Engagement is clearly an area where many organizations struggle. A Gallup poll conducted this year found that only 34% of U.S. workers are engaged, which they defined as being involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. Although that number seems low, it’s actually the highest in Gallup history. I believe CPA firms likely have strong levels of engagement because of their collegial nature, but there are always ways to improve and strengthen your team’s bond. And I think yearend is a perfect time to enhance employee engagement and prepare for the demanding months to come.
Celebrate! Although this is an active client planning time, employees do truly appreciate time off at the holidays so they can be with family and recharge before the busy season begins. While it may take some planning, the benefits of offering paid time off now make it worthwhile. In addition, at my six-person firm, we invited spouses to our holiday party and enjoyed relaxing together and learning more about each other in an informal environment.
I would also recommend planning now for fun throughout busy season. Mini golf Fridays are a highlight of the busy season at one firm I know. You can create your own traditions by scheduling activities such as games, firm outings or spa days. In my firm, we also had weekly employee lunches that once again gave us the chance to spend some downtime together. Your staff will appreciate the fact that you’re thinking of them and will feel even more linked to the firm. For some great inspiration, be on the lookout for the PCPS 2019 busy season fun calendar, which will be posted on the PCPS site soon.
Get them involved. That’s one of the many useful suggestions in the PCPS resource, 10 Initiatives for Employee Engagement. As you plan ahead for 2019, be sure to include staff in your strategy sessions whenever possible. This is a great way to recognize that their ideas and perspectives are important to you and you can gather indispensable information from the people who often are on the front lines when client issues erupt.
Set expectations. Every tax season is challenging, but employees will feel more confident entering busy season if you give them a rundown of what’s new and how to handle some of the issues they may come across. That’s especially true in 2019, the first year in which recent tax reform will have an impact on all tax returns. Many clients have not properly planned for some of the changes they’ll see, so client engagement will be critical. Alert staff to some of the client questions and anxiety they may face this year and ask veteran staff members to share their solutions for challenges they’ve faced in the past. Also take the opportunity to set goals for the new year. In my firm, we found it worked well to do this incrementally, beginning with busy season objectives now, then regrouping and planning for the rest of the year in May.
Be proactive to prevent overload. Two approaches to minimizing workload compression problems worked well in my firm. They are both steps that can make life a little easier for staff and prevent burnout.
- Identify the clients who will take extensions and get them extended now. Every firm has clients who always take an extension. Instead of catching up with their needs in the midst of busy season, I suggest getting through them early and taking them off your to-do list.
- Decide which clients might be better served by another firm. Whether their needs don’t really fit your areas of expertise or they are difficult to work with, it’s often best to transition some clients to a different practice. Working with these clients can be unnecessarily stressful for staff, and it’s a good way to enhance productivity and profitability. Use the PCPS Client Evaluation Tool to identify and rank the clients you want to keep.
Pull up a chair. When I wanted to take stock of the firm and its people at yearend, I would pop into their offices or ask them to grab a coffee with me. These informal conversations, which covered whatever was on their mind, were always enjoyable, as well as a great way to show we care about each person on the team.
All the steps here are good practice management ideas that also happen to engage staff. If you put them to work, I think you’ll quickly see the benefits.
This will be my last Small Firm Solutions until May, so I hope you have very happy holidays and a successful busy season!
Carl Peterson, CPA, CGMA is the Association’s Vice President of Small Firm Interests. Have questions for Carl? Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-252-4618.