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9 min read

No Gray Areas: Inside the Payroll Office

Anne Graves’ working world is black and white. Well, not in the sense that she doesn’t enjoy color – her wardrobe suggests quite the opposite. But when it comes to doing things right, she draws a hard line. To take you behind the scenes in UGM’s back offices, here’s an entertaining Q+A with Anne, who is responsible for UGM’s payroll and compliance with employment law.

Anne Graves does payroll, taxes, insurance and employment law compliance for the Union Gospel Mission.

Explain your job. What does it look like on a day-to-day basis?

 I kind of live my life two weeks at a time.  My primary job is managing and processing the payroll for the organization and correcting errant punches in the time clock.

 The week of payroll, my Monday is collecting time clock data, contacting supervisors to double-check anomalies, making sure that hours look right, and then processing and cutting the checks.  That can take anywhere from one to two days. Then I input the data from the newly processed payroll into spreadsheets that we use to pay out insurance, retirement, taxes, and other things like that.  Then on Friday, I use the spreadsheet information to actually pay all of those things. 

The off weeks are reserved for extra projects and research. Right now we’re starting our fiscal year, and so I’ve been repairing a “megazord” Excel spreadsheet of the personnel that will automatically calculate people’s benefits and other stuff.  It’s actually been a ton of fun.  I’ve had to learn how to use “if,” “menu,” and “vlookup” functions (thank you, YouTube). 

Other projects are things like researching laws and then drafting policies, running new-hire orientation, building exit route maps, spearheading a wellness program, and revamping old and often outdated documents.  I’ve also recently been putting together a system for notifying staff members of work benefits that might have fallen off of their radar while working here. I also provide support to the Human Resources coordinator and the accountant if they need it.              


What might people be surprised to hear is a part of your job?

The thing that always seems to surprise people about what I do is how much of my job is devoted to calculating and then paying taxes.  It’s a fairly significant part of my work load. 

The other thing that seems to surprise people is how much of what I do is because we’re working to be legally compliant with not only federal labor laws but also state labor laws, which include both Idaho and Washington. 

 Anne's personality can be surprising for people who only know her for holding the line on using the timeclock.

As part of Human Resources, what do you see as the central goal of your job?

I see myself as a support role to the people on the front lines of the ministry.  I want to do my job to the best of my ability so that the rest of the staff can just focus on doing theirs.

I don’t imagine it would make for a very good work environment if people were always a little concerned wondering whether they would actually get a paycheck, that their personal information was at risk, their workplace could get shut down at any moment, or that their health insurance wasn’t up to date.  I’ll worry about those things so that the rest of the staff can focus on other things.      


How do you keep our donors in mind as you work?

We have a saying in Administration: “Would I be comfortable explaining this to a donor?”  That means that when we spend money, we want to do so with them in mind.  I imagine some of our donors are the sorts of people who don’t have tons of extra money lying around. I think a lot of them give up their weekly coffee so they can donate that money to UGM. I want to honor that sacrifice and respect the fact that many people probably don’t give to us out of their abundance and are trusting us to do the best we can with those resources. 

I think that we owe it to the people who give to us to be fair in how we deal with people and abide by all of the laws that we are subject to without any gray areas.  What that looks like with payroll is that I don’t let things slide. I hold every staff member to the policies that we have in place, and I don’t let things go.  When something doesn’t look right, I ask about it. I want a donor’s money to go to actually helping the poor and not to paying fines or to lawsuits because of impropriety.    


Tell us about the fitness challenges you’ve organized. What was the purpose?

 The fitness challenges serve several purposes.  The first is that a healthy staff is a more productive staff.  The idea behind a wellness program is to incentivize the staff to be more aware of their health, to work on being healthier, and then to support them in that. I’ve read on several occasions that about 70% of the medical issues that befall people can be treated with healthier living. Those issues in turn cost our organization in doctors’ visits, prescription medication, and being absent from work.   

 The other aspect of the fitness challenges is that I wanted to create a part of our work that builds camaraderie. It adds an element of fun to the job that I hope translates into greater job satisfaction for the staff.  In my experience, when people like coming to work they do better work. 

 I’ve done two month-long fitness challenges so far.  The first was a solo event and the second one was a team event.  The team one was way more fun to manage because people were really getting into it and encouraging their team members to walk together.

 In both events I had conversations with several employees who talked about how they were using the challenge to kick off weight loss; some went from walking barely a mile at a time to two or three by the end of the month; one even had cholesterol numbers improve after a challenge.  Those sorts of conversations make me so happy!

 My goal is for things like this to just be a part of the way things are here at the UGM.        


You have a number of interesting hobbies/passions. Tell us a bit about those.

 Most people know I’m a huge film nerd, specifically as it relates to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (I don’t know what I’m going to do after May 2019 when the final Avengers movie comes out!) I saw the first Iron Man movie while I was studying abroad in Heidelberg as an outing with a bunch of friends in the program.  It was so much fun that I just continued that when I got back and started grad school.  I created outings in conjunction with the other films in the franchise. It became the thing that we all just got together for.  Even though I’ve since moved away and so have some my college friends, we still meet up in May to see the movies together. 

Anne Graves sees the latest Marvel movie every May with her college friends.

I really love good storytelling and interesting characters.  There is something incredibly satisfying about watching a well-made film.  As my nieces and nephews get older it’s been really fun to share that with them.

I’ve also been known to read, play video games, and watch TV on occasion.  I do go outside, sometimes.  For about six years I’ve been into running. I took up running because you don’t necessarily have to be good at it to do it, you just have to do it. 

