Skip to content
Alight has entered into an agreement to sell its Payroll and Professional Services business to an affiliate of H.I.G. Capital. Learn more

Engaging the human side of payroll with earned wage access

Published Jun 15, 2022
By Pete Tiliakos

While many employers have adopted and realized the positive impacts from offering employees modern digital pay methods like on-demand pay for earned wage access - the reality is that many more are still holding out, often viewing these digital innovations as simple fads that will eventually go away.

Surprisingly the heaviest pushback to these innovations is often driven by payroll leaders and practitioners themselves.  Understandably so given the compliance and controllership imperative that payroll lives and dies by and must steward as a center of expertise for both. As a payroll practitioner, it’s difficult to imagine handing employees the “keys to castle” so to speak and the ability to self-service access to their earned wages – especially mid pay-cycle.

Most payroll practitioners fundamentally believe that adopting on-demand pay solutions will translate to yet another tool payroll must test, deploy, and support in their long list of critical responsibilities. Further, many employers believe their payroll operating costs will go up as a result of adopting on-demand pay. Additionally, the thought of adding yet another niche technology to the employee experience is often undesired.

Despite the misconceptions and apprehension - on-demand pay for earned wage access is now a key component in a modern payroll operating model and employee experience. Organizations continue to realize that the many positive, measurable organizational impacts enabled by offering employees early access to earned wages, far outweigh its limited operational impact.

The realities of adopting earned wage access

Digital payments have quickly become a standard fixture in our personal lives. Mobile apps and access continue to enable increasingly powerful on-demand capabilities, and the pandemic accelerated digital money movement and payments seemingly overnight. Many merchants have even begun declining cash in favor of card or digital payments altogether. 

Research and analysis of many of the leading earned wage  pay solutions shows that these solutions offer an incredibly low impact activation process, meaning payroll must do very little to launch and operate them. In fact, many practitioners commonly cite the near “set it and forget” experience of enabling and managing modern digital payment solutions.

On-demand pay solutions fundamentally provide payroll with an integrated technology enabled tool to quickly resolve common issues with limited effort and greater speed and efficiency.  Issues that require rapid payments such as missed entry or approval of time worked, incorrect or missing direct deposits, same day terminations and compliance driven payments, shipping outages, and more.

Further, the cost models for on-demand pay are very low and, in most cases, the ROI realized offsets any cost of adoption. Interestingly, the ROI realized generally has little if any impact on payroll itself (although it inherently drives up electronic payments), rather it is a benefit that commonly leads to measurable improvements in employee engagement, retention, referrals, and candidate interest. Many firms operating in industries heavily dependent on hourly workers (retailers, quick serve restaurants, home healthcare providers) commonly cite offering on-demand pay for earned wage access as a clear and measurable differentiator over competing employers that do not offer the financial wellness tool. 

The role of earned wage access in the employee experience

Now more than ever, employers across sectors are recognizing the urgency associated with finding, retaining, and developing top talent. Competing in today’s talent market requires a differentiated employee experience that empowers the employee across their full work-life journeys. Employees want, need, and deserve employers to provide them with the modern flexibility enablers to shape a unique experience that supports and enables them to meet their specific personal and professional goals. 

Enabling employees to perform their best work goes beyond the tools and support provided in the workplace and should extend to their personal lives. 

"The employee experience doesn’t end when the paycheck is delivered – it must continuously orbit employees to uplift their total wellness enabling a healthy mind, body, wallet, and life."

Stress and angst for personal matters carry over to and directly impact workplace performance. The Alight Employee Mindset survey 2022 conducted amongst ~2k respondents across five countries (including the U.S., and the U.K.) showed one third of employees spent five or more hours focusing on financial concerns while at work each month.

Offering modern financial wellness tools and support through solutions like on-demand pay for earned wage access empowers employees with the autonomy to address a myriad of financial challenges and shortfalls with dignity.  More importantly it shows empathy and solidifies the trust and relationship between employee and employer by helping them navigate personal challenges. When employees feel safe, empowered, and supported in their workplace and personal life, the direct result is a more engaged, productive, and motivated workforce.

With inflation on the rise and predictions of a potential global recession ahead, now more than ever employers must look to differentiate their workplace experiences to compete for top talent. Inflation impacts are already being felt across workers at increasingly higher income levels, thus financial wellness will become a broader organizational challenge moving ahead.  As budgets and hiring spend becomes strained the time to re-recruit and engage existing talent is now and flexibility will be the key to success in that effort.  Flexibility to choose roles, projects, work location, learning, career paths, and the modality and timing for which they are paid.

To learn more about Alight Digital Wallet and the financial flexibility it can offer your employees, read the press release or visit the product page. Alternatively, if you’d like to discuss more on Earned Wage Access, I’d love to continue the conversation.


Pete Tiliakos
Pete Tiliakos
By Pete Tiliakos

As Global Payroll Product Strategy Leader at Alight, Pete guides the overall vision, roadmap, go to market and growth strategy for Alight’s global payroll solution. Pete is widely regarded for his extensive knowledge, coverage and advisory for the global payroll services market, and is a regular contributor to industry podcasts, publications and events for industry leading publications. Pete has been named a HR Superstar in the Advisors/Analysts category by HRO Today Magazine multiple times.

Related reads

Unlocking the True Power of Payroll in 2022

You already know that the power of payroll is significant to your organization’s success — equally significant are the risks of getting it wrong.

Global Payroll Complexity Index 2021

The Alight Global Payroll Complexity Index (GPCI) provides HR and payroll operations leaders with up-to-date insight into the challenges and complexities they face when processing payroll in one or more countries.

Why do so many companies still rely on spreadsheets in payroll processing?

Identifying the challenges of payroll spreadsheets and adopting alternative solutions