Beating Busy Season Stresses Idea Exchange

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Looking for some ideas to combat the stresses of busy season? Scroll through the transcripts below and find out what others are doing to reduce burnout this time of year. Add your own comments to the bottom of the transcript and contribute your ideas too!

Session Moderator: Good afternoon! Thanks for joining us on our first round table discussion!

More accounting magazines are reporting on things accounting firms are doing to help accountants beat the stress of the tax season. Today, we are going to discuss what firms are doing and how they work. Our goal is to share ideas that may help you develop new ideas or expand on your current programs. Don't forget, though, that there may be things that your firm does throughout the year to help employees conquer stress. No item is too small! Great ideas come from lots of different sources.

This is an interactive workshop format; feel free to join in on the conversation.

Is there anyone here that would like to share a stress season success story?

I know of one firm that did a tax Olympics last year and others that do this annually. The firm divided into four teams and participated in four events over four days. Each person was limited to two minutes per event so that total did not exceed a certain amount of time. The Olympics were developed around silly games that allowed the accountants to "blow" off stress.

Michael Platt: We've seen a number of firms set up "games" during the March/April time slot -- any other efforts with a concept of that kind?

Dennis E Decauwer: That sounds interesting.

Tamara Fontaine: Here at my firm we have an end of tax season auction.

Session Moderator: Tamara - how does your auction work?

Tamara Fontaine: Well during the previous months we hold little contests, like dressing in one color one day, or playing little games

Session Moderator: That sounds like fun. Who is responsible for developing the contests and ensuring people participate?

Lara Niles: Good Afternoon. I'm just joining in.

Session Moderator: Hi Lara... we are just sharing ideas. Thanks for joining us today!

Lara Niles: Tax season stress busters - right? Hope I have not missed anything too good yet!

Session Moderator: Right! You are just in time. Tamara, when does the auction come into play?

Lara Niles: We have a dartboard in our office. It was a gift from a client and has already gotten a lot of use. We all seem to really like it.

Session Moderator: Is play limited to a certain time? Dart boards, golf putters and other "play stations" are becoming more and more popular.

Dennis E Decauwer: We have an ultimate bean counter contest usually twice a week. I fill a jar with some type of candy and we have to guess the number of pieces.

Lara Niles: I'm curious to hear more about this auction.

Session Moderator: Dennis - that sounds like a fun idea. Is a prize involved?

Session Moderator: Tamara... could you share some more about your firm's auction?

Dennis E Decauwer: I think this year I will keep track of who wins and award the person who wins the most a certificate or something. The winner of the day gets to keep the candy & jar. We do recycle the containers and refill and keep going. We also have a white-board in our break room and every morning we come up with a question of the day.

Lara Niles: We also did a "bean counter" one tax season. For clients though. The winner won a gift certificate to a local restaurant. He guessed 1040 - good guess!

Lori Olson: Dennis - I like the idea + not too time consuming that people won't participate! Guess who'll be buying some candy tonight!!

Dennis E Decauwer: Most everyone participates. The questions can be as simple as "what color is your toothbrush?" Sometimes they are more thought provoking.

Lara Niles: I also just bought a board game - Cranium. We've only had one "match" - but it was a lot of fun. I highly recommend it!

Tamara: We have a WOW bucks system whereas employees get WOW bucks for awesome service.

Dennis E Decauwer: How do you decide who gets a WOW buck?

Lara Niles: Tamara - I like the WOW bucks. Do you find out from clients who provided the awesome service?

Pat: Tamara, we didn't get the rest of the details on the auction.

Tamara: WOW bucks are awarded for things like getting work done under budget, getting positive reactions from clients.

Lynn Foster: Last year we had 15-minute desk massages - all employees loved that.

Lori Olson: Our firm has a "Friday Nite Club" which selects a different establishment each week to serve as a 5 pm Friday get out of the office and relax. One popular event is to a local bar that carries the trivia game on the big screen. The winning team usually gets some type of prize.

