Sleeping with the Enemy: When HR and Payroll Make the Worst Bedfellows

A dear friend is starting a new job today as an HR Manager – joining a company with ~300 employees. It’s a cool opportunity with a cool company and she’ll be doing all the typical human resources stuff – workforce planning and recruiting, total rewards, employee relations, compliance-stuff, and…payroll.

That’s right; she’s in one of those organizations where payroll rests firmly in HR’s domicile. A place where performance management, cultural affinity and employee engagement snuggle-up side-by-side with tax withholding and garnishment notifications.

This is pretty common. It’s also hella stupid.

While HR and payroll need to work together, their responsibilities in ensuring people are paid correctly should be separate and distinct.

The payroll function (calculating time worked, overtime, reimbursements, retro pay, tax withholding, wage deductions, etc. etc. etc.) is, by its very nature, an administrative finance process. Payroll folks track and verify all the payroll expenses to ensure they are paid, recorded and reported properly. The HR function, on the other hand, should serve as the architects of policies, process and workflow and, in conjunction with payroll, ensure there is adherence to both state and federal wage and hour laws/FLSA regulations.

But the same person (some hybrid HR/Payroll staffer) should not be the person in charge of entering, processing, running and verifying payroll. For both financial and human reasons.

The Finance Side

On the finance side there’s a little thing called “internal controls” – designed to control risks in the organization. At the departmental and process level this means, for example, having Person A (HR) enter information (new employees, wage adjustments, deductions) and then having Person B (payroll) verify via source documents, ascertain accuracy, and finalize the process. Further internal controls may then include Person C (the big boss) doing a final review and verification.

This, of course, ensures accuracy and alignment with internal policies but also makes sure that ONE person does not have the power to fraudulently hire/pay fake employees but it also ensures there is a secondary verification step to alleviate simple human errors.

The Human (HR) Side

Employees get justifiably upset when their paycheck is incorrect. Bob was supposed to see his new pay rate reflected on his paycheck and it wasn’t. Trixie’s paycheck shows medical/dental deductions when she declined coverage. Susie took 32 hours of sick leave during a pay period but rather than paid leave her paycheck reflects 32 hours unpaid. Bob, Trixie and Susie are pissed. Rightly so. And ALL their respective co-workers KNOW they are pissed even before they pick up the phone or walk down the hall to see about getting it fixed.

Now some may say “so what’s the big deal if they take their concern to someone sitting in HR versus someone sitting in Finance?”

Well…it IS a big deal when that hybrid HR/Payroll Manager is simultaneously working very hard to change the view of HR within their organization and to their company’s leadership team.

It comes down to HR professionals and HR leaders (especially HR Departments of One) determining their raison d’etre and strongly advocating for what they SHOULD do and SHOULDN’T do. What they WILL do and WON’T do.

Long ago I determined that the reason for HR’s existence (and therefore my reason in any organization) is to “connect the capabilities of individuals to organizational success” and HR delivers value when we “support and enable the execution of organizational strategy.”

My work (“what I do”), therefore, includes the work that does exactly that: supporting and nurturing a culture that aligns with organizational goals. Providing managers/leaders with coaching, support and guidance so they can execute that company strategy. Removing barriers and obstacles so that employees can do their best work, achieve their personal/professional goals and feel a sense of purpose and connection.

That’s HR to me.

And it doesn’t include downloading swipes from the timeclock or sending out W2s at the end of the year.

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No HR (background) For You! Next!

Yesterday I felt the need to respond to a post on LinkedIn (lord knows why) that led off with the statement “You don’t need to have a background in HR to lead HR” and then linked to this article. Loads of happy-clappy folks chimed in about how the best skill set for HR is to “care for people” and similar thoughts that practically brimmed with smile emojis. Lots and lots and LOTS of self-love and group affirmations. #HighFive

So I felt the need to respond. After doing so I realized I had, for the most part, written a blog post. So you’re welcome.

(my response)

Let me stir the pot because I strongly disagree with your assertion that “you don’t need to have a background in HR to lead HR.” (with a few limited caveats as listed below).

The HR field already suffers from an abysmally low barrier to entry; I see this day-in-and-day-out when “someone” is hired or promoted to be the Head of HR (often SMBs or Depts of One) who does not even possess the most fundamental and basic foundational knowledge about employment law, recruiting/staffing/hiring, comp and benefits, etc.  Far too many companies (again, primarily SMBs with <200 EEs) have their HR function being “led” by people who, by their lack of knowledge, are putting both their organizations and their employees at risk. 

They can be a change-agent/people-centric “leader” all they want (and hallelujah if they are) but that does not mean they can or should lead HR.  One should not be “in charge” of HR and simultaneously not understand the most elemental aspects of the function. Hard stop.

Yet this happens due to the widespread belief amongst owners/biz leaders that “anyone can do HR” or “we can move Susie into HR since she’s so nice/good with people/rocks the sales dept/wants to do it.”  And thus we continue to water down the entirety of the profession.

Would we ever (ever?) say “you don’t need a background in Accounting to head up the Accounting Department?” or “you don’t need a background in Marketing to head up the Marketing Dept?” Nope; we wouldn’t.

So why do we think it’s “ok” for HR? 

Here’s my caveat…………..moving into HR from another discipline can be a good thing – when it’s purposeful and also requires sufficient business acumen or industry/organizational experience where it’s part of, as an example, a rotational program.  The linked article speaks to those types of situations: LEGO, Unilever, Flipkart.  That is a whole lot different than what someone reading “you don’t need a background in HR” needs to hear when they want to be hired as the HRD at Acme Insurance with 100 employees.

Because that person is a danger and quite often a poor representation for ALL of us who work in HR.

