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How many weeks are there in a payroll year?

A payroll year, often synonymous with a tax year, is a 12-month period used by employers to calculate wages and withholdings. It may not align with the calendar year and can start at any point, depending on a company's fiscal policies.

Alexandros Pantelakis
Alexandros Pantelakis

HR content specialist at Workable, delivering in-depth, data-driven articles to offer insights into industry and tech trends.


Are you an HR professional who needs a more clear understanding of the payroll strategy? We got you covered.

Understanding this concept is crucial to ensuring that employees are compensated accurately and on time, and that the businesses stay compliant with tax regulations.

But it’s not just about compliance; it’s about fostering a work environment where employees feel valued and secure. So, let’s get started!

What is a payroll year?

The payroll year, also referred to as the tax year, is a 12-month duration utilized by employers to determine wages and deductions. It may not always coincide with the calendar year, as it can commence at any time based on the fiscal policies of the company.

Comprehending the payroll year is crucial for precise tax reporting and adherence to regulations. It serves as the basis for our payroll systems and dictates the timeline for our payroll operations throughout the year.

What is a payroll period?

A payroll period is the recurring timeframe in which an employee’s work hours are recorded and paid. It could be weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly, or monthly. The choice of payroll period can significantly impact your payroll processing, cash flow management, and even employee satisfaction.

It’s not just about when the money hits the bank; it’s about how we manage our resources, plan our budgets, and align our payroll processes with the needs and expectations of our employees.

Types of payroll periods

There are four main types of these periods, each with its own advantages and challenges.

Weekly payroll

Employees are paid 52 times a year. This is common in industries like construction and hospitality, where cash flow is often tight, and employees appreciate the regular income. However, it can be administratively heavy for the HR team.


Employees are paid every two weeks, resulting in 26 pay periods a year. This is popular in many industries due to its simplicity and balance between regular payments for employees and manageable workload for HR.


Employees are paid twice a month, typically on the 1st and 15th, or the 15th and last day of the month, resulting in 24 pay periods a year. This is common in professional and salaried jobs. It can be easier for budgeting but can cause confusion when pay dates don’t align with the end of the workweek.


Employees are paid once a month, resulting in 12 pay periods a year. This is less common due to cash flow challenges for employees, but it’s the easiest for HR in terms of administrative work.

How to choose the best payroll period

Choosing the best period to deposit salaries is a strategic decision that requires careful consideration:

Industry norms

Some industries have standard payroll periods. It’s best to align with these to attract and retain talent. For example, if you’re in the hospitality industry, a weekly payroll might be expected.

Employee preference

Some employees may prefer a certain payroll period based on their financial planning. Regular surveys and open communication can help you understand your employees’ preferences.

Administrative ease

More frequent payroll periods can increase administrative work. Consider your HR capacity when deciding. If you’re a small team, a monthly payroll might be more manageable.

Cash flow

More frequent pay periods can impact your business’s cash flow. Ensure your choice aligns with your financial capabilities. If you’re a startup with tight cash flow, a bi-weekly or monthly payroll might be more suitable.

The most common payroll periods

In the US, bi-weekly payrolls are most common, followed by weekly. This is due to a combination of factors, including industry norms, employee preferences, and administrative ease.

Having employees in multiple states can create complications when it comes to pay periods. This is because some states have shorter pay period requirements while others do not.

As a result, it may be more hassle than it is worth to pay some employees monthly and adjust the pay periods for others based on their respective state laws.

In the UK, monthly payrolls are standard, largely due to tradition and the prevalence of salaried jobs. However, two-week payrolls are also an option.

In Europe, it varies by country, with monthly and weekly being popular. Understanding these trends can help you benchmark your payroll practices and ensure you’re meeting industry standards.

In Australia, payroll cycles vary: Monthly, from the 28th to the 30th of the month; bi-weekly, every second week on any agreed day (usually it is Wednesday or Thursday); bi-monthly, every 15th and 30th.

Finally, in the Asia-Pacific region, the majority of countries/states, accounting for 68%, prefer to follow a monthly payroll schedule to pay their employees.

How many pay periods are included in a year?

Check how many work weeks are included in a year:

  • Weekly: 52 weeks
  • Bi-weekly: 26 or 27 weeks
  • Semi-monthly: approximately 24.3 weeks
  • Monthly: approximately 12.2 weeks

Remember, these numbers can vary slightly due to leap years and the specific start/end dates of your payroll year. It’s important to keep track of these variations to ensure accurate payroll processing and tax reporting.

Adapting to payroll trends

As HR professionals, we must stay ahead of trends. Automation, outsourcing, and real-time payments are just a few trends shaping our industry. Embrace these changes, invest in continuous learning, and adapt your practices to stay relevant and valuable.

It’s not just about keeping up with the times; it’s about leading the way and setting the standard for excellence in payroll management.

Understanding years and periods is fundamental to our roles as HR professionals and SMB employers.

By choosing the right period for our organizations and staying abreast of payroll trends, we can ensure our teams are paid accurately and on time, and our businesses remain compliant and competitive.

But more than that, we can contribute to a work environment where employees feel valued, secure, and engaged.

Is time off always paid?

Time off can be paid or unpaid, depending on an employer’s policies and the specific circumstances surrounding the leave. Paid time off (PTO) refers to days or periods when an employee is not required to work but still receives their regular salary or wage.

This can include vacation days, holidays, sick leave, and personal days, among others.

The provision of PTO varies widely among companies and may be determined by factors such as the length of employment, job position, and local labor laws.

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