These days, people love to work remotely and choose their own hours.
You’ve probably heard the old adage that “nothing in life is certain but death and taxes.” For accounting professionals in the U.S., the looming annual deadline to submit taxes every year by April 15 also certainly means long hours, copious amounts of coffee, late night dinners, and lots of stress.
On average, accountants work 50 to 70 hours a week during tax season, although anecdotally many professionals can (and do) work longer hours. And the late nights aren’t restricted to the month prior to tax deadline – rather, most firms will admit that the long hours start from January up until mid April.
At Replicon, we’ve worked with many accounting firms, departments and individuals over the years. Using our software, our customers have then tied this data to developing strategies and initiatives that better support stressed-out staff during and outside of peak seasons. Recently, we analyzed time off hours submitted and sick hours submitted by 614 distinct users from 74 accounting departments for all of 2014 and 2015, to help us better understand the latest behaviors when it comes to taking time off.
Our findings included:
- March is the least likely month that an accounting professional will take time off.
- Compared to the rest of the year, the number of professionals taking time off in March on average decreases by 18.6 percent, while the number of time off hours taken in March decreases by 20.46 percent.
- Interestingly, the number of sick hours booked in March is 49.8 percent higher than any other month of the year. In contrast, November is the month with the least amount of sick time for the year.
Not surprisingly, March is the month when accounting professionals are least likely to take time off, but it’s the most likely month that they’ll take sick time. While the sick time could be based on a number of factors, the significant increase in sick hours (almost 50 percent higher compared to other times of the year), could also be because professionals are run down leading up to the looming tax deadline.
Here are six ways that businesses can foster a supportive work environment for stressed out accounting staff leading up to tax season.
1. Keep track of everyone’s time. Time tracking systems are the backbone to understand how many hours people work, and knowing if people are working themselves to exhaustion week after week. Find an automated system that makes entering hours simple and integrated into their workflows – including the ability to enter time on mobile devices – so that it’s a very quick and painless process for your staff.
2. Analyze historical time data. If you’ve had an automated time tracking solution in place for some time, you’ll be able to access time captured previously to better understand how long people work, and how to prepare for peak seasons. By maintaining solid historical data, businesses have make more insightful decisions in hiring, retaining and supporting their workforce.
3. Bring on additional resources as needed. By comparing the number of hours worked to labor costs and overall operational costs, businesses are more readily able to invest in areas to support its employees – including in hiring seasonal workers to balance the workload. Consider the type of work that can be easily delegated to a seasonal accounting worker – examples include tax preparers, tax advisors or administrative assistants. There are many people who have these skills who are looking to supplement their incomes.
4. Review time off accruals and encourage time off. Besides looking at how many hours your teammates work, it’s also vital to understand their time off balances and make sure that they take time off when available. Last year, the number of unused vacations in the U.S. was at a 40-year high, translating to $52 billion in unearned benefits each year. There are many reasons why staff don’t take time off – including concerns around job security and fears of work piling up while they are out of the office – so it’s important to cultivate a culture where people don’t feel that they need to be in the office and can completely unwind from work.
5. Set up perks to support staff. Many firms around the country have established perks during peak seasons. Whether it’s catered meals, casual attire, massages, hair cuts, or even Saturday childcare, these initiatives show that they care and want to retain their people. Every work culture is different, so chat to senior leadership and HR to identify the right types of perks and how they can be rolled out in the organization.
6. Appreciate and recognize your staff. It’s also important to make sure that staff feel recognized and appreciated once peak season is over, so that they feel highly engaged throughout the year. A recent study found that companies with highly engaged workforces experience 65 percent turnover, and 37 percent less absenteeism. Whether it’s through public recognition, a rewards and recognition system, or a team appreciation event, there are clear correlations between effective workforce management and employee engagement.
While March and April are the busiest times of the year for accountants and it makes sense that they won’t be taking time off during this period, companies need to make sure that they evaluate how people are working and establish programs to support their staff. By monitoring team schedules, encouraging time off, and setting up perks and recognition initiatives, businesses can feel more assured that they are supporting a healthier and more engaged workforce.