Editor’s Note: Wojciech Sieczkowski is the Senior Global Payroll Program Manager for Hotelbeds Group in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. A native of Warsaw, Poland, Sieczkowski began his career in global payroll in Dublin, Ireland, where he worked for Symantec, LinkedIn, Novell, and Generali. After a short project with Generali Worldwide in Guernsey, Channel Islands, he relocated to Warsaw, where he established a payroll department for Verifone EMEA SSC. A self-avowed evangelist of lifetime education, Sieczkowski has degrees in psychology from the Catholic University (UKSW) of Warsaw and a diploma in Business Studies from University College, Dublin, Ireland. He is completing his doctorate in the economics of social insurance in the Warsaw School of Economics.
What resources do you use to stay current on the latest trends and legislation in payroll?
My experience processing and then managing international payrolls led to a genuine interest in how the labor law, tax, and social insurance systems work, how they evolved, and their differences. This curiosity led to my research and publication of a few peer-reviewed papers, a chapter in a monography and ABD status toward my doctorate.
The research sources I use, apart from university libraries, include:
Also, large accounting firms publish good publications and briefs such as country fact sheets. Country regulators are also the source of useful information, albeit typically available only in the native language.
Plus, Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) webinars and publications are useful for certain topics.
And finally, having a network on LinkedIn is important, as your connections are likely to share important events and help keep you aware of global trends.
What are the biggest challenges for payroll teams, and what is emerging to address these challenges?
A key issue is low recognition of the payroll profession, rendering it quite a challenge to attract and then retain top talent. On the other hand, because it is a niche specialty, payroll professionals have the ability to make significant contributions to the industry for which global payroll became their career choice.
The growth of professional bodies such as the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) is of paramount importance as payroll is increasingly treated as a strategic business partner. When I discovered my niche in global payroll, it became my focus. Every payroll leader should do their part to increase our profession´s brand.
How can a payroll department provide support on a strategic level to corporate finance, human resources, and other departments?
There are vast opportunities for payroll to add value. Here are a few ideas:
Compliance—Have one repository of all tax and social security filing and receipts
Employee value proposition (EVP) —Use payroll payments to deliver the message “we care,” “you are important,” etc. At the minimum, an email confirming money is deposited in the account is necessary.
Data Integration—The primary example I can think of involves service entities. Their financial statements are virtually driven by payroll entries plus some markup and facilities. The quality of the payroll process can significantly influence local finance team requirements. Integrated global data (not ad-hoc) reports on overtime (shifts, allowances, etc.) are available, and can help with workforce full-time employee (FTE) headcount decisions. Legal entity and tax structuring can be impacted by accurate payroll cost structures and forecasts, especially in countries with high social security overheads.
What strategic advice would you give a company moving from a domestic to a global payroll?
- Allow time to plan. This should include both quantitative and qualitative planning. An implementation plan cannot end with the request for proposal (RFP) response and vendor selection. There is always a transition period. Except from inception of a startup, the analysis is not of a clean slate, but usually involves some transition period. Not planning for this is simply bad design. We should always compare the real, not ideal worlds. Naturally, this cannot lead to analysis paralysis.
- Align stakeholders. Not only at the executive level, but as it cascades through directors to line managers. Company direction is unlikely to be modified by payroll considerations, but equally no change can be made without impacting payrolls. Given its sensitivities, morale can be significantly damaged if employees’ core needs are not met. It is key to ensure support all the way from executive sponsors to line managers and not only through declarative statements, but by asking what has been done to help.
I once worked in a company where the initial decision was made to merge on 11 December. Thankfully, with support of the head of HR, a solution was found to observe important payroll considerations.
At times, despite the best intentions, actions may be detrimental to the success of certain endeavors. A prime example is when payroll is responsible for a certain deliverable but is not involved in the set up. For example, this could include general ledger accounting mapping with pay codes, performed without testing in payroll, or entity registrations without taking payroll registrations into account (either not at all or leaving “a couple of weeks” to complete).
What are some of the considerations a company should ask to determine if there is a good fit with a prospective vendor?
I trust there is no one-size-fits-all approach. My experience suggests a hybrid model is most appropriate. In any case, companies should perform an assessment on the dimensions of quality, cost, and utility. Value is given by those factors.
