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Payroll Professionals Must Prepare for Crises After Covid-19

May 17, 2022, 8:04 PM

Payroll professionals should prepare for future crises after the Covid-19 pandemic and establish crisis response teams that can respond to disaster emergencies in real time, a payroll professional said May 12.

Most payroll professionals were unprepared for Covid-19 and did not have established policies in place to protect their operations, said Stephanie Salavejus, vice president and chief operating officer of PenSoft. The few that were prepared did not anticipate the Covid-19 pandemic to last over two years, she said.

“How do we pivot when a crisis is long-term?” she said. “Going on for two years, I’ve read that some states are thinking of doing another lockdown. Virginia is under consideration. If that moves forward, are we better prepared now after having the pandemic for two years to adjust to this order that may or may not come from the governor?”

Payroll professionals can use their Covid-19 experience to create a crisis response team, Salavejus said. Crisis response teams consist of a number of organizational leaders and are responsible for developing action plans to react quickly to fast-moving developments and emergencies. They provide the flexibility, leadership, and dynamism to navigate payroll departments through unforeseen circumstances, she said.

Resiliency

An important step towards creating an effective crisis response team is developing resiliency in the payroll organization, Salavejus said at the American Payroll Association’s 40th Payroll Congress in Las Vegas.

“Regardless of your industry and regardless of your position within your organization, building resiliency can be challenging, especially if you are only looking at it at the time of the crisis,” she said.

Resiliency involves teamwork, collaboration, and cooperation, she added. For example, some payroll employees scheduled times during the pandemic to go to the office and check the mail for any garnishment letters that might have arrived. The employees were willing to collaborate and embrace changes to find solutions to new problems.

A resilient workforce is loyal, and employers should invest in employees that are loyal, Salavejus said.

“Invest in your employees,” she said. “Do not stop investing in their education and their skill sets.”

Building resiliency among employees can also develop resiliency across the entire organization, she added. For example, some businesses had to downsize and sacrifice future growth and earnings to survive the pandemic, she said. Resilient organizations are able to survive tough financial times and set themselves up for growth once the crisis ends.

Leadership Development

Crisis response teams require strong leadership, and payroll departments should invest in their employees to develop future payroll leaders, said Lori Brown, the human capital payroll director for Guidehouse. Organizations need to have experienced, trained employees to replace crisis response team members that retire or pass away.

“What type of person or skills or development do you need so they can backfill you?” she said. “What about in five years? It’s thinking about now and the next five years.”

Payroll offices should also develop a succession plan to ensure that employees know who is in charge, she added. Succession plans enable organizations to identify the skills needed for leadership and develop those skills in other employees to create leaders.

“Every company that I go into, in the first 90 days, I know what my succession plan is,” Brown said. " I know who is going to be in charge. I don’t pick just one person because anything can happen. But in every company I go to, I know who is in charge, and that gives me the opportunity to start growing and developing employees while knowing what skills to build so we can look for that next leader.”

Just as payroll leadership will change over time, so does the way that payroll professionals measure success, she added. The organization will change its definition of success as it grows, evolves, and adapts to changing circumstances.

“Your job is most likely going to change in the next five years,” she said. “And so what does that success look like? Fast forward five years, that success looks totally different.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Emmanuel Elone in Washington at eelone@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor on this story: William Dunn at wdunn@bloombergindustry.com; Jamie Rathjen at jrathjen@bloombergindustry.com