More Busy Season Stress Busters
Welcome, I'm glad you took time out to join us! Is it stressful in your firms?
Jane: I have many ideas to share!
Session Moderator: Great, Jane! Why don't you get us started.
Jane: Well, we have stress-busting (called "Hoopla") every Friday here. It usually involves food!
Session Moderator: Can you share details - how does it work?
Lara Niles: FOOD! Our office too seems to deal with stress with food! We call it the tax season 10 (meaning 10 lbs.!)
Jane: That is so true!
Coy: We bring lots of food as well!
Dani: We have a fruit bar Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Sat the firm supplies it for us.
Jane: We have had a popcorn machine in.
Coy: The old saying is true...those who eat together, stay together!
Session Moderator: Do you use themes?
Jane: Yes - we have themes - last Friday it was "Pie Day." We had pizza pie for lunch and fruit pie for dessert. We also had a reporter from a local newspaper here to write about our hoopla.
Lara Niles: Does the firm pick up the cost or does everyone bring something?
Jane: Our partners are very generous and they pick up the cost
Lara Niles: Our firm usually picks up the cost also - but I've found that many don't. That's great.
Jane: We had a "Hallway Tailgate Party" once - people wore college team sweatshirts and brought a dish.
Session Moderator: How do the partners feel about the time spent away from billable hours?
Jane: The partners feel it is great for morale and worthwhile to keep the staff motivated.
Lara Niles: We all get so wrapped up in billable / non-billable hours - but worth the fun break.
Scott H. Cytron: Does anyone have staff that telecommute? If so, what is done for this staff to keep them in the loop and make them feel part of the team?
Session Moderator: Yes, how do you bridge the gap between several offices, if you have them?
Lara Niles: I have someone that telecommutes. It's hard to keep them involved. One thing we are doing is tax season secret buddies - and she can't really participate. I think she feels really left out.
Lara Niles: That is definitely a down side of working outside the office is missing the "team" atmosphere.
Scott H. Cytron: Perhaps there's a way to keep them involved. Cards, flowers, greetings of some kind ...
Session Moderator: Are there any issues that you would like to get some help with from others?
Dani: We just had a mini golf tournament in the office. Everybody had to decorate their offices it was so much fun. We broke up into teams and it was 18 holes the office closed at 3:00 on Saturday and they gave away prizes. It was a lot of fun.
Session Moderator: Jane, which firm are you with?
Session Moderator: Dani, how did the golf tournament work?
Jane: Sorry - I logged in wrong without my last name...Jane Wybenga at Beene Garter LLP.
Jane: We are going to do a "traveling bouquet." We will get a vase of flowers and someone keeps it for 1/2 hour and then passes it on with a note.
Lara Niles: That's a good idea.
Session Moderator: Do they know who will get it next so they can personalize the note?
Jane: The note should be an encouragement or an acknowledgement of something great they did. Hopefully by the end of the day, everyone will have had the bouquet on his or her desk.
Session Moderator: So how have your accountants responded thus far? Do you have any who don't "get into it"?
Kristi Wertz: Jane, what is your position at the firm? You must be a busy person!
Jane: I am the Administrative Coordinator
Lara Niles: We have tax season buddies. Everyone has a secret buddy that you leave notes, small toys, candy, etc. for. It's been fun. I've had my desk filled with balloons, flowers, blank cards.
Jane: Lara - does the staff think having buddies is a lot of work? I think our staff would not participate - too much work for them
Lara Niles: No - they have all really gotten into it. We're small, so everyone is trying to figure out who their buddy is.
Kristi Wertz: Someone on the last chat room like this mentioned a Jellybean counting contest. We're doing it, and everyone loves it!! We also did tax season survival kits and attached them to an invitation to our after tax season cookout.
Jane: We also have had "Nickname Day" - give your co-workers a nickname
Jane: Kristi - what was in your survival kits?
Session Moderator: That sounds like so much fun! Can you elaborate on the survival kits?
Lara Niles: I like the survival kit idea.
Kristi Wertz: Coffee singles, no-doz pills, Rolaids, Excedrin, "Nerds" candies!
Lara Niles: Great ideas!!
Kristi Wertz: We had a blast picking this stuff out.
Lara Niles: I'm having a massage therapist come in the office on Thursday for about 4 hours to give everyone a massage. They are bringing the portable table and setting it up in the conference room.
Mary Thomas: The 'non-traditional' employees in our firm host and prepare a 'last Friday in the month' lunch - Chili, Gumbo, and last week - Lasagna! It has been a big hit with our staff.
Session Moderator: Did anyone else implement ideas from the last stress chat?
Jane: A popular day is "Ice Cream Cart Day" - we get an ice cream cart stocked with goodies. People eat all day long!
Lara Niles: I liked the potluck ideas from the last chat. We're doing that next week.
Kristi Wertz: I like the idea of people hosting a lunch. As long as people are willing to help out, of course. Some of these lunches can get expensive for the firm.