You may wish to pay a premium to cover the knowledge gap in your organization. You may prefer higher automation. Finally you may be cost-constrained. Whichever is the case, remember, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!
What new legislation and trends do you see across regions on legislation and compliance enforcement?
The automation of payroll tax reporting and implementation of real-time reporting (RTR) is the primary trend I see.
This means the quality of reporting must always be accurate, as reports will be submitted to authorities every time employees are paid. Reforms of this type have been introduced in the U.K. (Real Time Information or RTI) and Ireland (RTR) to name but a few. I include the introduction of income tax withholding in France as part of the same trend.
The same applies to electronic income tax coding exchange. For instance, German ELStAM, despite initial issues, has significantly truncated time required to update information. Again, your payroll data must always be accurate.
The second major trend is the privatization of benefits. Demographic changes—increased longevity and decreased births, or population aging, mean that PAYG systems are not sustainable. This leads to sharing the risk management with employers and employees. What used to be quite common in Beveridge markets, becomes a norm worldwide. For this reason, ever more defined contribution pensions are included in payrolls to introduce pension reforms; prime example being automatic enrolment in the U.K., Italy, Turkey, Poland, among others. Staying abreast of the planned reforms is of paramount importance to be proactive.
How did you get started in your career?
My start began with an HR internship at Novartis in 2005. I am forever grateful to my first mentor and all my mentors that followed. I started as an HR Assistant and was exposed to a variety of HR activities. I thought compensation and benefits (rewards) was my area, as I was good with numbers. But when I was offered my first international role at Symantec, I learned the ropes there and discovered my niche. I found my competitive advantage, which led me to work in four different countries.
What career and life advice do you give to a new payroll employee?
One should consider all the options available, and if you choose payroll, go all in! The key is to become curious. Why is the employer pension rate so high in this country and so low in another? Get interested. Research. In this fashion you will go to work to develop your passion. It will become natural.
I do not like to tell horror stories, but be ready for some stressful moments. The key to doing well in the long run is to find good work—and obtain a life balance. Stress impact cannot be underestimated. It can lead to serious health issues. I would advise against rushing to advance in your career and be patient. I received the same piece of advice, and I wish I had taken it.
What are the most important qualities of effective leadership?
It is key to ensure support all the way from executive sponsors to line managers; not only through declarative agreement, but to ask the question, “Where do you need help?” If we have a malfunctioning process, say with a special bonus run and insufficient time to process it, actual help is to change deadlines to receive the data in time. There are certain constraints, and the key is to be able to distinguish factual constraints from inefficient teams.
How has your approach to change management helped to make a successful organization?
In my current role, I have been given a fantastic opportunity to properly plan and design the global payroll solution. It has been a fabulous experience and I can only recommend that other companies follow this approach. It took an extra six months to plan, from which the project budget perspective is immaterial, especially given the potential issues and penalties, which are avoided. Take time to explain. Be patient. Do not assume people “should” know. There are little “givens” and I learned the hard way never to make assumptions.
Describe the communication challenges of a global payroll leader.
I have worked in various European- and U.S.-owned enterprises and it varies. Payroll is cyclical and its importance unrecognized. At times, payroll leaders are not heard. Therefore, it is essential that communication is effective. Effective communication does not mean you must become a “yes man” or “yes woman.” One needs to get things done, albeit without harming relationships. Assertiveness as opposed to abrasiveness. It is naturally easy to communicate in an easy-going, usually growing or well established and strong organization. When organization is in transition, not everyone wants to align. This is when good communication is needed.
Please share some stress management techniques you have found useful.
I trust that effort is required to distinguish between the things one can and cannot control. Therefore, I try to focus only on those which I can change. Naturally, to distinguish the two is a lifetime journey.
I really like concepts presented in Garret Kramer´s book “The Path of No Resistance.” In short, my interpretation is that the author proposes that we feel what we think, and… we overthink. Keep it simple!
I am also exploring the topic of spirituality. Everyone understands it differently, but to me it is to know your set of core values and live in accordance with them. Be honest for the sake of building a decent character as opposed to avoiding punishment.
I meditate every morning to put my mind at ease and try to be a decent person. I might be far from ideal, but the journey is about progress not perfection!
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