How Do Payroll Duties Vary at Different-Sized Companies?

By Robert Half August 14, 2019 at 8:20am

One of the advantages of working as a temporary payroll professional is that you get to sample a variety of companies and industries, which, over time, increases your marketability. That includes being assigned to firms of varying sizes. When searching for a temporary accounting position, you’ll need to consider the size of each company and how that affects your payroll duties.

Payroll veterans will tell you the difference between jobs at smaller organizations and larger corporations can be as distinct as day and night. Here are five ways company size can influence your payroll experience.

1. Skills and flexibility

When working for a small company, you may actually be the entire payroll department even if your role is temporary. In many smaller offices, you’ll find yourself not only working in payroll, but also in HR and office management, so flexibility is a must.

At a larger-scale operation, you’ll be assisting an in-house department. Teams within these organizations typically consist of payroll clerks, administrators, a department manager and possibly analysts, requiring staff with strong communication and collaborative skills.

2. Payroll duties and responsibilities

At smaller organizations, you’ll often be responsible for every payroll function imaginable. This includes day-to-day tasks like processing timesheets and cutting checks, as well as more complicated duties such as compliance, reporting and benefits enrollment.

Temporary professionals working within large departments tend to have more specialized roles. For example, clerks may be assigned to distributing checks, processing timesheets or managing vendor queries, while administrators have more complex payroll duties, such as compliance and taxation.

3. Unique organizational challenges

At small companies, you’ll need to help out in a multitude of payroll areas — from tracking paid time off to paying office utility bills — without skipping a beat or the help of full-time accounting professionals. Because of this you’ll need to be a big-picture thinker with top-notch organizational skills.

While you’ll have more support and greater resources in the payroll department of a larger enterprise, you’ll also be responsible for the needs of many people. Each vendor or employee has unique requirements, necessitating both adaptability and problem solving on your part.

4. Available IT infrastructure

As you might expect, the technology payroll professionals have at their disposal typically depends on the size of the company they work for.

For instance, data in Robert Half’s Benchmarking Accounting & Finance Functions: 2019 shows smaller companies are much more inclined to rely on stand-alone software, like QuickBooks or Microsoft Dynamics, as their primary financial systems. Larger organizations, on the other hand, report favoring on-premises enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms.

5. Analytics and digital transformation

Both larger and smaller companies are undergoing digital transformation to harness internal data and generate insights that can guide high-level strategies. Payroll is a crucial source of this data, and firms often bring in temporary project professionals with expertise in this area.

Smaller enterprises may task you with improving existing payroll and HR processes to capture more data, which you then interpret using analytics tools. You could also be called in to work with other interim professionals to develop strategies for everything from staffing to client satisfaction.

The sheer amount of data at a larger organization makes this undertaking much more arduous. Temporary payroll professionals need to function as parts of cross-departmental teams — including analytics experts — who collaborate to use operational data and create reports that provide insight into areas such as productivity, demand and staff engagement.

Transitioning between different-sized teams

Shifting from a large company to a small business — or vice versa — can be a challenge even for temporary payroll professionals who are used to changing roles as they move from client to client. The following tips can help you shine as you work for companies on both ends of the spectrum.

  • Wearing many hats is a must when you’re responsible for the diverse range of payroll duties required at a small company. But this background can be viewed negatively when applying for jobs with larger firms that value specialists. Increase your chances of being hired as an interim consultant by gaining experience in areas like data analytics, compliance or benefit enrollment as you move from company to company as a temporary professional.
  • Conversely, if your experience is primarily with larger firms and you’re suddenly assigned to a smaller organization, managers there may worry you don’t have the breadth of experience required to handle all payroll-related duties. In every assignment, try to broaden your experience by volunteering to assist with tasks outside the particular tasks at hand.

Regardless of the size of firms you have most experience with, the attribute that will stand out the most to employers is a proven track record of performing outstanding work. Whether you prefer the dynamic nature of a small company or the expansiveness of a larger organization, there’s a wealth of career opportunities for talented payroll professionals. Explore some of the many jobs that are waiting for you.

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