Fridays are the days that I am going to use to vent about payroll. Today it is not about payroll itself but rather the view that other professions, careers, occupations or basically anyone other than a payroll professional has of our chosen career field. I know that you have encountered the same reactions to being a payroll professional that I have. It can range from “what will you do when you finally decide on a career?” to “that’s not a bad job at least you get to know what everyone makes” to the worst of all “payroll really isn’t a profession it’s just a job”. That last one gets me most of all. I am proud of what I do for a living and of the people I associate with and the work we do.
But why isn’t payroll considered a profession in our society? Well let’s look first at the definition of profession and maybe we can find the answer there. As described at dictionary.com a profession is:
1. A vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science: the profession of teaching.
2. Any vocation or business.
3. The body of persons engaged in an occupation or calling: to be respected by the Medical profession.
So if you go by the literal definition of profession we qualify. We have knowledge of some department or science. We have to know the law, the tax code, and computer software. These are areas that are used by other occupations that are deemed to be professions. There is definitely a body of persons engaged in our occupation. For every company in the United States with employees there is a payroll person paying somebody somewhere. And we certainly are a vocation and there is definitely big business wrapped up in payroll. Just check out the bottom lines of the major payroll processors, not to mention the fact that over 30 IRS publications or forms are created specifically for us.
So why then aren’t we given the respect we deserve as a profession? Last December I was involved in expert witness for a court case concerning payroll. I was asked to give my opinion about whether or not I thought a practice by the defendant was within the bounds of normal payroll procedures. When I gave my written report I used the word payroll industry rather than payroll profession because I know that society (read lawyers!) does not accept payroll as a profession. Well the attorney taking my deposition for the defense jumped on that one. He asked “Don’t you consider payroll a profession?” in a smug tone. And I got on my soap box. Yes I do, I stated forcefully but the rest of the professional world such as lawyers, CPAs and medical personnel do not. He had to agree that it is definitely view that way. And again I ask why.
When I first started in payroll back in 1977 personnel (as it was called in the old days) and payroll were pretty much equal. We both were paper pushers and clerks. But 12 years later, in 1989 I received my BBA in Personnel Management because there was no academic degree for payroll only personnel. And in the 20 years hence, Human Resources has soared into a profession with Masters degrees and maybe even doctorates at some universities. But yet there is still not one course of training at the college level that I am aware of for payroll other than the odd payroll accounting course or labor studies. But you certainly can’t get a full BA in it. Again I have to ask why.
I guess for one answer to my question maybe I have to quote Shakespeare in the play Julius Caesar, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." Did we spend so much time doing payroll that we didn’t push payroll? What do you think?