Is Your Firm Getting Crushed by Workload Compression?

Workload compression: unfortunately it’s a new reality in today’s firms. 

  • Condition of excessive job demands caused by the 1986 Tax Reform Act (TRA) which severely limited the ability of businesses to elect other than a calendar year-end reporting for tax purposes 
  • CPAs find their tax and audit work compressed into the first quarter of each year 
  • Consistently been a top five issue reported in the PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey for firms across all sizes

For these reasons and more, we are going to take a closer look at workload compression in this issue of Feature Focus. We will start by highlighting key insights to help you gauge how your firm stacks up. Then offer proven strategies you and your colleagues can put to work in keeping it under control in your practice.  

How Does Your Firm Stack Up?

First, let’s look at some of the highlights of the recently released PCPS/CPAFMA Workload Compression Survey. Did you know that PCPS worked with CPA Firm Management Association to survey members of both organizations? It’s all about identifying strategies firms are using to mitigate the impact of seasonality and workload compression. So let’s see what they learned. 

Is workload compression a Top 10 issue in your firm?

If you said workload compression is atop the issues in your firm, you are not alone. Over 90 percent said it was in their practices, too.  

  • 91%  Yes
  • 9%   No

What three issues most impact your firm as a result of workload compression?

Here are the top responses.

  1. Firm morale
  2. Employee health and wellness
  3. Quality control
  4. Reduced client satisfaction
  5. Employee retention

What types of practices does your firm currently use to mitigate the impact?

Here are the top 10 responses. How do they align with what your firm is doing?

  1. Building efficiencies
  2. Training and addressing expectations
  3. Determining and automatic extension date
  4. Hiring seasonal and new staff
  5. Hiring interns
  6. Maintaining well-defined overtime/bonus plans
  7. Encouraging the use of flex-time by projecting work schedules
  8. Centralizing job and engagement scheduling
  9. Conducting regular work-in-process meetings (with some type of relaxer)
  10. Streamlining your client roster

Avoid the Crunch  

Now that you have a better understanding of the impact of workload compression on other firms across the country, let’s explore how you can put this knowledge to work in minimizing the crunch in your own practice.
1. Get clear on the impact of workload compression in your firm

If you have not already identified how workload compression affects your firm, make time to do so. Be honest about the ways it disrupts your practice, its people and its clients. 

2. Know your priorities 

Next it’s important to know what your priorities are as you work to minimize the impact of workload compression. Write them down. List them in order of importance. 

3. Put a plan in place to help your firm move forward

Now it’s time to put a plan in place to help your firm move forward. Be mindful that small purposeful steps can make a big difference. That means you don’t have to do everything at once. Pick a few projects your firm can embrace now and get started on those. Here are four proven strategies to consider.

  • Bulk up your team with seasonal employees and interns
    One proven strategy is to add extra talent during this busy time. Two effective sources for this talent are:
    • Seasonal employees
      Tapping into seasonal employees can be a good fit for your firm. What a great way to utilize practitioners with extensive experience who do not want to work all year long. Whether it is an experienced partner who wishes to start cutting back on their hours as they move toward retirement or others with school aged children or aging parents who simply want to spend more time with their family, this is an excellent source of talent. 
    • Interns
      Interns are also great source of staff for peak times. This real-time work opportunity allows upcoming graduates to experience what it is like to work in your firm during the busiest time of the year. It also lets you see how they fit into your firm while working in pressure-packed situations. What’s more, if these internships go well they can lead to permanent roles upon graduation.   
  • Set clear expectations
    With so much on the line during peak times, it’s essential to clarify goals and expectations for everyone on your team. Help each employee understand:
    • Exactly what is expected of them
    • How their work fits into overall firm goals and deliverables 
    • How their work affects others on the team - if a project is late, help them understand the impact it has on everyone else involved in the project
    • How their work affects the firm’s clients
    • What is due when – outline specific deliverables with due dates
  • Streamline your client roster
    With workload compression on the rise, it’s a good time to examine your client base. This exercise can help you free up more precious time so you can focus on clients that are the right fit for your practice. The big question here is this, “Are they (could they be) a valuable client or would they be better served by another firm?”
  • Make time to mentor
    With tight schedules and added stress, mentoring can hold the key to your firm’s success. If your firm already has a mentoring program in place, you can use these sessions to talk about the added pressures caused by workload compression. Share ideas of how professionals deal with the stress. Talk about time saving tips and technology that are effective in lessening the load, too. 

Tools to Help You Get Started

Good news! PCPS has created a wealth of resources you can put to work inside your own firm to help you deal with the challenges of workload compression. Let’s explore some of what you will find inside.
  • PCPS Internship Quick Start Guide
    Use this quick start guide as an overview of the process and resources available to help start an internship program in your firm. It is designed to help ensure success for both the firm and the students.
  • PCPS Firm inMotion Staff Assessment and Career Development Plan
    Use these tools to illustrate traditional and non-traditional career paths and assist staff with self-assessments, goal setting and career development.
  • PCPS Client Evaluation Tool
    This tool provides guidance in ranking your clients. Use it to help you identify clients that deserve more of your time and attention and those that might be best served by another provider. Use it to help identify untapped opportunities for discussions with your clients, too. 
  • Online Mentoring Program
    Check out this online program to help your firm achieve success with its mentoring.
  • PCPS Sample Client Disengagement Letter
    Looking for a letter to send to clients that are no longer the right fit for your practice? This sample correspondence provides you with content you can use in such a situation. 
  • PCPS Succession Planning Resource Center
    With record numbers of firm leaders approaching retirement, this resource offers your firm a structured approach to put a succession plan in place. From a Succession Readiness Assessment and a Succession Planning Calculator to a Quick Start Guide, this is a good place to turn as your firm begins its planning.  

Here’s to easing the crunch of workload compression on you and your practice. Just a few steps now can make a big impact going forward.