expect to happen today. Imagine how you would react to a certain email or task, what perceptions would be underlying it and how you have reacted previously. By doing this, you say, “Nothing happens to the wise person contrary to their expectations.”
- Put the day up for reflection. Each evening, examine your actions, thoughts, and reactions. Were you focused, unbothered, and unstoppable? Be honest with yourself and reflect. Was I prepared? What can I do better? What thought processes or notions are preventing me from thriving?
For instance, I like to begin my day with “The Daily Stoic,” which offers a daily devotional of Stoic meditations. I reflect on a single page during the day. I use this both during the start and close of my day. Incrementally, I progress.
This is a format-free approach; some will journal, and others are equally free to reflect during a walk. However, be sure to reflect twice a day and appreciate the process you are in—without clear end, but with the intent to become focused, unbothered, and unstoppable. Become someone who makes and commits to progress–a “proficiens” as the Stoics call it.
Do it your way, but do it! You’ve got this!
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Max van der Klis-Busink, RPP, is Global Payroll Solutions Manager at Shell’s global headquarters, The Hague. Over the past 14 years, he has held various roles in global payroll and has been active in developing the profession. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resource Management and is a Registered Payroll Professional (RPP) in The Netherlands. Van der Klis-Busink specializes in building payroll functions that continue to adapt to ever-changing business needs and has developed a holistic approach to global payroll management. He shares his passion for payroll through articles in Global Payroll, webinars, and by co-developed and -instructed certificate programs in global payroll with the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI). In 2018, he was the first recipient of the Global Vision Award, presented during GPMI’s Third Annual Global Payroll Management Forum held in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S.