You’ve probably heard the adage, “nothing in life is certain but death and taxes.” For accounting staff in the U.S., the annual deadline to submit taxes is April 15th, which also means long working hours, copious amounts of coffee, late-night dinners, and lots of stress. Couple this with the fear of missing deadlines, and you will realize the stress accountants undergo during the peak season. Hence, it’s high time organizations revisit their strategies to ensure a supportive work environment for their accounting staff.
On average, accountants work 50 to 70 hours a week during the peak season. The extended working hours aren’t restricted to the month before the tax deadline; most organizations admit that the long working hours start as early as January and extend until mid-April.
A Glance at a Survey Conducted by Replicon
At Replicon, we’ve worked with many accounting firms, departments and individuals over the years. Our software and solutions have helped organizations accumulate and analyze data that can pave the way for new strategies and initiatives that better support stressed-out staff during and outside peak seasons. We also conducted a survey to identify accountants’ key challenges during the peak seasons. For example, we analyzed the time off hours and sick hours submitted by 614 users from 74 accounting departments to better understand the latest behaviors around taking time off.
The survey revealed some interesting findings, as mentioned below:
- An accounting professional is least likely to take time off in March.
- Compared to the rest of the year, on average, the number of professionals taking time off in March decreased by 18.6%, while the number of time off hours taken in March decreased by 20.46%.
- Interestingly, the accounting department’s sick leaves surged in March, more than in any other month. Moreover, the number of sick hours booked in March was 49.8% higher than in any other month of the year. In contrast, November had the least 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 month when they are most likely to take sick leaves. While the sick time off could be based on several factors, the significant increase in sick hours (almost 50% higher compared to other times of the year) could also be because professionals are run down, leading up to the looming tax deadline.
How to Foster a Supportive Work Environment for Your Accounting Staff?
Every organization needs to take diverse strategic actions to ensure a supportive work environment for stressed-out accounting staff, especially during the tax season. We have mentioned some of the most effective strategies below:
Keep Track of Your Accounting Staff’s Time
Time tracking systems are crucial to understanding how many hours people work and knowing if they are working 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 swift and hassle-free process for your staff. This arrangement will help the organization keep a close eye on the time an accountant works in the peak season. Organizations can use this data and information to better manage their workforces.
Analyze Historical Time Data
If you have institutionalized an automated time-tracking solution for some time, you can access captured time to better understand how long people worked and how to prepare for peak seasons. Maintaining solid historical data can help businesses make more insightful decisions regarding hiring, retaining, and supporting their workforces. Moreover, analyzing historical data can help an organization understand the employees’ generic behaviors during the peak season.
Onboard Additional Resources as Needed
By comparing the number of hours worked to the labor costs and the overall operational costs, businesses can readily invest in areas to support their employees. This includes temporarily hiring seasonal workers or supplementing the workforce with additional resources to balance the heightened workload. Consider the type of work that can be easily delegated to seasonal accounting workers. For example, tax preparers, tax advisors or administrative assistants. Many people with relevant skills look to supplement their incomes, especially during the peak season.
Review Time Off Accruals and Encourage Time Off
Besides examining how many hours your teammates work, it’s also vital to understand their time off balances and ensure that they avail of their time off when available. Employees don’t avail of their time off for reasons like concerns about job security, feeling guilty about taking time off, and the fear of work piling up while they are out of the office. So, it’s important to promote a culture where people don’t feel that they need to be in the office and can completely unwind from work.
Flexible Work Arrangements
Many organizations are trying to understand what type of workforce model will work best in the long term for their staff working remotely, from offices, and in the hybrid mode. However, irrespective of the model, firms should consider providing flexible work arrangements to their accounting and finance staff to help them de-stress from their workload and maintain a work-life balance, especially during the tax season. Flexible schedules in the form of remote work and flexible timing can go a long way by increasing productivity, helping your accounting staff retain a healthy lifestyle, and disburdening them.
Set Up Perks to Support Accounting Staff
Many firms have well-established perks for peak seasons. These initiatives show that they care and want to retain their staff, whether it’s catered meals, casual attire, massages, haircuts, or even Saturday childcare. Of course, every work culture is different, so chat with senior leadership and the HR team to identify the right types of perks and how they can be rolled out in the organization. Supporting your employees with additional perks keeps them motivated, which helps the organization during peak seasons.
Open Door Policy
Many employees hesitate to share their feelings about getting overwhelmed with work or about facing burnout with their managers, assuming that their bosses will think they can not handle their responsibilities properly. So, one of the best ways to mitigate such a problem is to implement an open-door policy for accounting and finance staff. Such a culture of open communication will empower employees to express their concerns and ask questions freely, making them feel more valued, heard, and supported.
Appreciate and Recognize Your Staff’s Effort
It’s also essential to ensure that employees are recognized and appreciated once the peak season is over so that they feel highly engaged throughout the year. A recent study revealed that engaged employees are more likely to show up at work and stay with their employers for a relatively longer duration. The same study revealed that highly engaged business units realize an 81% difference in absenteeism and a 14% difference in productivity. 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.
Evaluate and Act Now!
Indeed, March and April are the busiest months of the year for accountants, and it makes sense that they don’t take time off during this period. First, however, 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 be more assured of supporting a healthier and more engaged workforce. Similarly, it is important to appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of your employees during the peak season by engaging them in routine as well as non-work-related activities. These strategies can help organizations foster a more empathetic and supportive work environment for their accounting staff.