Internal relations: How well do HR and payroll really get on?

Payroll and HR can make uneasy bedfellows at times, and recent research among 450 professionals in these fields reinforces this feeling.

A report entitled Love Actually by software provider Snowdrop Systems, finds almost two-thirds (61%) of payroll respondents believe HR consistently fails to deliver accurate information. More than half (54%) believe HR does not keep payroll up to date, and almost a third (30%) find HR slow to respond to requests.

HR, for its part, seems to realise something is not quite right in its relationship with payroll. Nineteen per cent agree there is tension between the departments – but seem unable to put their finger on the problem.

However, HR is positive about the service it receives from payroll – 91% found the function quick to respond to requests, 90% find payroll ‘friendly and approachable’, and 81% believe payroll keeps HR in the loop.

Michael Richards, Snowdrop’s chief executive, said the research was intended to study the differences between the departments, differences which have been experienced by the technology company, and by many other organisations.

“Payroll is about numbers and getting the job done on time,” he said. “It’s usually a narrow and specific requirement. HR is more about improving performance – and that’s not necessarily about facts and figures.”

This point is echoed by Liz Hughes, payroll services director at provider Moorepay. “HR staff are often dealing with issues that need immediate attention,” he says. “This can cause a conflict of priorities because payroll is time critical.”

The fact is that even with an eye on strict deadlines and the need for accuracy of information, HR may still be sidetracked by a sudden crisis requiring immediate attention – and how can one prioritise between payroll information and, for example, a health and safety issue which could result in litigation against the company?

Heather Salway, HR director at recruitment consultancy Eden Brown, reports a healthy relationship with her payroll function. Tension can still arise between the departments, but this is usually due to the fact that HR and payroll are not using the same database, an issue Salway is currently seeking to address.

“Historically, there have been hiccups, but the systems we now have in place for documentation and processes mean communication is very smooth,” she says.

When problems do occur, it is often down to line managers omitting admin tasks or being slow to respond. And since HR is the principle interface with the workforce, it can find itself in the firing line, Salway says.

Whatever their differences, Love Actually does find the functions are united in their view of the future. Both departments believe they should work closer together (96% payroll, 85% HR) and both agree there would be benefits in thinking about the ‘bigger picture’ rather than their function alone (59% payroll, 49% HR).

Let’s hope this can be achieved without one waiting for the other to make the first move.


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