Lara Niles: Massages are a great idea! We've done that also.

Lori Olson: Lynn- was it difficult to get people to make their appointments without wasting too much time?

Session Moderator: Great question Lori. Are there any questions you have about the "down" side of "fun" at your firms?

Lynn Foster: Lori - I just sent a sheet of paper around and had every sign in a slot - they were scheduled for every 15 minutes.

Session Moderator: Sounds like a lot of fantastic ideas here!

Dennis E Decauwer: Last summer, we started sharing the book "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" through our email. Once or twice a week, I would email a chapter of the book using our inter office email. Most seemed to enjoy it. One way to read a book w/o investing too much time.

Session Moderator: Dennis - who is responsible for ensuring this "keeps going?"

Dennis E Decauwer: I am. I try to take 1/2 hr a week to type up the chapters as drafts, so they are ready to send w/o much thought. By the time we get to the end, it will be easy to start all over again.

Lara Niles: I just started this (it's a bit corny - but oh well) "tax season secret buddies". We picked names and you do something small and fun or nice for your buddy at least once a week. Everyone is having fun with it so far.

Session Moderator: Lara - is it similar to secret Santas?

Lara Niles: Part of my job at our firm (I'm the firm administrator) is Director of Fun. It's my responsibility to make sure everyone keeps it light through this tough time. Yes- it is like secret Santas. Last Friday I got 2 carnations on my desk from my buddy.

Brandie Berg: We have lighten up parties and 3 times during tax season we quit at 4pm on Friday and have a social with a theme. Such as scavenger hunt or game day or a soup/chili cookoff

Session Moderator: Brandie - how do you balance that with the rest of the firm? Do you do anything or include other departments?

Brandie Berg: Everyone is invited. All the departments seem to like it. It is something fun for them to do and a good opportunity to meet others in our office.

Session Moderator: Fantastic. How do you handle the time issue? Do partners have any issues with time spent away from client business?

Lara Niles: It was difficult at first to get everyone to participate and be "non billable" - but the President of the Co. knows how important it is to keep everyone happy - and he likes to have a good time also. It is worth the time investment. I don't want to loose good team members because we're not fun.

Session Moderator: That's a great point Lara. So what you are saying is that you maintain balance and you have a key member of management behind the idea, right?

Tamara: We also have color days, where a color is picked and you have to come dressed completely in that color.

Session Moderator: Have any of you gotten press coverage for your stress busters?

Lori Olson: We also sponsor one item per month as an annual tax season thing - Cake for the superbowl (Jan), pizza & breadsticks for Valentine's Day (wear your red), soup and sandwiches for St Patty's (dress in green) and an "Employee Appreciation Party" (ALL employees) on the last day of the season for employees and spouses with beverages and food at a restaurant.

Lara Niles: That sounds fun Lori! We do St. Pat's day also. Pot Luck lunch - everyone brings something "green" to eat. It's great!

Session Moderator: You guys are really creative. This is where fun begins.

Dennis E Decauwer: Sometimes we simply, pass out word searches or mazes to do, just to give everyone's brain a break.

Michael Platt: Does anyone do anything OUTSIDE of the office as a group during tax season?

Lara Niles: Important to have buy in from the top if this is going to work. We try to set ourselves apart anyway (don't we all?) We went last year outside the office. One afternoon to play putt putt golf, and one afternoon for bowling and beer. That was a lot of fun.

Session Moderator: I know one firm that goes outside for a picnic and holds contests outside.

Dennis E Decauwer: We are going to participate in a casino night fundraiser for some fun this weekend.

Lori Olson: If people can be torn away from their desks, our community has a (American Cancer Society) run/walk usually the 2nd or 3rd Sunday in April that we have a team participate.

Chris: We have held an ice cream social in the afternoon. That always gives everyone a break.

Tamara: We went to our boss's house for a pool party with steaks on the grill, wine, and appointed massages.

