While CPA firms strive to diversify their service offerings, a majority can still be considered seasonal businesses due to the high volume of late winter and early spring tax return and audit work. In the United States, a majority of business tax returns are due to the federal government by March 15, while individual tax returns are due by April 15. Additionally, lenders often require reviewed or audited financial statements before April 30 to ensure companies are effectively hitting their covenant calculations.
The number of hours worked by staff and partners at CPA firms between January 1 and April 30 can be extreme. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, along with the numerous amendments that clarified the act, only added to firm workloads. The audit world was not immune to change as new standards significantly impacted revenue recognition and lease accounting rules.
So how does a professional services firm (or any seasonal business) handle a potentially negative impact to company culture due to increased workload, added stress and long work days?
1. Be Open And Honest
First and foremost, no one in the company should be surprised about the expected workload come “busy season.” When recruiting new staff — for either seasonal work or full-time employment — a clear indication must be provided as to the work hour expectations. Yes, busy season can be a grind and companies should not hide from this. However, there are often benefits that come with a seasonal high-pressure environment. Sometimes, this takes the form of compensation, and sometimes, there are other perks. Firms must be mindful and implement positive benefits that can help balance out the busy season workload.
2. Be Flexible
The use of technology in today’s world has created opportunities for most companies to offer employees some level of flexibility. From a professional services standpoint (which is my area of expertise), companies must let go of old-school beliefs that employees can only succeed if they are physically present in the office. Instead, encourage staff to work from home a few days per week. Technology provides for easy video connectivity for individual and group meetings. Sometimes, getting out of the office leads to more productivity as there are fewer distractions. Go so far as offering laptop docking stations and monitors to employees for home use. The trust you provide in them will pay off in a number of ways. Additionally, you can reap the benefit of space savings by hoteling employees if you work to get everyone on a set “work anywhere” schedule that limits the number of people in the office at one time.
3. Let Them Eat!
During busy season in CPA firms, many staff come in early and stay late. Really late. Buy them lunch and/or dinner. Have the meals catered. Let staff gather college-dining-hall style to eat, chat, watch television — anything but focus on work. Do you have a restaurant client? Even better. Include the restaurant client in your busy season meal rotation. The client and staff will love it. Consider having management and executive team members serve meals to staff. One idea is to have a weekly omelet bar cooked and served by leaders of business units. Staff will appreciate this gesture.
4. Offer Family Time
Don’t hesitate to invite your staff’s family into the office for dinner or just to get some time with their spouse, mom or dad during a break. Section off part of the office with toys and televisions where staff can be with their children, watch a cartoon or get some playtime. Not only will staff appreciate the time with family, it will create memorable moments for their children.
5. Let Them Vent
Everything is not rosy and cheery during a company’s busy season. Conversations can get heated, clients and staff can both be on edge, and employees in general may simply experience a level of burnout. It’s OK to let staff come into your office and vent about anything and everything. Busy season is an emotional time for everyone, and you should cultivate a safe space for people to deal with a range of emotions, from anger to frustration to tears. Don’t judge them — just let them talk. It’s healthy, and they will likely go back to their desk with a renewed level of productivity, feeling much better that they were able to clear their thoughts.
It’s not uncommon for a positive company culture to ebb and flow in a seasonal business. However, it is important to remember and communicate that there is an end-game and you are all working toward the same goals. There will be plenty of time for less stressful work days and vacation time. How companies compensate for the increased workload and stress during busy times will greatly contribute to maintaining a positive company culture overall.
Katz, Sapper & Miller
At Katz, Sapper & Miller, numbers only tell part of the story. While we offer the technical expertise and knowledge of a leading tax, accounting and consulting practice, we have built our business by looking after our clients’ best interests. Headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana with offices in Fort Wayne, Indiana and New York, the firm’s 250-plus employees serve a wide range of sophisticated clients in a variety of specialized industries, including start-up companies and not-for-profit organizations to middle-market companies and multi-million dollar corporations. As the many businesses that have grown with us through the years can attest, it is our approach to service and our belief in the entrepreneurial spirit that make our clients feel as if they are our only client.Learn more