What does a payroll clerk do? 3 facts you never knew

By Robert Half on 5 March 2018

All companies have a finance or accounting department, and payroll clerks within that department play an essential role in the success of an organisation.

The role comes with diverse responsibilities and opportunities, many of which most may not be aware of. Here’s everything you need to know about becoming a payroll clerk.

What does a payroll clerk do?

This role is primarily focused on payroll processing and paying employees within the organisation you work for. This includes managing tax calculations and other deductions such as HECS repayments or any salary sacrificing options that may be available.

A payroll clerk usually sits between the finance and HR department of a business and undertakes administrative tasks to achieve departmental goals.

The little-known role benefits

Being a payroll clerk comes with its own unique opportunities, many of which are exclusive to the role and not replicated in other departments. Here are three key benefits that prove it’s a social, versatile and promising position for those ready to seize it:

1. Industry flexibility

Every organisation, whether large or small, private or public, in the IT sector or in the banking industry requires capable and qualified payroll staff to operate their business.

That means that payroll staff have the unique ability to work across a wide range of industries and develop their experience significantly, in ways many other roles aren’t able to.

2. Communication is key

While some may think payroll clerks spend their time alone, buried under paperwork and calculators, rest assured the role bears a strong customer service element that will test and strengthen your communication and interpersonal skills. Payroll clerks service the whole organisation they work for, managing the payment process for full-time, part-time and casually contracted staff. That means you need to be an excellent written and verbal communicator.

All payroll related queries will be serviced by you and your department, so being able to interpret and explain various pay and award systems in easy-to-understand language will be essential.

3. Constant testing and learning

Few people know that being a payroll clerk often comes with opportunities to test new software and processes that can have a positive impact on the entire business. Additionally, when state and national taxation or wage laws change, payroll clerks and accounting departments must ensure they are well educated on how the changes will affect all staff at the organisation.

This opportunity to constantly adapt and learn will provide challenge and excitement throughout your tenure as a payroll clerk, no matter what industry or organisation you work for.

Key skills and qualifications needed

There are several ways to become a payroll clerk. Some candidates undertake formal training such as a Certificate of Accounts Administration, or even pursue tertiary qualifications such as a Bachelor of Finance. Others will learn the requirements of the role on-the-job, through rigorous training and guidance.

Whether trained at an academic institution, online or on-the-job, these key skills and qualities are essential to becoming a successful payroll clerk:

Willingness to learn

All work and transactions undertaken by a payroll clerk must be in line with government law and Australian Taxation Office regulations. An established understanding of such laws and regulations or a willingness to learn them are a must if you’re hoping to become a payroll clerk.

Attention to detail

This will ensure process is followed and payments are always accurate. Having strong attention to detail also enables you to identify discrepancies or errors in records and amend them quickly. Any answer to “what does a payroll clerk do?” would be incomplete without mentioning the importance of this skill.

Technical skills

Knowledge of the relevant accounting programs used by payroll clerks such as ADP, MicrOpay Merdian, Chris21 or MYOB will be important if you want to secure the role and succeed in it. These are the programs you’ll use on a daily basis to lodge, record and store information about past and future transactions.

Problem-solving ability

As a payroll clerk, discovering occasional discrepancies in payments or reporting is inevitable. When this happens, you’ll need to employ quick and effective problem-solving skills to rectify them. Keeping a record of the steps or methods used to fix issues will be valuable for account reconciling and future problem resolution.

While a payroll clerk is a wholly administrative job, that doesn’t mean it’s without variety and action.

Now when you wonder “what does a payroll clerk do?” you’ll know they’re vital to the successful operation of any business, regardless of industry. Dedication to this junior role will set you up for a secure and exciting career in finance and accounting.

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