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Navigating payroll pain points and mitigating risk

Payroll conundrums? We’ve got you covered — and we’ve likely seen them in other schools too! Here are three common payroll mistakes and how to avoid them  

A note from Cole School Experts: this post is part of a series of blogs that focus on getting your school’s payroll sorted. Read our first post about getting your school payroll sorted 

At Cole School Experts, we often see payroll officers using incorrect information, spending valuable time searching for correct and up-to-date details, or struggling to work effectively with other staff.

In fact, a 2019 survey found that 33% of payroll managers admit to making employee payment mistakes at least once a month, and a further 21% admitted to making them every quarter. 

We get it – oversights happen and navigating payroll can be difficult, but we find that risks and annoyances can be avoided, or at least mitigated, with just a little pre-planning and some quality staff education.

So, to help you out, we’ve listed some common payroll mistakes along with a few helpful tips that will make these pain points, well, a little less painful.

Pain point 1: Payroll staff don’t receive important information in a timely (or legible) manner 


Although we like to think of ourselves as such, payroll staff aren’t mindreaders and can only work with the information we have. Whether a staff member is in a rush, is unsure about their information or simply has terrible penmanship, illegible completion of forms happens all the time.

To avoid wasting time trying to decode what should be a straightforward form, we highly recommend that you consider making the switch to e-forms; they’re more efficient, sustainable and, of course, easier to read! E-forms and associated automatic workflows can also be programmed to prompt you if an important field wasn’t filled in correctly or missed altogether.

Missing deadlines

To avoid the risk of missing deadlines, superannuation or payments, have in place a clear cut-off time to receive timesheets, leave forms and TRT forms, and remind your school’s staff of these frequently to avoid any miscommunication.

We also recommend lodging any new staff members’ details – casual or permanent – into the payroll system as soon as possible before their first scheduled pay so that it’s guaranteed to be on time.

Speaking of casual staff, it’s important to review casual contracts at least once per year so that they will still be regularly engaged for work. If all else fails, remember to check over any forms before accepting them from staff and again before filing them away! 

Pain point 2: Payroll staff waste valuable time hunting for correct information

Missing information

Nobody likes spending valuable time looking for missing information, especially when it could’ve easily been avoided in the first place. But that’s exactly what many payroll staff are doing: chasing up employee rates, overtime rates, FTEs and so much more.

The best way to avoid wasting your time is to set up employee control spreadsheets, or, preferably, to use your payroll software to record this data. No matter where you store your payroll data, your team must regard it as the single source of truth, and should include information like:

Staff payroll classifications

  • FTEs
  • Hourly rates
  • Leave loading calculations
  • Term time averaging calculations
  • Anything else relevant to your paying process.

This way, you’ll always have all the necessary information right at your fingertips, ready to go. 

Talking to the wrong person

When it comes to incorrect pay, staff members will often seek out payroll officers first for information, even if it isn’t within their specific responsibilities.

For example, a staff member wondering why they were not paid for their TRT may go straight to payroll, even though who they should be seeing is the Staff Coordinator as they are responsible for approving and submitting forms to payroll.

So, what’s the solution?

We recommend you regularly educate and remind your school’s staff members about important points such as: 

  • your enquiry process
  • what information goes to payroll
  • who takes care of disputes and who is the line manager to ensure a timely resolution. 

If possible, it’s a good idea to use an automated workflow for the information process. This workflow would engage only the relevant people at the correct stage of the process — for example, the team member’s direct manager for overtime approval.

Pain point 3: Line managers and staff are not educated about correct payroll procedures

Making sure that all your staff are on the same page when it comes to payroll procedures is one of the most important but overlooked steps in ensuring a smooth sailing operation.

We regularly see line managers signing off timesheets without reviewing even the simplest of requirements, such as hours and days worked and overtime. In order to mitigate risk, it’s essential that everyone involved is fully aware of their own responsibilities in the payroll process (and the consequences for mistakes). 

The easiest way to resolve this issue is to train and support your line managers to make sure that their direct reports are completing their timesheets and leave forms correctly. This includes reviewing reports regularly and signing off on leave forms for days and times that a staff member is not scheduled to work so that the timesheet matches their leave forms.


Payroll processes don’t have to be confusing or time-consuming — organisation and communication is key! Simply by taking a few extra steps to pre-plan and ensure your staff are educated and up to date on procedures, you’ll have an efficiently run payroll system, saving both time and stress in the long run.

Need more help with your payroll systems? Outsourcing your school payroll could be the perfect solution. At Cole School Experts, we have extensive experience working alongside schools to help sort out their payroll and HR tasks. If you’re struggling to find and retain a solid payroll team, consider outsourcing to the experts.

Find out more about our payroll services