Apr 16th 2012
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By Alexandra DeFelice
Fun during Busy Season Can Lead to More Productive Staff
I felt sort of guilty writing that sentence after I hung up the phone with a CPA who told me she had left work at 12:07 a.m. and returned at 7:03 a.m.
But just because accountants are logging eighty-five hours a week doesn't mean they should be deprived of a break once in a while. And in fact, allowing yourself – or your staff – to take those breaks can lead to more productivity.
The staff at Dallas-based TravisWolff believes so much in this concept that they formed a "Fun Committee" to organize games and other events meant to give hard-working employees a mental break and an opportunity to burn off stress.
It was clear that everyone was reenergized after an hour of laughing and having fun during these events, according to Cassie Stiner, who chairs the Fun Committee. Plus, it helped staff bond with one another.
"Just like having study buddies in college, if you have to work long hours, it makes it better to have people you know – and like – working those hours with you," said Stiner, the firm's human resources/campus recruiting coordinator. "Encouraging our employees to have fun together allows them to get to know each other better, making for better working relationships and long-hour work-buddies, so to speak."
Stephen Chen, a member of the firm's tax staff and Fun Committee member, said the games gave him and his coworkers something to look forward to on Fridays during lunchtime when the team competitions took place. He also liked the interaction with managers and partners and that the winner received a trophy and "bragging rights" in the office. Another CPA at the firm called the Ping-Pong tournament the "great equalizer," as finalists were a cross section of staff in various departments.
Other events included:
- Ten-key race – teams lined up and each member had to complete an equation, print it out, and give it to the judge before the next member could compete.
- Trivia-like game show with different categories, including tax and pop culture.
- Hula hoop contest to see who would be the "last man standing."
- Beanbag toss.
- Pictionary® game.
- Life-sized Jenga® challenge.
To offset the concern for billable time, TravisWolff planned events during hours when people would be taking breaks anyway; for example, Busy Season Olympics took place during lunch.
That being said, the firm emphasized that participation should be dependent on client commitments and billable goals – always keeping those a priority.
"We found that even if it meant staying a little later, employees at all levels – from staff to partners – made a point to fit their 'fun' break in their schedule," Stiner said.
Although many of the events didn't cost any money, no budget previously existed for these events, so the firm provided meals during the competitions and set out "tip jars."
"The firm encouraged our efforts so much that the donations always ended up compensating for the event that day, and they gave us what we needed to plan the next one," Stiner said.
Both Chen and Stiner acknowledged that upper management's approval, support, and active participation, including serving as team captains, were a big part of the committee's success.
"We've seen what burnout can do to an otherwise healthy, productive team, and we're aware of the studies that have found increased productivity and teamwork and decreased turnover due to having fun in the workplace," said Harold Gaar, the firm's managing partner. "After a Fun Committee event, the boost in employee morale is apparent in the office. You can hear it in conversations, see it on people's faces, and even feel it yourself."
Alexandra DeFelice is senior manager of communication and program development for Moore Stephens North America, and a regional member of Moore Stephens International, a network of more than 360 accounting and consulting firms with nearly 650 offices in almost 100 countries. TravisWolff is an independent accounting firm associated with MSNA. Alexandra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.