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Thursday, November 11, 2021

Payroll vs Compensation: The sempiternal HRIS conundrum


Recently, a UN agency which is making the transition from an SAP-based HR system to Workday asked me what they should keep in their legacy system and what should be tracked in Workday. I was glad to share my knowledge and experience as this issue is something I witness in every HRIS implementation I work on. (Disclosure: In my distant past, I worked several years for the UN in New York and Madrid.) 

To understand the complexity of the analysis to be undertaken, you have to realize that the situation is radically different based on whether this is the first time you're embarking on an HRIS project versus whether you already had an on-premise HRIS system and are now moving to a cloud-based one.

If the latter, two situations may arise:

(1) Your scope includes Payroll: In that case it's to a large extent a shift-and-lift exercize. Of course, you may struggle with the limited availability of country payrolls in the cloud system you're moving to versus your legacy system (for instance, SAP has scores of country payrolls whereas Workday has only 4, with 2 more in the works.) This will limit your shift-and-lift capabilities as for the countries in your scope missing a cloud payroll you'll find yourself in a situation similar to the next one.

(2) Your scope doesn't include Payroll: either because (a) your cloud vendor doesn't cover your scope fully, or (b) because to minimize risk, you decided to keep Payroll out of scope for the time being. That's when you have to make a determination what to keep in your local Payroll system and what can be moved to your new cloud system's Compensation module. 

This exercize is similar to the one you'll have to run if you've never had a full-fledged HRIS in the first place. Or, which is the same, if your HRIS is basically your payroll system where HR Admin/Compensation and Payroll are subsumed in the same tool. You'll be surprised by how many companies, domestic or global, still fall in this category.

What is Payroll and what is Compensation?

There may be as many answers as there are unique circumstances. However, one can safely adopt the  following rules of thumb:

  • Gross versus net: Compensation, and therefore your new HR system, should definitely hold your gross salary and similar items (such as allowances), whereas the net amount will be held by your local payroll. Don't get confused by the word "calculation" and think that all calculations are made in Payroll and simple amounts are held in Compensation. A Seniority allowance will have to be calculated first in Compensation and only when you have the amount due to the employee, will it then feed Payroll which, after performing a gross-to-net calculation, will then disburse the amount to the employee (via direct deposit or check.)

  • Complex calculation: If a given compensation component needs to be calculated based on criteria and data which are not tracked in your new HRIS (let's say, time worked) then the decision is obvious: only track it in Payroll. 

  • Compensation Package/Total Rewards visibility: One of the advantages of a modern HRIS is the ability to have all your employees' full compensation at your fingertips with a few clicks. If a compensation component is considered as meaningful and can be calculated in your HRIS then it should be part of Compensation. This criterion should definitely be taken into account when selecting a system as Workday, SuccessFactors and Oracle HCM Cloud (a.k.a. Fusion) are far from being interchangeable when it comes to their ability to take different data types into account when calculating a compensation item

  • Document generation: If there is little doubt that producing a Payslip is a task best left with your local Payroll tool(s), you may decide that it makes sense from a business perspective that storing it in your new HRIS as part of Employee Documents (depending, of course, on your vendor's technological prowess.) On the other hand, if you use your HRIS to run your Annual Salary Review process, then generating your employees' Compensation Statements will be a task for Compensation, not Payroll.

  • Many other criteria  and factors could also weigh in, depending on a company's unique circumstances, but remember the cardinal rule: Your new HRIS should NOT be a carbon copy of your Payroll, the two are linked but as explained in the few examples provided above they are quite different beasts and as such should be treated differently. 

    (The Blogger/Consultant, after having just implemented an Oracle-based HRIS is now taking a two-week vacation in the Wonder City before starting a new HRIS implementation project, this time based on Workday.)

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