Nursing, leading a payroll team, starting a family and the events of 2020 – Looking back at my career so far

’Stepping out’ was a common theme across 2020 for Karen in her personal and professional life. She looks back at her career journey so far from nursing and leading a payroll team to starting a family and the events of 2020.

AAB Life Blog

Blog15th Jan 2021

Those of you who know me personally will know that being put in the spotlight and asked to talk about myself and my career journey is not my idea of fun! That being said, this past year has taught me that if ever there is a time to step out with the realms of my comfort zone it is now! In fact ’stepping out’ was a common theme across 2020 for me in my personal and professional life as I’m sure it was for many of you reading this.

As most payrollers’ stories begin I had no idea what payroll was when I made the decision to leave school at 16 with the unwavering belief that I was born to be a nurse – I went straight onto an Access to Nursing course and commenced my placement at a local geriatric ward. It became clear very quickly that my vision of nursing and the reality were worlds apart. The favourite part of my day became my breaks which I would spend talking with patients, fascinated by their stories and comforting them on the hard days. Eventually I had to come to the realisation that I just wasn’t built for the emotional strength that it takes to be a nurse. I remain to this day full of admiration and in absolute awe of what this wonderful profession do every day, now more than ever.

By now the majority of my friends were already in full time employment and had a disposal income which was very appealing! I quickly turned my focus to finding employment and to be honest was not really phased by what that looked like. A well-known car breakdown service were headquartered a 15 minute walk from my house and I accepted a temporary position there answering breakdown calls. A permanent position soon became available in the payroll department and although I was a little hesitant (mainly because it was ‘them upstairs’ and I would be the youngest in the team by far) I joined the team and this is where I caught the payroll bug at the grand old age of 19!

I soon settled into the fast paced and deadline-driven environment and found that I weirdly enjoyed it! This is also where I first discovered that I had a natural interest (and later some would say talent) in leading, coaching, mentoring and above all else what we call today ‘innovation transformation’ (back then I was just the annoying newbie that continually asked ‘why?’!)

At 24 my life brought me to the sunny shores of Aberdeen. Within a week I had secured a temporary position with the wonderful payroll team at VSA. Although I was only there for a few weeks before securing a permanent position elsewhere I learned so much from the two very experienced Payroll Supervisors there. The most important lesson being that the role I had spent my previous payroll experience doing was only half the story….turns out being the team that opens, date stamps and enters the data from 3,500 weekly and 14,000 monthly timesheets doesn’t earn you full payroller stripes!

The experience I gained in those few weeks at VSA really helped to secure a permanent position at an accountancy firm with a small payroll outsourcing service offering. I joined the team there in 2001 and over the first few years I fully immersed myself in my personal development determined to understand UK Domestic Payroll and all the other service lines that feed into it – UK Employment Compliance, Global Mobility Payroll & Compliance and eventually Global Payroll. I soaked up every aspect of what it takes to deliver a fully outsourced globally managed payroll service offering.

Over the next 5 years I was promoted 4 times and progressed to the role of UK Operations Manager, becoming accountable for the implementation of all new work and ongoing delivery for all UK based clients. In 2009 I was appointed to the Board of Directors as Global Operations Director where my focus became leadership, growth and the strategic development of the entire business. I spent time on secondment in the Edinburgh Operation and further afield with the team in Perth, Australia! My role provided me with an opportunity to understand and acknowledge the importance of the commercial aspects and professionalism required to deliver a global operation. It also demonstrated to me that to succeed it is critical to maintain the investment in our most important asset – our team.

By the time I decided to take a career break at 34 to experience life as a full time Mummy I was accountable for an amazing team of 50 staff based across 3 locations helping almost 300 clients worldwide. I am fortunate enough to continue to work with some of those colleagues today in my role at Anderson AAB and luckier still to call some of them life-long friends.

So where am I now?  Its almost 4 years ago to the day when I decided after a 6-year career break to be brave and venture back to work! I was completely petrified but delighted to be offered a position within the Payroll & Employment Tax Team at AAB.  I had attempted to stay ‘in touch’ with payroll whilst learning a new skill set with a different and challenging team…..two small children…..I knew I had a lot of work to do (RTI and Auto Enrolment….what’s that?). I joined the team as an Assistant Manager and within my first week I knew that my concerns were unnecessary.

I set to work updating my knowledge and getting to know the team, the firm, our clients and processes. I couldn’t have wished for a more welcoming, professional and motivating team to join. Every person I encountered in my first few weeks made me feel valued and supported. This feeling has continued and the encouragement and investment that our leadership team have shown in allowing me to stretch and flex as I felt I needed to will never cease to amaze me – I am truly grateful.

Of course I can’t sign off without reflecting on 2020. In my role today as Senior Manager I lead a team of 30 truly remarkable payroll professionals who ensure that over 20,000 employees globally are paid accurately and compliantly every pay day. They do this with the best interests of our clients and each other at the forefront. With every challenge that 2020 has thrown at us from ever changing global furlough guidance, claims and working from home; our commitment to this did not waiver. We looked after each other, we home schooled together and on the tough days we made each other laugh with endless GIFs and Memes. And yes, in the evenings from time to time we ginned together!

I acknowledge that for the payroll profession it’s been very challenging and on some days delivery seemed almost impossible but for me that’s not our 2020 Story. Our story is that we are resilient, we transform and we transcend expectation. With developments like new cloud based payroll software, API and RPA already on the horizon what will we achieve in 2021? I am excited to find out!

By Karen McLeod, Payroll Senior Manager

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