Spotlight | Payroll Software User Interfaces

Payroll software plays a simple but vital function in a business: making sure your employees (and the government) are compensated correctly and on time. Compensation is one of the most important factors in job satisfaction and engagement; having payroll software with intuitive functionality and design can help keep your workers happy, while streamlining operations for those in charge of payroll functions.

“Time is my most finite resource as an entrepreneur,” says Scott Miller, co-founder of Tandem. He handles many tasks in his business, including employee onboarding and company payroll. “For me, it’s about spending less time with payroll. A better interface and user experience allows me to go in and do what I need to do quickly, so I can move on to other things.”

With that in mind, we’ve highlighted (in no particular order) the best user interfaces available in payroll software today.


Xero describes itself as “beautiful accounting software,” and we tend to agree. While the big focus of Xero is on accounting functions, such as expense claims, this cloud-based software for small businesses also offers a payroll module that integrates with the accounting functions, so you don’t have to re-enter payroll information into the general ledger. Xero is licensed under a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, meaning you pay a monthly or annual subscription fee to use the software.

Xero’s status column on the Payroll Overview screen

Xero’s status column on the Payroll Overview screen

On the main “Payroll Overview” screen, we love how the color-coded status column gives you an at-a-glance idea of the urgency of each upcoming task.

Another of our favorite features is “taxes and filings management,” which allows you to complete federal, state and local tax filings and payments with the push of a button and provides downloadable, pre-populated forms and payment slips at the state level.

This is all done within a clean interface, which allows you to jump from accounting to payroll functions with ease using the top menu bar.


In recent years, ZenPayroll has made a name for itself by providing the payroll functions associated with enterprise-level software suites and packaging them in a user-friendly app targeted to startups and small businesses. All you need is an Internet connection to use this cloud-based software to keep track of employee accounts, handle reimbursements, file taxes and more.

To-do items in the ZenPayroll dashboard

To-do items in the ZenPayroll dashboard

We love that the main dashboard has “sticky note”-like to-do items, and the ability to take you, with one click, directly to the appropriate screen to work on them. With specific menu options such as “pay contractors” or “run payroll” along the side, you won’t have to travel far from the main screen to access your most common tasks.

This same intuitiveness is present on the employee side, as well. Step-by-step navigation allows employees to complete onboarding forms with ease and without using any paper. ZenPayroll also sends out emails on payday that clearly lay out compensation, benefits and more. (Employees can even select an option to donate part of their paycheck to charity.)

Payroll by Wave

Targeting small businesses with less than 10 employees hasn’t stopped Wave Apps from amassing more than 1.5 million followers (as of August 2013). Along with cloud-based accounting and invoicing software, Wave Apps also offers Payroll by Wave, which is built with contractors, freelancers and startups in mind.

The approved payroll summary screen in Payroll by Wave

The approved payroll summary screen in Payroll by Wave

Payroll by Wave makes smart use of buttons, allowing users to quickly and easily complete important tasks. For example, after running payroll, a button below your total cost summary allows you to print paychecks with one click. There are also buttons to download pay stubs as PDF or CSV files or to export them to Quickbooks. And when adding a new employee to the system, a button in the top-right allows you to easily “Invite to Wave”—so you don’t have to go through a separate menu to invite new users.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) appear during initial setup and when entering tax information to help out those who are less experienced with payroll functions. A drop-down menu in the top-left corner also allows you to switch between payroll for different businesses—a useful feature for outsourced accountants—or to see the employee’s personal view of the payroll screen, to make sure everything is correct on their end.

Intuit Full Service Payroll

Be as involved or as hands-off in your payroll and taxes as you want—Intuit Full Service Payroll will take care of the rest. Tax forms can be completed automatically, or you can choose to populate and review the forms yourself before submission. Customizable fields for the type of workers you have (e.g., salaried or hourly) and the benefits they use (e.g., sick days versus paid time off) also allow you to enter employee information specific to your business.

Support on Intuit Full Service Payroll

Support on Intuit Full Service Payroll

New users can contact Intuit by phone, email or chat via a box in the top-right corner if they need any help. Additionally, pop-up bubbles will appear when any information that is entered seems out of line with previous payroll entries.

Finally, we love the “compare to last” button that appears when you preview your payroll, which allows you to easily see how any of your entries line up against your last payroll run before you submit.


SurePayroll has been providing its online payroll and tax-filing solution to small businesses since 2000, and the software has been updated over the years to provide features such as mobile and tablet access along with accounting and time-clock integration modules. It even offers a specific payroll calculator for nannies (or any household employee, which can differ from independent contractors for tax purposes).

Separate tables for hourly and salaried employees in SurePayroll

Separate tables for hourly and salaried employees in SurePayroll

A checklist on the right-hand side of the main Account Center screen helps make sure that your payroll and taxes are always in compliance with federal, state and local laws. The interface also has separate tables for salaried and hourly employees for better organization, with orange check marks to denote any unsaved changes you may have made.

If your employees get paid the same amount every pay period, and you rarely make any changes, you can select a default set of payroll data to be run with “One-Click Payroll.” If you need more flexibility, you can disable One-Click Payroll in the settings. When entering employee earnings, a drop-down “Earnings Type” option also helps you choose the right compensation type for your business—even for niche areas such as taxable clergy housing allowances.

Expect even more unique functionality when SurePayroll launches its new user interface in the near future.


Namely's cloud-based human resources suite, which handles everything from performance management to employee engagement, also has an intuitive payroll application. Against a simple blue and white color scheme, you can keep track of everything from time cards to employee benefits with ease.

Namely’s time-card screen

Namely’s time-card screen

We love that your employees’ data can be arranged in table or calendar format for flexible visualization. We’re also fans of the simple line graphs that appear for every employee to show their salary history, as well as the ability to click and sort employee search results by important factors such as wage type (salaried versus hourly) and banking type (checks versus direct deposit).


With SyncHR, you can manage all your human resources functions through a single cloud-based application and a single database. This allows for “event-driven updates,” where any changes you make to an employee’s information will automatically render throughout the entire system. For example, if an employee gets married, you just have to enter that one time, and SyncHR will update that information wherever it is applicable.

The Total Compensation table in the employee portal of SyncHR

The Total Compensation table in the employee portal of SyncHR

Within the payroll module, there are a couple of features that enhance the user interface. From the employee portal side, a “Total Compensation” table utilizes a colorful pie chart to show employees how their compensation breaks down between factors like salary, medical plans, retirement savings and more.

On the human resources side, when running payroll, a “Pay Process Totals” table on the right side of the pay process summary screen generates a summary of all your entries, broken up into different criteria such as the number of hourly employees of the number of paper checks that are being run. A table specifically for “Retroactive Changes” (changes that affect currently-running or previously-run payrolls) also helps you to see how your changes will affect historical data.

When it comes to payroll, businesses need user interfaces that allow them to do their essential tasks quickly and accurately—something that these few applications have done well.

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