The Holidays Act is complex for New Zealand businesses, especially those with variable hour, part-time or casual staff. This sort of employee setup is commonplace in the retail space, and great care and expertise has to be applied across payroll and workforce management to ensure compliance with the NZ legislation.

George Stowers is the Payroll & Data Manager for New Zealand’s leading retail group: The Warehouse Group. With extensive payroll experience, George is well aware of what the retail sector needs to do to be compliant with the Act. We spoke to George about his role, how retail businesses can maximise their workforce processes, and how to use technology to not only save time, but improve business success and profitability.

Tell us about your role as Payroll and Data Manager

I have a team of 8 and we look after payroll for The Warehouse Group which has around 12,000 employees. We have a system that’s pretty integrated. Our payroll solution is the first port of call for employee records outside the recruitment software and feeds into other solutions like health and safety, workforce tools, data warehouse, expense solution and financials.  We interface with a lot of other solutions, outside of our business as usual, and we are currently looking at our whole integration piece and how we can better our offering.  Our payroll solution has an employee self service so our employees can look at their information.

What do you do on a day to day to make sure that you are remaining compliant with the Holidays Act?

The Act is a funny one, if you have got a static roster - therefore you roster either above or within line of your contracted hours - you don’t have an issue. It’s more complicated for those that are contracted to a certain amount of hours and the hours then go up or down. Or if an employee changes their contract and go from part time to full time, then you have to re-calculate that accrual to when that change happened to the beginning of the anniversary period and then you also have to review the entitled data from the previous anniversary period. The problem is the Act refers to payments in weeks but no one accrues or pays leave out in weeks and even if they did it would be quite a difficult calculation to proportion what a week is compared to the hours you are taking.

What issues do you face in retail?

Variable hour employees is a big issue in retail and across many other industries too. There aren’t too many solutions in the market that allow you to have a fully compliant solution. Leave calculations for variable hours is one issue where few solutions have this fully automated, most require manual intervention to align or review compliance, having a good warning routine for activity requiring manual intervention is key to ensuring compliance.

What would make the perfect software?

  • If it knows what the requirements are of the legislation and applies accordingly
  • Functionality driven and kept current in new trends
  • Data entry efficiency
  • Flexibility

Do you trust automation?

It’s best practice to audit payroll routinely. You have to have a process in place that will capture variances. Changes need to be easily audited and alerts should be automated to engage this.

What advice do you have for payroll professionals in retail

  1. Be aware of where payroll sits within the organisation, what data is required from the payroll system for other areas and vice versa.
  2. Make sure processes are in line with business policies and legislation. Ensure you set triggers to alert you of what needs to be reviewed e.g. a contract change.
  3. Deploy as much activity as you can that logically sits somewhere else. If you’re constantly getting phone calls or emails about leave balances then have a self service tool that allows staff to check leave balances themselves so you can focus on your core processes - processing payroll, ensuring compliance, and generating payslips.
  4. Payroll is more and more becoming a go to solution for analytical reports. You need to have competency around report building & delivery formats and business knowledge to support the business forward in achieving cost efficiencies. Examples of reports I find useful are leave analysis, costing, labour %, turnover.  

Where do you see payroll tech going?

We’ll become more cloud based. Desktop payroll will soon disappear because other business apps are cloud based. 

The other thing is improvement in configurability in solutions. They're currently quite rigid, they need to be more flexible to be able to easily change workflows or rename fields etc. Business is changing and companies are adopting more agile methodologies. That presents a whole lot of other information they want to go along with their payroll and it’s quite difficult to get that at the moment.

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