Busy Season Stress Busting
The busy season is upon us. With it comes longer hours, greater workloads and stress. To help you cope with the season and avoid burnout AccountingWEB recommends balancing rule-making with rule-breaking and focusing on communicating clearly with co-workers, clients, family and friends.
Establishing some simple ground rules can help keep the peace when tempers get short and hours get long. Consider limiting the noise level, particularly in environments where offices are not separated by full walls. This may be as simple as specifying the volume for radios, the hours they can be played or requiring the use of headphones and headsets. Thanks to noise reducing headphones, a schedule might even be arranged so no one has to wear headphones constantly – those who like noise can wear them during “quiet” times, while those who prefer quiet can wear them when things get noisy.
Set clear expectations, especially for overtime requirements and business hours. If there are daily tasks that must be done, such as going to the post-office or starting the morning coffee or turning off the lights and setting the alarm at night, consider assigning these tasks to individuals on a rolling basis and posting the schedule where everyone can see it.
Smells can bother some people, so limit the wearing or perfume and cologne in the office. If there is a kitchen in the office consider coming up with a list of foods that may and may not be cooked there.
Start a group stretching, yoga or meditation period. It doesn’t have to very long or involved, but it brings everyone together and gives everyone permission to think about something besides work for 10-15 minutes.
If there is space, create designated places where staff can meet with clients, blow off steam or even nap. Quiet rooms, where tired workers can take short naps have been popular in Asia for years without negatively impacting productivity.
Flexible scheduling is probably the best thing an employer can do for their accounting staff at this time of year. Working long hours can take a toll on anyone, so as long as the requisite hours are being worked and the office or phone is being covered during “office hours”, allowing staff to leave early or come in late in order to transport kids, or permitting “morning people” and “night people” to work when they feel most alert and productive is worth considering. If the office systems are capable of supporting remote access, allowing staff to work some hours at home may also be an option worth investigating.
Relaxing the office dress code, particularly during “non-office” hours, can also help make staff more comfortable, as will relaxing rules about space heaters or fans. Allowing staff to check their personal email on the web, or make personal calls from the office, allows them to stay connected to their lives outside the office.
Better communication is probably the key to reducing stress during the busy season. It will also help staff maintain client, and even personal relationships, while they are working long hours.
Improving communication starts with setting clear expectations. Both staff and clients need to now exactly what they can expect and when. Good communication, however, is more than just a set of expectations. It also means encouraging people to express themselves and share in problem solving.
You can learn fascinating things when you listen to others. Some firms have not only identified previously unrecognized sources of stress but also come up with creative ways to alleviate it. For instance:
- Long hours leave little time for running errands. One firm in Arizona arranged for dry cleaning/laundry service pick up and delivery as well as arranging for deliveries from local pharmacies.
- Commuting can be stressful all on its own. A California firm arranges for a livery service to pick up staff members in the morning and take them home in the evening.
- Parents tend to have less flexible responsibilities outside the office, so offering after-school activities, such as trips to the movies or other local attractions that can keep kids busy a few days a week, are very popular. Even offering rides to the library or other after-school activities like a sports practice, can ease the strain.
- Creating fun in the form of non-work-related contests like “Ugly Tie Award” or bean bag target games, can help staff blow off steam and get their minds off work. Computer game tournaments can be fun too, and allow people to play when it is convenient for them, or when they need a little distraction.
- People who are stressed don’t always eat well. Brining in food is always popular with staff, and bringing in healthy food, not just sweets, will reduce stress as well.
Firms Can’t Do It All
Firm-wide efforts to reduce stress can only go so far. Sometimes, it’s up to the individual to identify when they are feeling too much stress and how to overcome it. Most psychologists who work with patients on stress-related issues advise:
- Making the most of family and recreation time, however limited they may be.
- Eating right and never underestimating the power of nutrition. Please see "Workplace Snacks to Get You Through the Busy Season"  for suggestions on healthy, portable, snacks.
- Instead of reaching for another cup of coffee or a soda, take a brief, brisk walk, quick nap or meditate for a few minutes.
Everyone, staff and clients, gets stressed at this time of year. The busy season, however, doesn’t have to be the first step on the road to burnout. Properly managed, both at the organizational and individual level, you can survive and even prosper.