Who are your “Essential” employees!?

Karen in Payroll – can you come to the CEO’s office!

In Michigan, we got the governor’s executive order to work from home for all nonessential companies. Basically, the only companies that should still be working at the office are those saving or sustaining life.

The order was like 18 pages. One of the bullet points directed that HR professionals responsible for ensuring payroll checks were processed and benefits administration continued were considered essential!

Eat that you other HR and Talent Pros!

Payroll and Benefits are Essential!!! You’re all non-essential! If fact, why are you still here? Get out, let the pros work in peace and safety, you dirty, virus-carrying waste of space wannabes!

It’s true. If our folks don’t get their paychecks, it’s a problem! Right now, more than ever we need access to our benefits, and for many people, who rarely use their benefits, they’ll have questions and be in a panic! So, feel yourself right now Karen in Payroll! We salute you as a first responder!

Have you ever wondered if you were an “Essential” employee? 

Many of us are finding this out for the first time right now. For those who worked through 9/11 and the Great Recession, you’ve probably experienced this. At some point in crisis situations and terrible economies, organizations go through a strategy talk about who is essential and who is non-essential to the business.

A great example of being an “Essential” employee is I heard a story from one of our Utility clients recently where they have certain employees who will be locked in the power plants during the pandemic. They have beds, and food stores, etc. But, the utility has to ensure these employees don’t get sick or the power grid could come down!

I’ve been in the unenviable task, many times in my career, where an executive has said, “Tim I need a list of employees we can cut, and still deliver our critical services, products, etc.” Big spreadsheets, a lot of conversations with leaders, and ultimately the list of death.

It’s not fun. It’s not exciting. You go home each night and drink.

Almost every time I’ve put these lists together I did the one thing I thought was responsible, which was I put my own name on that list with all the other names. After making sure we have all these talks, and make the moves we need to make, the last move will be me locking my door and leaving as well.

Every single time, and CEO, CHRO, etc., who I was reporting to saw the list and said, “Take your name off the list” you are essential and here’s why. Now, I didn’t think I wasn’t essential, but it’s a great test to find out, because if they accepted the list with me on it, then I know for sure!

The thing is we always want to be essential. If you think about your current role and you can ask a few questions to determine if your role is essential:

  1. If you don’t come to work, your customers can’t get your products and services?
  2. If you don’t come to work, a system or process doesn’t get done that ensures your product or services function in the way they should?
  3. If you don’t come to work, and your work doesn’t get done, something catastrophic will happen to your organization?
  4. You are the only one in your organization that does what you do?
  5. Someone else makes decisions on what you do and has the ability to do what you do?

Non-essential doesn’t mean you’re not important. It just means you might not be critical to keeping the lights on and making the donuts. When it comes to career security, being “essential” is truly the ultimate security.


2 thoughts on “Who are your “Essential” employees!?

  1. Our local work from home order includes payroll and benefits as essential. Most companies large enough to have automated HCM systems could already do these tasks remotely. The Feds have revised the I-9 regulations, but not nearly enough. Companies need to embrace the changes being forced upon us right now, and use this opportunity to create better workplaces and stronger companies. For now, unless we touch the product as it is being built; provide the hands-on service; or have a direct support role that touches one of the prior two, we should have the tools to work from anywhere. Once the crisis abates, many workers should not return to the brick and mortar office. It is costly and inefficient.

    It is becoming clearer that those leaders who are struggling the most right now to manage a remote workforce are the ones who are poor at managing an in-person workforce. It is now being highlighted like never before, and it is not a factor of age or other simple demographics. It’s pure leadership.

    • Laurel –

      Michigan as well. Most SMB’s probably still run some version of payroll from a desktop, or through a payroll provider which could probably be done from home for those who are a little tech-savvy. Alas, so many aren’t.


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