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McDonald’s: 'Invite yourself to the conversation'

As National Payroll Week comes to an end, Reward Strategy reflects on this time last year when we spoke to payroll manager Maria Hennessey on her, now, 35-year-strong career at McDonald’s.

Maria Hennessey: "We had to do payroll every week because we could not cope with the volume"
Maria Hennessey: "We had to do payroll every week because we could not cope with the volume"

Here’s a snippet of the conversation that took place in September 2019, between Reward Strategy and Hennessey, who explained why payroll needs to be involved in all initial conversations regarding change.


ALP: Can you tell me how you got into the world of payroll?

MH: “I sort of fell into it really. My first job was working at the Unemployment Benefit Office, I left there and joined McDonald’s as a payroll clerk back in 1985 and here I am 34 years later.”


ALP: What does your job entail and how many people do you have in your team?

MH: “I have a team of nine, including me. Four of the team actually started work in the restaurants and five of us have been here for more than 30 years. The baby of the team has done 11 years and the oldest member of the team has done 41 years.


“We process payroll for McDonald’s and some of our franchises in both the UK and Ireland. The payroll is across 80 tax references and the biggest payroll we do is the hourly paid payroll, which is fortnightly. The last one we did was over 65,000 payslips.”


ALP: Have you seen the scope of payroll change since you’ve been working in it?

MH: “Yes. The biggest change is that when I first started, everything was manual.


“We had 175 restaurants in 1985 and there were 15 of us in the payroll team. A taxi would go and pick up the payroll from the restaurant and deliver it to us on a Monday, then we would key everything in manually, from new starters through to P46 forms. We had to do payroll every week because we could not cope with the volume.


“Then in 1988 we moved to a time recorder system, for the first time bringing in the hours electronically rather than manually keying everything. It took a lot of manual effort away luckily, because our volumes were going up and up and up.


“Then in 1994, I was doing the salaried payroll which was still manual and I realised that, from the salary side of things, there was some duplication between HR and payroll. I wondered how we could make it better, so we implemented an interface which we are still using to this day believe it or not. If it’s not broke, we don’t fix it!”


“People don’t realise how many different things affect payroll”


ALP: Since working in payroll what would you say has been your finest hour in the profession?

MH: “It’s very difficult because there’s been a few really. I think 2014 was a pretty good year for me and the team. I was lucky enough to pick up the Strathearn Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Pay & Benefits Awards, which blew me away because I wasn’t expecting it at all. Later that year I picked up the President’s Award here at McDonald’s which celebrates high achieving individuals who inspire and enable those around them to deliver better results - it is presented to the top one percent of employees globally.”


ALP: One of your fellow Reward 300 members wanted to know how you managed the payroll with the restaurant built for the London Olympics in 2012?

MH: “The Olympics were crazy. I think it’s the biggest ever restaurant at an event, so when we first put a cross-functional team together I don’t think I was invited but I just thought I’d invite myself along.


“They were like ‘what are you doing here?’ and I said I had big concerns about how many people were going to be on shift at any one time. When they said 500 I had a vision of two queues: one for people clocking in and out along with another for people waiting to order food.


“We’d never had more than one clock machine in a restaurant before, so we realised at that point we were going to have to have more.


“Another problem was that we weren’t going to hire new people - we were going to use experienced staff from other restaurants. However, we don’t do the payroll for all of the franchises so organising pay for employees we payroll and those we don’t added lots of complexity.


“We set up dummy store numbers and provided the hourly staff with a mobile phone and text them with a specific code that would inform them of the clock machine and also the same code was their clock number. It didn’t matter which restaurant they’d come from, to work in the Olympics restaurant, the hours would all log.


“For the ones that we did the payroll for, we would push all the hours into those records and then for the franchises we would give them the hours to add on to their payrolls and then we would credit the restaurants and charge it out to the Olympic restaurants.”


ALP: There’s an argument that payroll managers should be involved in conversations like you’ve mentioned from the very beginning, but they need to be more proactive and invite themselves to these discussions. Would you agree?

MH: “Yes, we have to, there’s no point if we don’t as there could end up being a disaster and we don’t want that as we’ve got people to pay.


“People don’t tend to realise how many different things affect payroll and that you need to be included in that first conversation.”


Read the full interview here.


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