It’s not easy going green, so plant a small seed.

Mr. Danny Tomasello
January 3, 2012 — 2,461 views  
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 Over the last 11 years, I’ve had the pleasure of having thousands of conversations on the subject of “going green” to payroll and payroll tax professionals nationwide. I’ve worked for 4 organizations all specializing in outsourced solutions: PEO, Service Bureau, Software Developer, SaaS Provider; with clients ranging from 10 to 300,000 employees and everything in between. And after going through dozens of implementations, I’ve seen firsthand how starting small and growing big can provide the immediate shady relief that all green initiatives strive for in due time. I’ve also learned that life is not easy as a payroll professional and is often thankless, with an expectation of perfection. As a non-revenue generating necessity to anyone doing business, payroll departments today are being asked to do more with less, as regulations expand and budgets shrink.

It’s a tough gig.

Simultaneously, we know that “going green” is a priority and as responsible residents of Earth, it’s in our best interests and that of our children’s children’s children to do what we can to reuse, reduce and recycle. It’s been hip and fashionable for at least 20 years. By becoming paperless, external resources are saved, such as paper and postage, while also saving internal resources, such as time and energy.

So what’s taking some folks so long to jump into the big blue bin when it comes to going paperless?

The following list contains Top 10 conversation killers when it comes to why organizations have decided against implementing paperless initiatives:

1. If it’s on the Internet, why isn’t it free? 2. We won’t put any sensitive information on the web. [In fairness, it’s been awhile since either of those claims has surfaced… thankfully, those days are mostly over. Onto more current positions…] 3. Our employee population isn’t like other companies. They won’t be able to figure it out. 4. It’s not in the budget. We’re going status-quo again this year. 5. It comes standard with our system, but we haven’t turned it on yet. 6. We have too many other initiatives lined up. It’s projected out at least 3 years. 7. We’ve already got employee self-service. Our employees log onto our Intranet, where they can download their forms, print ‘em off and fax ‘em in to our department. 8. We’re building an Intranet internally and plan to go live with pay stubs and benefits in a year and a half. 9. We’re upgrading our payroll system (or changing vendors) and will go live with a full service suite at that time. 10. It’s just not worth the investment in time and money to go paperless for us.

Hopefully someday, we’ll look back on most of these with the same clever reminisce of what we know then, as we do now with numbers 1 & 2. Not to say that people shouldn’t believe them because they aren’t true – they certainly can be. However, many people are simply prone to making no decision, because making any decision requires two things: Risk and Change.

Terrific news: tons of payroll professionals have dared to confront the unknown, and have forged ahead, knowing that ROI is imminent and ultimately their careers consist of more than ever having to fulfill another reissue request, or copies of pay stubs, or wrangling with employees over the fifth attempt at an accurately completed W-4, or having to read someone’s handwriting, or (the list goes on and on). 

Risk: Probability or threat of damage, injury, liability, loss, or other negative occurrence, caused by external or internal vulnerabilities, and which may be neutralized through pre-mediated action.

Numbers 8, 9 & 10 in the list above at least suggest that risk has been evaluated and action is being taken to some degree. With respect to #10, granted, there is a threshold of around 1,000 employees or so, where unless delivered as part of a package from either a payroll/hris system or service bureau, the development effort necessary to secure PII (personally identifiable information) and provide a convenient portal for employees could outweigh the cost savings.

That said, for 8 & 9, I would argue that there’s greater risk in both biting off too much and waiting even longer to get started with some kind of enormous paperless initiative. This is analogous to someone saying “I like chocolate” and then handing them a fork and entire cake. Why not start smaller?

Pay Stubs are at least 12 file transmissions, and more likely 52; not to mention that it’s the single most important transaction to every employee. Benefits require a 3rd party integration typically, elections can be complex, and the window of opportunity is limited to a month or so to get everything right. Both solutions are incredibly important, but could be daunting as a first step into the new world.

On the other hand, W-2 registration can happen all year-round and typically consists of the retrieval of one document that only requires one form, during one online session. A lot of successful implementations that span the entire lifecycle of an employee’s career have started by mitigating risk during year-end (the fewer pieces of mail with your employees’ sensitive information on them the better), or a simple eSignature acknowledgement of a new policy or procedure; a one-way communication of a document push could provide a simple test of how well your plans for future development will work.

Taking an initial step towards paperless delivery usually means reducing your risk for errors, too. Mistakes in payroll that derive from working with bad data due to miskeying or illegible pen scribbles are avoidable and present risk that most organizations can’t afford. I’m sure you can see the obvious flaw in #7 when it comes to this kind of risk.

Because risk can also work against you by not acting, it’s important to stay up to date in compliance with form changes and security threats. Kudos to the 8s and 9s who plan to take action, but the clock is ticking. Maybe start with something smaller – and sooner.

Change: 1. To make something different. You can cause something to change, or you can bring change upon yourself. 2. Hard money; coins.

Nobody likes (def. 1) change; that isn’t news. And it’s my belief, having seen companies previously lean on reasons 3 through 6, until finally enjoying the benefits many years later, that those reasons are simply to avoid any kind of change because it’s so undesirable. Change is inaccurately perceived as too hard and the backlash around it will be too much.

Again, by starting on a smaller scale you can gauge how truly tech savvy your employee population is, while offering your department some relief from paper pushing and pulling. Text messaging for pay stub notification is certainly something most people can handle these days, and if they can receive an alert on their phone, perhaps they’ll be engaged enough to view a stub online as well. In general, people resist change, but once they see the benefits and the learning curve has subsided, the net result is usually positive. This certainly holds true for every organization I’ve talked with about some level of self-service.

I believe that change is inevitable, and easier on those who start small and grow big. But perhaps beginning your employee self-service with New Hires is the key.

It’s not change when it starts out as standard operating procedure. Set the stage for employees that they’ll be conducting business on their own (whenever possible) using employee self-service. Even if it means simply creating an account and/or completing a simple one page emergency contact information sheet, at least they know on day one to expect DIY when it comes to certain employee documents. Once corporate culture is established, and word gets out about how easy it is to do things online, you can also expect more tenured employees to chomp at the bit for similar capabilities.

Just one example:

Setting low expectations for change and reducing risk through pre-mediated action is precisely how Progressive Insurance has steadily achieved 72% employee registrations for Online W-2s. “E-mail solicitation, providing a link to the website in the email, and effective, consistent communications has helped us get closer to our projected goal of 100% registrations, from 36% in the first year, as we steadily contribute to our ‘green’ environment and reduce our risk, which obviously suits our company well, “ Cheryl Schmidt, CPP, Payroll Tax Manager. “Now that we’ve moved on to more front end documentation such as W-4s, we expect another spike. Starting employees off with self-service should result in more registrations for online W-2s. We look forward to additional savings on paper and postage, but even greater is the savings in time no longer needed because there are fewer mistakes with data entry and import into our system from day one.”

Of course, executives do like (def. 2) change in particular and by starting small, going live sooner than later, and growing steadily at a less risky pace, everyone in your organization will appreciate your contribution to that end, by going green and saving green immediately and over time.

Mr. Danny Tomasello

CIC Plus

Danny Tomasello is a member of the Sacramento APA Chapter and is currently employed with CIC Plus in Business Development.