How can you help staff stay upbeat and productive while keeping pace with mounting workloads and relentless client demands? Consider these suggestions:
- Emphasize work/life balance. Yes, it’s possible for accountants to have a life outside the office during tax season. Make it clear that you don’t want your staff to work to the point of burnout, which is also when the number of errors is likely to rise and customer satisfaction plummets. Encourage employees to take lunch outside the office and not to burn the midnight oil every evening or sacrifice entire weekends to work. To stem a high turnover rate among its young recruits and underscore the importance of balance, one CPA firm initiated mandatory office closings at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays during tax season. It also limited weekend office hours to four Saturdays that were spaced throughout the tax season. Productivity and profitability soared in response, and turnover dropped dramatically.
- Emphasize self-care. Remind employees to take care of themselves during these extra busy months. Encourage them to continue their gym routines, leisure pursuits and hobbies. These activities are invaluable for helping staff blow off steam and keep things in perspective. If employees seem receptive, you also might consider bringing an occasional guest speaker into the office, such as a nutritionist or yoga instructor who can offer employees lunchtime seminars on staying healthy and stress free.
- Celebrate milestones. Reward employees when key work milestones are reached. For instance, you might celebrate completing the first 500 tax returns or reaching the halfway point in the work cycle. One firm considers Memorial Day to be the official close of tax season, and everyone focuses on completing the bulk of tax work by that time. As a reward, the pre-holiday week winds down with a “day of fun” on Thursday (an out-of-office excursion for an athletic event, round of golf or similar activity) and then the firm gives employees Friday off as a vacation day, making for an extra-long holiday weekend.
- Perk them up. Consider offering employees some extra perks during tax season. It could be something as simple as stocking the break room with complimentary snacks or having lunch brought in on Fridays.
- Find some levity. Humor is a great antidote for stress. Try to keep spirits light by finding opportunities to laugh, such as sharing funny work-related cartoons and stories. Another idea is to offer humorous awards, such as “office diplomat” (for the person who excels at appeasing a difficult client), “tax maniac” (for the most productive employee) or “Mr./Ms. Congeniality” (for the most helpful and cheerful colleague).
- Rekindle motivation. Employees may start tax season with a gung-ho attitude, but that can quickly wear off as work demands increase. Make an effort to revive morale at regular intervals to keep employees committed to doing their best work. For instance, you might bring in an occasional guest speaker to discuss how to provide outstanding customer service or stay organized during busy periods.
- Be alert to burnout. Watch your staff closely for signs they’re wearing down, such as low morale, missed deadlines and declining work quality. Consider bringing in temporary professionals as needed to shoulder the load. One firm reduced tax season stress by offloading routine tax preparation to interim professionals, thereby freeing up core staff to focus on more complex tax and audit work.
Like death and taxes, tax season is also inevitable for accountants, but the stress that so often accompanies it isn’t. Your firm, your employees and your clients will all be better off if you can find creative ways to ease the burden on your staff over the next few months.
Accountemps, a Robert Half Company, is one of the world’s first and largest temporary staffing service specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The firm has more than 350 offices worldwide and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com.