Some things haven’t changed: Payroll professionals are an integral part of every business that has employees to pay and taxes to withhold.
But every year, new regulations emerge, payroll software is updated and tax codes change. There’s no room for mistakes in the changing world of payroll professionals, who are charged with making sure employees are paid correctly and on time, with the correct withholdings and deductions.
Here's a look at four emerging trends to watch for in the year ahead, and what that means for both hiring managers and job seekers.
1. Demand for payroll professionals is growing
In some companies, payroll operates out of human resources or accounting departments. In others, payroll is its own division, with payroll managers who plan and execute payroll policies, and supervise payroll staff.
Unemployment rates for payroll clerks, regardless of company size, are low, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“As companies grow, so does the need to add employees,” says Joe Avignone, director of Permanent Placement Services for Robert Half. “And with more staff comes the need for more payroll processing, tax filing and reports.”
Part of the demand also has to do with the fact that accounting and finance departments are reducing the number of generalists in favor of professionals with more specialized skills, according to the Benchmarking the Accounting and Finance Function report from Robert Half and the Financial Executives Research Foundation. This trend is reflected by increases in staff dedicated to other areas of the finance function, including payroll.
2. More and more skills are required
As the payroll industry becomes more complex, with automated systems and cloud-based applications that combine HR information and benefits tracking, payroll professionals have to stay up to date and expand their knowledge well beyond payroll accounting basics. They also need strong soft skills and organizational abilities to get the job done.
One of the ways companies can build employee satisfaction — or at least avoid dissatisfaction — is to ensure timeliness and accuracy with regard to take-home pay, overtime pay, sick leave, vacations, direct deposit and W-2s.
“Payroll professionals really have to have the personality to deal with an amped-up kind of customer service,” Avignone says, “along with skills, knowledge, attention to detail and accuracy. When hiring payroll professionals, managers and employers often look for specific experience with the data-processing products and timekeeping systems they have. Some also show preference to candidates who have worked with companies with a similar number of employees or who know how to process a multi-state payroll or union workers.”
That makes it all the more important for payroll candidates to be very specific about their skills so they stand out on their resumes, Avignone says. “The more detail they provide on their resumes the better. Think about the search terms an employer might use, like a specific version of ADP Workforce, and that’s how specific the resume should be. If a job seeker has assisted with a system implementation or conversion, that should be listed, also.”
3. Salaries are going up
No matter what side you're on — hiring or job seeking — you should know the projected salary numbers for payroll clerks and payroll managers.
A payroll clerk, for instance, can expect to make a median salary of $39,000 in the coming year, according to the 2019 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals. The median salary for payroll managers and supervisors is $72,750.
At the midpoint, candidates have average experience with the necessary skills to meet the job requirements, and the role may be in an industry where competition for talent is moderate.
4. Payroll is becoming more complex
Payroll accounting systems are governed, in large part, by federal, state and local laws. Whether it’s because of the Affordable Care Act, minimum wage, federal forms, overtime laws or required postings, payroll reporting requirements are in constant flux. And mistakes can lead to stiff payroll-related tax penalties.
While the basic function of payroll — compensating employees — remains the same, the emphasis on managing the data flow accurately and efficiently just keeps growing, with so many industry changes and financial repercussions.
One way for payroll workers to stay on top of their profession is through the American Payroll Association (APA), which offers the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) and the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) credentials. The FPC focuses more on processing and calculations, while the CPP provides training in payroll functions, compliance issues, calculation methods and payroll management and administration issues, such as auditing. The CPP designation is subject to re-certification requirements.
Payroll clerks to payroll managers continue to add value to businesses, Avignone concludes. “Every company needs them, and they’re not going away.”
During National Payroll Week every September, if you’re managing payroll professionals, don’t forget about the importance of recognition in your retention efforts. Thank your payroll department, as this video from the American Payroll Association reminds us.
Looking to hire someone in payroll — or looking for a payroll position?
This post has been updated to reflect more current information.