I initially started it because it’s inexpensive and I wanted to lose weight.  I continue to run because it’s incredibly cathartic.  If I have a particularly stressful day, a run coupled with some day dreaming, prayer, and the right playlist really helps.  In the unlikely event that I need to run away from aliens or something, it’s prudent to be at least somewhat able to get away.     

More recently I’ve taken up sock knitting and climbing.  I started sock knitting because I love wild and crazy socks and during the winter time I wanted something productive to do when it’s 4:30 and pitch black outside.  The main catalyst for that move was the fact that fall TV in 2017 was just abysmal that I decided to take on another hobby.  I have a rule that if I’m watching a show and I’d rather be watching Stargate or Psych, I should just do that. 

I’ve been climbing a total of six times.  Climbing is a good complement to running because it’s a different physical challenge.  It’s also much more social than running and so it’s been a good way to get out with friends and discover new muscle groups.  I hope one day to be able to do five full-body push-ups and, should the need arise, I’d like to be able to pull myself up from a dangle off the side of a building or cliff or any precarious edge really.                   Anne Graves enjoys watching movies and hanging out with her nieces and nephews.

In what ways do you stay connected to the cause of UGM?

I think that the best way to help people is to equip them to help themselves.  So it’s really easy for me to stay connected to that cause because I really believe in it.  I also make it a point to attend the phase graduations whenever possible.  I also attend the Gathering every year for that same reason. 

It’s easy to become calloused and get frustrated with people who just don’t seem to get better.  Whenever I hear the men and women talk about what they’ve been through, I’m reminded that we live in a broken world with broken people. The church exists to help broken people. For those who want to get better, we’re here.         

Describe your journey with God. How did you come to know him? What has he been teaching you lately?

I grew up in a Christian home with two amazing Christian parents.  Usually when people talk about their lives and start with the phrase “I grew up in a Christian home” there’s always some sort of caveat, like it was oppressively legalistic and they couldn’t wear pants on Tuesdays, or it all seemed like a farce.  I actually grew up in a good Christian home.  My parents were on fire for Jesus when I was a kid and they’re just as on fire today.  A lot of what I understand about God and the Bible is built on the foundation that they laid for me.

Anne Graves is grateful to have grown up with a strong Christian family.

I remember the moment that I got saved.  I was probably about six years old, maybe five and I just decided to ask Jesus into my heart.  That was it.  Throughout the years my walk with God has been a series of firsts and revelations of who He is.

When I was 19 I had moved to France for a year to teach English, and that was the biggest turning point in my walk with Lord.  I was really let down when I arrived and three weeks later wanted to come home.  That’s when God spoke to me and said that I could continue to chase the idea of something that wasn’t real or I could follow Him and go after things that are real.  I decided on the latter.  While my life hasn’t been particularly easy, it’s been an adventure!

Oddly enough, I struggle with the goodness of God.  I think that sometimes He’s doing things in my life that I don’t understand because I just need to take one for the team.  But that’s not how He works.  I’m learning that disappointment in my life isn’t because God doesn’t like me, it’s because He loves me.  He’s teaching me to look back on His track record in my life. 

So when I get in a tough spot or I start to wonder if I’m going to make it, I have a lifetime of His provision in my life to assure me that it’ll be fine.  I find it incredibly interesting in the Bible often when God asked the Israelites to do stuff, He says, “remember all of that stuff I’ve already done for you?  You can trust me.  Do this thing.  It’s going to be fine.”


Pick one of UGM’s core values that heavily influences your work and tell us more about how that plays out.

The big core value that is sort of my world is “total accountability” then a close second would probably be “pursuing excellence,” or maybe “stewardship.”  A main function of my job is keeping the organization compliant with state and federal labor laws, which is actually more difficult than it sounds.  There are a lot of laws that govern workplaces, and they always seem to be making new ones.  While we may not agree with them, we are tasked with abiding by them. 

I take that very seriously, so seriously that I think that it weirds people out a little bit.  When it comes to compliance, there is no grey area and there is no fudging.  This means that we have safeguards in place in the office as added accountability. 

For example, I don’t have complete autonomy over payroll, and every single paycheck is double-checked by another staff member in administration to not only catch mistakes but also to ensure that I’m not engaging in unethical behavior.  Our standard in administration is not just that illegal behavior doesn’t happen, but that we have checks in place to ensure that it simply can’t happen.

 Anne Graves worked with with Teri in Human Resources before Teri's retirement.

How did you come to be at UGM? Is it what you expected it to be? How have you been surprised?

I started out volunteering at the Center for Women and Children in Coeur d’Alene.  I was a receptionist there for a few months.  I took a roundabout route through college to land myself in the world of nonprofits. 

When I moved back to the area I was on the lookout for an organization that was involved in getting people back to work.  That’s what the UGM does!  I started out as a volunteer and then the position in HR opened up. 

It’s pretty much what I had expected it to be.  The only thing about the UGM that has surprised me was the Motors.  Last year the alternator on my car started to fail.  I’d heard people talk about how they took their cars to UGM Motors, but I didn’t realize that UGM Motors is an actual legitimate repair shop.  They even wear the shirts with their names embroidered on them.  Now when there’s a car problem that my dad isn’t equipped to handle, I call Motors.  I’m pleased to report my alternator is still doing well and alternating.

Like many UGM employees, Anne started out as a volunteer. It's a great way to help others while learning more about yourself and your community!

Click here to sign up for a volunteer overview. >>

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