My first job out of college was at the Greater YMCA in Boston. I started as a receptionist (not what I went to college for!) and about a month later was promoted to payroll clerk. This was an unlikely turn of events for the student who barely made it through math class. My co-workers and manager had a lot of confidence in me and taught me the ropes – most of them.

So what’s so hard about being a payroll clerk? It’s all automated, right?

No. This was in the mid-1970s; computers took up an entire temperature-controlled room and data entry was via keypunch cards. (You may have read about this method.) To prepare the weekly payroll, the Payroll Director gave me a green and white print out each week with all employees listed by branch. Each branch rep called me and gave me their employees’ hours and gross pay. I dutifully hand-wrote the information next to each person’s name.

One week, two employees were to receive $300.00 each. So I dutifully wrote $300 (no decimals, no extra digits) next to each of their names. On Payday, they each received a check for $2.52! The key puncher had entered in $3.00 (notice the decimal point); the government entities took out taxes!

Good thing the employees had a sense of humor that Payday. They showed me the check and we had a good laugh. Even the execs thought it was funny – and they graciously corrected the error immediately. We couldn’t believe that the one could have taxes taken out of a $3.00 paycheck!

I quickly learned the value of a decimal point! I also learned that perhaps Payroll Clerk wasn’t my calling!