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HR Conversations and HR Community: #InternationalPodcastDay

For the last two years I’ve been a co-host on Drive thru HR – an HR industry podcast that’s been on the air since 2010 – before we even called it then podcasts! We continue to be a bit of an old school throwback too – we do the shows “live” (and yes; that means sometimes we have shitty questionable sound quality). We don’t use any fancy equipment; no mixing boards and editing software at #DTHR HQ. We don’t have any sponsors; we cover the costs out of pocket and keep the show going because we love the history of it and share a passion for maintaining one of the original hang-out-places for those in the HR eco-system. 

During the month of September we decided to celebrate a milestone as we worked our way to our 1,500th (fifteen hundredth!) show which will air tomorrow (10/1). To that end, my co-host Mike VanDervort and I enlisted the help of numerous friends and invited them to share #SnackableHR content – “bite-sized” nuggets of wisdom on topics related to work, leadership, DE&I, recruiting and all things HR.

These mini-episodes (5 to 10 minutes in length) are available for a listen/download here.

As we launch the next era of #DTHR, here’s a big old THANKS to those who shared their thoughts with our listeners: 

To find out when the follow us at @DrivethruHR, or check us out on Facebook

Listen on Blog Talk Radio, Apple PodcastsPodbeanI Heart RadioStitcher, or PlayerFM.

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It’s Not Them. It’s Us.

HR playlist

I’m sitting here at the 5+-month mark since my state first implemented #StayAtHome orders. Since then, as has occurred across the globe, we’ve moved into new phases (“woo hoo! restaurants and hair salons are open!”) and then dialed back when people, looking to get their party on, packed newly opened bars well above the allowed capacity (“boo! bars are now closed!”).  We now have a statewide mask mandate in place which, as should not surprise anyone, is being contested with legal injunctions because we now live in a world where things designed to promote good health and courtesy/concern for our fellow citizens has become ridiculously politicized.

HR practitioners, for the most part, view their pandemic practices and policies as non-political. What I’ve noticed however is a whiff (perhaps even a strong stench) of extreme pro-business ideology creeping into numerous HR/business deliberations and responses. Lots and lots of actions that, by their very essence, come across as extremely anti-employee.

This is not to make light of the real challenges that HR professionals have faced during 2020; they’ve had to move quickly into uncharted territory and amass a huge volume of new knowledge. That being said however, there are many who have quickly reverted back to their typical and traditional mindset – spinning a golden oldies playlist at an event when the partygoers have changed.

Amongst the songs being sung (over and over and over) by HR practitioners I regularly hear these Top 10 hits: 

  • Games People Play – “Our employees are claiming they have COVID19 symptoms/exposure just to get out of coming to work.”
  • Money Money Money – “No one wants to work for us because they’re making more money with expanded unemployment payments.”
  • Baby Come Back – “We’ve required all employees to return to the office; even those who were successfully working from home.”
  • Face Time is the Best Time – “No; we’re not going to consider remote work moving forward.” 
  • The Schoolhouse Blues – “Despite schools remaining closed for in-person classes we need everyone back to the office.”
  • We’re Getting Screwed – “Our employees are taking advantage of us/Covid19/ ** the situation **”

Yes; some people are crap. Yes; some people will do whatever they can to not-come-to-work. Yes; some people will spin fantastical stories or attempt to find work-arounds. 

But when we work in HR we need to approach every day and every situation with the mindset that people are inherently good and operating with the best intentions. We must avoid using sweeping generalizations that categorize our employees (OUR employees; the ones we decided were good enough to come work for us) as people whose only goal is to engage in battle with the company.

I get it; there are daily changes to safe-opening guidelines from the CDC and/or state and local entities. Our leaders and managers are demanding we fill open positions and we’re struggling with applicant flow. We’re still managing the complexities of the FFCRA in the US. 

Yet we need to navigate all these things with a modicum of grace and a measure of humanity.  We need to understand that:

  • People are fearful of this virus and do get tested if they’ve had exposure or symptoms; the only reward they get for this, in many situations, is a lower paycheck due to “unpaid” LOA.
  • If people are making more on unemployment, perhaps it’s time to take a long-hard look at the company’s compensation/wages and other terms and conditions of employment.
  • Why are people being forced to return-to-the office when they’ve successfully been working from home? Why are butts-in-chairs in one building so critical?  
  • Parents (or other family members) are struggling with a lot of uncertainty around sending their children to school OR they’re faced with the need to oversee remote learning. What about providing assistance rather than forcing them to make a difficult decision? 

So let’s change up the playlist and find some new music. (I hear those K-pop stans have some suggestions…..). 

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The Importance of Using the “Write” Language

write-up

“I’m going to issue a write-up.”

“He should be written up.”

“Her manager is going to give her a write up.”

“HR must be present when a manager gives an employee a write-up.”

“Should I write-up this employee?”

“The employee refused to sign the write-up.” 

“Write-ups don’t work; our employees are still doing the same thing.” 

***** 

I can barely begin to tell you how I abhor this list. These articulations, as captured above, have recently appeared in various and assorted Facebook groups where HR practitioners gather. And while HR folks are accused (and sometimes guilty) of any number of bone-headed maneuvers, the language used by many around employee performance is one move that’s in serious need of adjustment. 

“Write up” (used as both a verb and a noun) is up there in my top 5 most-hated-phrases-uttered-by-HR-people. 

It’s lazy. It’s infantilizing. And it reduces the manager/employee relationship to one of parent & child. Or school principal and pupil. Or lord-of-the-manor and servant. The use of this phrase communicates everything wrong with an organization’s culture, its views on performance management and the employee experience.

It has to go.

I implore you HR – stop being the master of the one-note samba (“write up!”) and sing a different tune. 

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