Jane: Yes - they can be expensive
Kristi Wertz: I agree. Our firm does a lot for us, but sometimes I think it can get to be too much. It's nice when the employees are willing to pitch in every once in a while.
Dani: the firm provides lunch for us a lot instead of giving us the 8:50 when they don't supply it.
Jane: We also had breakfast catered in one day - very popular.
Lara Niles: Our office is stocked with lots of goodies. We also bring lunch in a lot!
Arden: Our firm also provides food in abundance, and one of the employees prepares dinner each Wednesday night. Chocolate Chip cookies are the most popular. And here's what they did to counter the effect of all that food…an end of tax season diet challenge. Each employee has his picture taken and a weigh-in took place, along with a $10.00 contribution from each participant. The pictures were hung in the kitchen, and the winner got 70% of the pot; runner up 30%.
Session Moderator: Has anyone done anything that incorporates families during this busy time?
Dani: Take our daughters to work day at the end of the month.
Session Moderator: Some firms have an employee dinner where the whole family is invited since the families also suffer from the long hours of busy season.
Marc Rosenberg: The tax season is such a big negative to retaining people. It seems to me that the things that are expensive really need to be done to make the tax season a tolerable if not enjoyable part of the job.
Jane: Marc - you are right and our partners agree
Session Moderator: Good point, Marc. Is anyone using other incentives such as time off or elite parking or valet services?
Jane: We also give away logo trinkets (mugs, pens, etc.). We stocked the mugs with cup-of-soup, hot chocolate, crackers and candy. Renting a popcorn machine is not expensive and very fun - except that someone has to pop it all day.
Marc Rosenberg: I was intrigued by last month’s session on this topic. I consult to CPA firms and I find almost no firms do any of these things, yet it seems to make so much sense. Why do so few firms do them? More importantly, what does it take to get firms to get active in these areas?
Session Moderator: Marc, do you think that this type of thinking starts at the top? With visionary leaders, perhaps?
Jane: You have to be competitive in the workforce right now - it is important to attract good people with innovative ideas. Our leaders understand that and support our Hoopla!
Marc Rosenberg: It definitely takes partners who get behind these ideas. But it also takes people to carry them out with enthusiasm, week after week.
Jane: You are right!
Caroline Thomas: We have been very fortunate that our partners have really backed us - it's great employee relations!
Lara Niles: That is the hard part - keeping the enthusiasm up!
Jane: We have also had photo contests - bring in a baby picture or the "funniest picture" - these are fun!
Session Moderator: What can you suggest to others that want to do what you are doing in your firms? How do you keep your enthusiasm week after week?
Caroline Thomas: Start early - and sometimes, the sillier the better - everyone needs a good reason to laugh at tax time.
Jane: I have been doing this since January and am starting to get a little burned out - but the staff keeps me going with positive reinforcement!
Lara Niles: Jane - sounds like you and I are in the same boat. How do you keep yourself motivated?
Jane: I love to be creative - that keeps me going - and the staff loves it!
We had "High School Days" - bring in a high school picture - we had lava lamps, disco balls, etc.!
Jennifer Bormett: Lava lamps and disco balls? Remember that more than 60% of some of our firms are my age, and we remember big hair, neon clothes etc.
Jane: We had memorabilia from all eras!
Marc Rosenberg: The follow thru/implementation must fall on the shoulders of admin people, but I wonder if in this day and age, the attending to the "fun activities" is not perceived as "professional," and many really don't want to get involved to much.
Jane: We have been doing it for 3 years - the professional staff loves it!
Session Moderator: Marc, my experience has been to the contrary. Professionals love to have fun as long as they know it's "okay." That message comes out loud and clear from the partners who do/don't participate.
Marc Rosenberg: Seems like I'm hearing that the key to these tax season fun programs is having someone on board who will lead these activities with enthusiasm and leadership. Are any participants in this group with a firm that does NOT have such a person?
Lara Niles: Marc - I don't think you have to have someone dedicated to just doing this, but giving someone that role in addition to other stuff. Someone fun and willing to spend the time thinking of fun stuff to do.
Session Moderator: Jane, Lara - what percentage of your time do you spend planning "fun" activities for your firm? Where did you receive direction - from partners?
Jane: I do it January through April 15 - it depends on what we are doing - but it can be time consuming. It's a lot of work - but worth it!
Lara Niles: I would say about I spend about 8 hours a week in planning and coordination. Then the time actually spent doing the fun stuff. I have no direction - it's up to me, but I also have 100% control to do whatever I want.
Session Moderator: So is fun limited to busy season? What about the rest of the year?
Marc Rosenberg: Wow! 8 hours a week. That's super. I think that's what it takes.
Jane: We just do it during busy season - we have a flex schedule during the summer - four 10-hour days
Lara Niles: We try to have fun all year long - just try make it really stand out this time of year. We have outings all year, movies, bowling, mini-golf, Dave & Busters.
