As we enter both the pay round and Christmas card period for some unexplainable reason I started to ponder over the similarities between the two seasonal activities. Perhaps it is because both events evoke a mixture of excitement and expectation matched with a sense of fear and  foreboding. I have a passion for running pay rounds; undertaking the number crunching and analysis. I love organising my Christmas card list and carefully choosing cards. The more I thought about it the more I realised the similarities between the two processes.

In the pay round frenzy we are paying homage to the god of money that many people recognise, in the Christmas card process we are celebrating the birth of Christ which perhaps fewer people recognise.

In the beginning

The first step in the pay round is to organise our data. Making sure it is accurate; having the right number of employees in each department with the appropriate reporting managers. All in nice Excel format that can be used for a mail merge for the communication letters.  Getting data and categorisation wrong at this stage will give problems later in the process.

For my Christmas cards it is the all-important recipient list. All relatives on list, check, all friends on list, check; everyone who sent me a card, check. All on a nice Excel Spread sheet in a format for mail merge for the envelopes.

The money game

Now is the time to buy the cards. Do I budget for the poundshop packs (everyone knows times are hard); do I go for those nice personalised photocards from Moonpig, perhaps just for the favoured few? Do I select funny, spiritual or neutral “Christmas days of old” style? What do I get for my Muslim, Jewish, atheist and Hindu friends and relatives?

In our pay round process we are talking budgets. Do we go with the HR headcount budget, the Finance department salary budgets or the CEOs view of the world? Perhaps I should try to reconcile these conflicting views? Perhaps not, time is short.

Getting down and dirty (or twerking I suppose)

The pay round packs are prepared and distributed, based on our nice clean data. Then the issues start. Staff have moved departments and no one told us. There are some staff who are not eligible under the rules but the line managers want them to get an increase. Then all the “special cases” (Why am I never a special case?} There is just not enough budget to go round.

  • Time to write the Christmas cards. Why is it that
  • There are never enough envelopes for all the cards?
  • The last few cards do not fit the envelopes we have left?

Then the early Christmas cards arrive. Oh no, a card from Lyndon! I left him off the list. And one from Martin, did I send him one?  He was on the list but I do not remember writing one for him. Do I send him one; he may then get two; or risk offence by not sending him a card?

We rush round to recut the pay data and distribute the new sheets; the pay roll deadline is only two days away.  Another all nighter to re collate the new submissions. I need a small increase in budget to balance the books.  But, the CFO is off on her annual skiing trip in Norway with the Royal Marine Reserve… Back to the spread sheets. Another all nighter with a pizza and flat coke.

In Christmas card land we find we have run out of stamps ten minutes after the Post Office closed and one day before the last posting date.

Hunched over our spread sheets and our Christmas cards we:

  • Cry
  • Get drunk
  • Pull hair out
  • All the above

End in sight

Finally the job is finished. Christmas cards sent out, pay communication letters have had the scanned signature appended and distributed to the waiting masses; on time, on budget.


  • Forgot the Christmas card for my wife
  • Someone left the letters for the executive team in a locked desk in a secure office.

By the way, if you are looking for an excellent present for that special HR person in your life can I recommend “Humane, Resourced”. This is a best-selling crowd sourced ebook of contributions on cutting edge HR from an international group of HR professionals (including myself) fighting in the trenches. All proceeds go to charity, so not only is it an excellent read it supports a number of good causes at the festive season.

Happy holidays and pay round season to you all.