How to succeed in payroll; insights from an expert with 40 years in the industry

Posted on 12 October, 2022

When Jolanda Brüstle began her payroll career 40 years ago, she was barely out of high school and the entire payroll function was manual: from computations to hand-written IRP 5 certificates, in sharp contrast to today's highly complex and digitised payroll systems.

Brüstle is now payroll administrator at GVK-Siya Zama, where she is entrenched in the business and solely responsible for its more than 600 employees. Her ability to do the job single-handedly is underpinned by her many years of experience in operations and payroll systems in the short-term insurance, oil exploration, food retail, food manufacturing and engineering industries.

“My position at GVK-Siya Zama affords me a wide-angle view of the business with broad responsibilities and the pressure that comes with the turf. I enjoy the pace of the construction industry, which is interesting and fast-moving. The industry is particularly susceptible to the ebb and flow of the economy, which means people come and go all the time,” adds Brüstle.

At GVK, Brüstle is responsible for overseeing all payroll functions, which include salary calculations, payments, pay over of deductions (example SARS, medical aid, pension fund payments), a full suite of reporting: employment equity (EE), financial year-end, monthly reports, staff movements, salary bill analyses, cost of salaries vs live projects and projections.
This requires her data to be accurate and well-maintained with a high level of knowledge and insight to be able to extract reports and validate data sets.

With more than four decades in payroll, Brüstle knows what it takes to pursue a successful career in the field. Her advice for those looking to build long successful careers in payroll includes:

  • Keep calm and learn to manage stress
  • Stay on top of changes, new rules and legislation
  • Cultivate good time management
  • Obtain a payroll qualification
  • Know at least one payroll software system well

She says it requires multiple skills to be a successful payroll professional. “Payroll professionals need to be able to work well with people and in a team. Mathematical and calculation skills are critical, including attention to detail, knowledge of payroll systems, multi-tasking abilities and embracing change, not forgetting to constantly empower oneself with new industry trends and knowledge.

Additional advice for anyone looking to progress further in the field includes:

  • Enhance processes to work quickly, but accurately
  • Attend workshops and SAPA conferences
  • Nurture interpersonal relationships
  • Be reliable, honest and trustworthy
  • Be objective in your role, but still maintain trust

Her advice to newcomers is to study towards a degree in Finance or a Diploma in Payroll (or both). “They need to be willing to work under pressure and be deadline-driven with a flair for figures. They must be prepared to go the extra mile, be reliable, honest and have the ability to work independently. Knowing your payroll system and also the calculations in the background (parameters) is essential. When I started my training in 1982, my manager told me: Check, check and double-check – it’s advice that remains with me today.”

Aside from payroll, Jolanda's a veritable teapot with Earl Grey being her tipple of choice and her passions include gardening, cooking up a storm and constant self-development. She prides herself on being level-headed and quick-thinking, and her colleagues envy her killer sense of fashion, in part due to her prowess at online thrifting.

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