Session Moderator: That makes sense. Do either of your firms use this "fun" slant in your recruiting strategy?
Jane: Yes - we bring it up during interviews
Marc Rosenberg: How many firms do an NCAA basketball pool? Were these popular?
Jane: Basketball pools are done outside the firm here (Michigan State all the way!)
Lara Niles: The pres. of our company (1 partner firm) does not do "gambling" - so no, but that's a good idea.
Marc Rosenberg: Curious, why is the pool done outside the firm rather than inside?
Jane: It's considered "gambling."
Lara Niles: My boss told me that I would be "director of fun" when I started 4 years ago. He knew he could not do it.
Session Moderator: What a title! That could definitely help your firm differentiate itself in a sea of CPA firms, right?
Marc Rosenberg: I've been reading more and more about companies that have "directors of fun."
Lara Niles: I'm not sure it's "gambling" - but strangely enough a touchy subject. We try to be different. Hopefully it is working.
Session Moderator: Lara, your experience and information are like "gold" to people who don't work in a similar environment. You are really helping us!
Jane: Next year we are going to have a "decorate your workstation" contest.
Session Moderator: Do any of you use "fun" to motivate the professional staff to do other things? Such as marketing, perhaps? Or possibly sales?
Marc Rosenberg: Is anyone in this chat from a firm that does NOT do these things? If so, I would be curious what has held your firm back?
Lara Niles Anyone out there do tax season "gifts" for everyone?? I need some ideas? Last few years we've done logo shirts, etc. from Lands End.
Session Moderator: One firm I know of used a sports theme to kick off a referral campaign, for example.
Jane: We have also had "Getting to Know You" Day - you submit a little known fact about yourself - we posted them on a wall - they were so funny!!
Session Moderator: Lara, I've heard of several firms that give "time" as a gift for those who have worked so hard. A day off on the firm, so to speak. Sometimes the day off was coupled with an afternoon of fun at a place like Dave & Busters.
Lara Niles: That's a good idea. We always close the office on April 16th (or the 18th this year). And close at noon on the 15th (17th this year).
Jane: Does anyone do anything special for employment anniversaries?
Lara Niles: Anniversaries - we don't do anything, but I think we should do something. Do you?
Jane: No - I am looking into it - perhaps $$
Arden: How about birthdays? Our firm gives each birthday person a $35.00 "gift certificate" toward dinner at the restaurant of their choice. Just bring in the receipt, and the firm reimburses $35.00.
Lara Niles: $35 - that's generous. We do a $25 certificate somewhere - like best buy, or the mall or somewhere.
Session Moderator: I hope your employees appreciate your firm's generosity!
Lara Niles: I think they appreciate it very much!
Jane: I think so too
Marc Rosenberg: I recently was at a resort hotel in February(that's slow season for me) and I met a partner of a client firm of mine. He was with his wife and 2 daughters. Each person in the firm gets a long weekend off during the tax season. This has always sounded like a fantastic idea to me, but I hear very few firms do this. Do any of you do this?
Lara Niles: No, that's a great idea! Everyone could use a vacation this time of year.
Jane: Marc - what do you mean "long" weekend - like a 3 day paid weekend?
Marc Rosenberg: Yes, from Friday morning thru Sunday night.
Lara Niles: It's hard because everyone that has kids can never take off for Spring Break.
Marc Rosenberg: Spring break, now that's a great idea. Everyone with kids would like to take some time off to be with their families, but if they work in the CPA industry, that's a no-no. It would be great if firms would be more flexible on this.
Session Moderator: You guys are full of great ideas! Are there any other questions or issues you want to explore? We have a few more minutes left of our hour together. Would it be okay if I ask you a few questions?
Session Moderator: Do you think it would be helpful to have a bulletin board area where you could exchange ideas or look up information on people who do similar things?
Jane: Yes - that would be great
Lara Niles: Yes - I think that would be a great idea! I would post and visit for ideas often!
Session Moderator: For example, Lara, you might want to find out Jane's email so you can ask about ideas she's implemented and vice versa.
Would you visit daily, weekly?
Jane: I would visit that site weekly
Session Moderator: Do you currently have other sources where you visit?
What other "tools" would help you that AccountingWEB might be able to help you with?
Jane: I did a search on the Internet for "fun at work" and there are lots of sites.
Session Moderator: Marc, do you have any ideas?
Marc Rosenberg: One thing comes to mind, but I think this site addresses it. I am a big believer in the power of roundtable groups. MPs have many, but administrators don't seem to be as active. I would think an agenda could be put together quite easily for many meetings.
Jane: It's a great way to share ideas, Marc.
Marc Rosenberg: Nothing like the power of finding how other people do the same job differently.
Session Moderator: Well, it's about that time. Thanks to all of you for your fantastic ideas. Have a successful week!
If you have ideas of how we can better serve your needs, by all means, email us!
Thanks again for your time today.