Communication and Staffing are Key in Managing Workload Compression 

by Jan Lewis, CPA 
Published June 30, 2017

Our firm’s work is evenly divided between tax and audit. We have separate departments for each area, so I am only focused on tax work. On the audit side of our practice, we have engagements that are fairly spread out throughout the year. On the tax side, while we do have many year-round engagements, workload compression is still an issue that we struggle with each year as we complete approximately 2,000 tax returns each busy season.

Busy season can always be overwhelming, but this year was actually a little better for our firm than it has been in the past. A big part of that is because we had great interns this year. We put a great deal of time and effort into recruiting interns every year, but we are in a tough market. Though there are several major universities in the area, quality recruits are often going to larger national or regional firms that are ready to offer full time positions after internships. We work to maintain relationships with the larger universities, but have also focused on the smaller schools in our area. All of our interns this year came from two smaller, local colleges. We do all we can to get our name out there in front of the students, including attending career fairs and working with Beta Alpha Psi. The number of interns we hire fluctuates from year to year, but for this busy season we were lucky to have three high quality students. The interns played a huge role in getting our basic returns out the door.

Staffing in general is critically important when it comes to providing quality work and managing workload compression. You have to focus on your staff and make them feel important and appreciated. Last year was the first year we let our staff define their own working hours, and that has worked out really well for us. Employees feel empowered, and have the ability to maintain the quality of their personal lives while completing their work on their own terms. We also do other, smaller acts of employee appreciation, like providing dinner during busy season. We make every effort to engage our employees and keep morale high.

Give Clients Deadlines and Stick to Them
Our main focus for next year will be working on adjusting our cutoff date for client data. Currently, our cutoff is March 31, and we will be working to get that date a bit earlier. Clients who do not submit their information by that date will file on extension. In order to accomplish this, we will have to be sure we are effectively communicating with our clients. Part of this communication is simply encouraging them to send their information as soon as it is available. I think it will be important for us to communicate that clients should send us data as they are receiving it, even if we don’t have everything. Having just a portion of the data allows us to get the return as far as we can, so we can discuss expected payments or the need for extensions with our clients as soon as possible. We do spend a good bit of time trying to make the best calculations possible for our clients who expect to owe tax with their extension, in an effort to minimize interest and/or penalties. That can add to workload compression, as we are trying to fit those clients in, while we are working to complete returns for other clients whose returns can be finalized and delivered.  This balancing act makes communication especially important, and hopefully if our clients will send in their data earlier, that last week of filing season will be better.

Focusing on client communication in general can be extremely helpful in managing workload. As CPAs, it can be easy to get caught up in the numbers and technical aspect of our work. We should take more pride in communicating what we actually do for our clients, and explaining the thought process behind the decisions we make. This is a surefire way to prevent an expectation gap between clients and practitioners. I’ve even seen this in action with clients who are refusing extensions. Simply explaining the process, and what is needed, can change the client’s perception and make them more willing to file an extension.

Never Lose Focus on Quality
Workload compression can also have an impact on quality of work. It’s important to acknowledge that completing a large number of returns when you’re tired and burnt out makes you more vulnerable to mistakes. You have to make sure that you are never losing sight of the quality of your work, and that returns going out on the last day of tax season are of the same caliber as those that went out weeks before. As CPAs, we have a reputation to maintain and it is necessary to ensure that the quality of your work is not suffering as busy season is winding down.

Overall, our approach to managing workload compression is maintaining a balance of appropriate staffing, client communication and attention to quality. While workload compression will likely always be an issue in our profession, it’s crucial that we are doing everything we can to mitigate the impact.

Haddox Reid Eubank Betts, PLLC is a large firm based in Jackson, MS. Jan Lewis, CPA is a tax partner.


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