Payroll vs. Benefits - A Competitive Partnership


Payroll people are unique. They often work within the finance or accounting department of an organization, but operate somewhat independently. This arrangement is not that different from how benefits people fit into many human resources departments. You would think that given their unique and similar status that payroll departments and benefits departments would work seamlessly. And sometimes they do which is good because they share not only organizational similarities but also information and tasks. But sometimes the payroll and benefit functions do not work well together. When this happens, the benefits function is the loser because it cannot execute many of its tasks without cooperation from Payroll.

But why would Payroll withhold (no pun intended) its cooperation with Benefits? Well, I can think of a few reasons why including: control, competition, and recognition.


Employee benefits professionals work closely with payroll to deduct plan employee payments; process premium payments to insurers, and create reports for plan testing and compliance. They also work together to setup and maintain human resource information systems (HRIS). Additionally, they cooperate in establishing and enforcing related policies and practices. But Payroll does not need Benefits to perform what they may see as their primary task, which is processing the company’s payroll.
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You're Only As Knowledgeable As The Resources You Use


I said it before and I'll say it again, to be a top-notch employee benefit professional you have to love learning. Constant learning. You also need to develop a relevant list of resources you can access regularly to track legislation, trends, and general information.

Below is a sampling of the resources I access on a regular basis. Some I value more than others but I placed them in alpha order to make them easier to read.

The great thing about these resources is that most have robust websites, produce a daily or weekly e-newsletter you can subscribe to, or a blog you can follow. Check them all out and add your own. But remember, every resource you use has an agenda. There's nothing wrong with having an agenda. However it is important that you understand the intent of the publication you are reading. This allows you to build a database of resources that cover many different perspectives. For example:
  • A publication may have a conservative or progressive point of view about legislative changes such as health care reform or,
  • A publication may have a financial interest in promoting a concept or product.
Government Resources
  • Code of Federal Regulations (CFR -
  • Department of Labor (
  • Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA)
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Stop Retirement Readiness Shaming


We Americans love our celebrations, holidays, and observances. In fact, an entire publication, Chase's Calendar of Events Annual, is devoted to listing and explaining them all. For example, today, April 12 is National Drop Everything and Read Day. This is a good day to observe. But I have another day, week, no month I want to observe--National Stop Shaming Americans' Lack of Retirement Readiness Month.

Seriously, if you set up a Google Alert for Retirement Readiness, and I did, you will receive dozens of links in your inbox daily. Of course folks in the financial services industry write many of these articles. But academics and behavioral economists write some. All coming to the same conclusion: overall, Americans need to save more for retirement. Enough with the surveys and the self-serving commentary.
How about writing about how retirement readiness can be greatly improved if:

  • Employers who sponsor 401(k)-style retirement plans are required to make matching or profit sharing contributions unless they can show it will result in financial hardship
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Copy It Until You Understand It


Most of us learn by doing or we just do things without ever learning. The workplace is full of people saying and doing things that they don't really understand. Now I'm not hating on these folks, but I can usually recognize when someone is talking about or doing something they don't quite comprehend. Mostly because they are unable to answer the most basic question, "why are we doing this?" They know the "how" but not the "why" of what they are doing.

Like I said, I'm not mad at them. I know the feeling of doing something without fully understanding it. It's a feeling that nearly every benefits professional experiences at least once. You see, we are often asked to do things with little or no instruction beforehand. Our boss can't help because he doesn't know how to do it or doesn't want to take the time to teach us; and the person who did it last is either gone or not interested in helping.

So how do you learn
and not just do technical work with little or no assistance. You check out what was done before, copy it, and study it. Copy before study? Yes. Sometimes you just need to do the task and worry about understanding it later. But if you do have time to study before copying, by all means do that.

Case Study: Filing Form 5500 for Health & Welfare and Retirement Plans
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