“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”

Do you ever get the feeling that some things are just overcomplicated?

Think about your employment contract. Or your housing contract. Or even your payslip. You look at them and think “Do I need to know all this stuff? Why is everything more complicated than it really needs to be?”.
If you receive a payslip, do you read the full information, line-by-line? Or do you jump straight to the information that matters most to you: how much you get paid at the end of the day?

Now, we should never overlook the rest of the information. Every item on your payslip, or your housing contract, or your employment contract is here for a reason. But in the context of our relentless lives, we often find little time to process large amounts of information at once. It is therefore key for information to come at us in an easily digestible way.

This is essential in what we aim to offer at PayFit. As a payroll and HR software, we look to make the management of employees a smooth and, dare I say, enjoyable experience for our customers. That means, abstracting as much as possible the super technical and tedious bits, and letting our customers manage their businesses the way they want to.

At the very core of the relationship between employers and employees is the payslip. That is why, in this article, I’d like to share with you the story of how we designed a completely different payslip for our UK customers. One, we hoped, that could break down the barriers that exist on traditional payslips, and efficiently provide financial information that employees could actually see.

Doing a little user research

Ok we have a heading but where do we start? How do we know what employees really want to see on their payslip?

We sought to uncover this through user research. The idea is to approach a sample set of people, representative of your customer base. You conduct a series of interviews to understand their true pain points, and from your learnings, you can then build your next feature with more confidence it will answer your customers’ needs.

For our payslip project, our sample set was made of the following groups of people:

  1. The PayFit UK team: a set of users with different backgrounds, jobs and salaries. As employees receiving payslips every month, they are a representative set of target users.
  2. Finance, Payroll & HR managers working in companies from our customer base: you can think of them as the other side of the coin. They are heavily involved in ensuring employees are paid correctly and so our end product should bring benefits to them as well.

We took varied approaches to interact with these two groups, such as sending out surveys and conducting 1-to-1 interviews. I’ll summarise here the 3 key takeaways we gathered from these interactions:

  • The net pay is not displayed obviously enough on most payslips, yet it is the most sought-after item by employees.
  • Employees struggle to understand tax codes (NB: a piece of information that decides how much tax-free income you get in the United Kingdom).
  • Payroll managers can receive many questions each month from employees asking to explain some items on their payslips (e.g. “Can you explain to me why I am paying so much tax?”).

In light of these main insights, it was time to crack on the implementation of a new payslip that would answer these needs.

Conception

So, as is often the case with information overload, readers want the main information to “pop out”. In our case: employees want their payslip to clearly display how much they earn, and what they are paying from the gross revenue.

In short: employees need a graphical representation of their earnings.

I’ve always had a thing for pie charts. There’s something comforting in seeing slices of different sizes to give you an idea of how a quantity is split between different items:

Sample pie chart

Now, why is that relevant to the payslip? Well, when you look at the money you earn each month, and the different contributions you pay, you could argue that your gross pay is the pie, and your different contributions (tax, National Insurance, etc.) are the slices:

Gross-pay pie chart

In this way, you get a nice visual representation of where the money you earn is going. It is much quicker to grasp information that is presented visually, instead of a plain list of amounts.

This was the first change we brought to the payslip. Following through this idea, we inserted another graph, which would highlight to the employee how much income is split between the different tax rates:

Tax bar chart

Tax can sometimes be seen as a bit of black box, and one can end up just accepting the amount they have to pay without ever really understanding it. With this bar chart, we saw an opportunity to bring more transparency to employees over tax calculations.

After adding some more features to our payslip, and collecting feedback from beta testers, we finally released the new payslip. I’ve also included a version of the old payslip so that you can see the evolution of the design:

When developing the new payslip, our mindset has really been not to hold back on being creative and coming up with new ideas. Yet, being part of a European company serving thousands of small and medium businesses across the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, I have been able to see how widely payroll complexity can vary between countries.

So I think it is important to mention that, with more complex payslips (for instance, in France), it becomes increasingly difficult to introduce new ideas on payslips. But it also means that if one manages to bring simple payslips in a country with a complex payroll logic, the impact on local employees can be even greater!

Customer feedback

After the release of the new payslip, we were extremely eager to see the reactions of our customers on the large scale beyond beta testing. Here are a few heartwarming comments we received soon after:

"The new payslip looks SO GOOD!!!!".
"Absolutely mind-blown, it is amazing"
"Love the new payslip design. Very smart".
"The new payslip is a bomb. It’s really top. It had been 8 years that I could not understand my payslip". This feedback was shared by an Italian employee now working in a UK fintech, which highlights the fact that complicated payslips are a global issue

We were over the moon to see such positive responses from our customers. But I think that, above all, we felt encouraged in our idea that we should continuously be on the lookout for opportunities to break down barriers and bring fresh ideas to the table.

Taking this forward, we could think of designing e-payslips that are completely interactive, with which an employee could simply hover to get explanations for the data. Or including in the payslips key information about the company such as gender pay gap reports. The possibilities are endless!

Payroll is a field to disrupt, and it’s only the beginning.