Session Moderator: Another firm auctioned off its partners and then had the partners wash cars while the employees ate hot dogs and ice cream. All proceeds were donated to a local charity.

Lara Niles: April 15th is our "big outing." I get a limo to take us all out to lunch and driving around. We close the office at noon that day and enjoy some unwind time together.

Dennis E Decauwer: We purchased a toy bowling set and on occasion set it up in our long hall and let everyone take a turn.

Session Moderator: For firms that haven't really implemented these types of programs, do you pros have any advice? What to do and what not to do?

Dennis E Decauwer: Keep it simple and it is easier to maintain and keep doing. We have had ice cream sandwich breaks, where we have delivered the ice cream to each person at their desk. Sometimes it is hard to get away from your desk to meet for a break. So we brought the break to them.

Session Moderator: That's innovative Dennis and really shows how you can make things work no matter what the obstacles.

Lara Niles: I think - don't start small. Do something to get everyone's attention. Let them know that this is the MOST important time of the year. If partners, etc. are into it that makes it easier. Suggest something that they would relate to and enjoy. We had a wine tasting since our boss loves different wines.

Dennis E Decauwer: Lots of little fun things are better than one big fun thing that flops.

Lara Niles: Good point Dennis!

Donna A. Cohen: We are now having a contest - everyone brought in a baby picture - the person who guesses the most correct gets 2 movie passes. Not a big deal, but does help relieve some of the stress for tax season - we are all having a good laugh!

Lori Olson: I especially like the ideas (bean counter- guess the #) because it is a fun idea that isn't too time consuming. I think I'd have a hard time getting people to participate in lengthy (albeit FUN) activities when it means having to stay at the office longer to get work done rather than go home to their families.

Lara Niles: I like that idea Donna! Did everyone bring one in?

Donna A. Cohen: Everyone that could FIND a baby picture brought one in! Even the partners!

Dennis E Decauwer: Another easy contest like that is -- everyone provides a VOID blank check. We cut off the name and address. We had to match up the check style to the person. It is harder than you think. Tells a few things about some personalities too.

Session Moderator: I can imagine. Speaking of flops - are there any bloopers that you would like to share and help someone else avoid it?

Danielle: No, but we have a guy hired three nights a week to do things like get oil changes, grocery shopping etc.

Lara Niles: I like Danielle's idea. Is it very expensive?

Danielle: Our firm pays for it. They put an ad in the paper and a retired man does it for $10.

Lori Olson: I've heard some formal concierge services are pretty expensive...but I'm envisioning someone trustworthy individual looking for a little extra cash earned easily.

Session Moderator: Lori, have you ever considered hiring a virtual assistant for that type of thing?

Lori Olson: A retired person with plenty of free time is what I considered would be ideal for oil changing, errand running, etc. Although year-round, we have a perk people like - drop off/pick up dry cleaning (vendor does it Tues & Thurs) with no extra delivery charge - convenient!

Tamara: We had a contest last week with the game, BOP-IT. My boss won 300 WOW bucks for that.

Lara Niles: We've done theme days - which are easy and not expensive. Crazy sock / stocking day, funny hat day, luau day (within reason) -

Session Moderator: I know of one firm that decorates pumpkins during October and then delivers them to the local hospitals for the children's ward. They even received press coverage for their efforts.

Lara Niles: Our flops came in the beginning - when everyone was worried about being billable. I sat in the conference room with 2 gallons of ice cream and toppings melting all over - because no body could get away. Now I have the receptionist forward the phones!

Donna A. Cohen: All these ideas are great - but when you have accountants who don't want to participate it kind of brings everyone else down. I sometimes have a hard time getting one or two people in particular to participate in things.

Session Moderator: Donna, do most of the others participate?

Donna A. Cohen: Yes if I nudge them long enough!

Dennis E Decauwer: It seems that there are always one or two at a firm that won't participate. Our partners are very active and sometimes they go around and round up the rest of the group.

Session Moderator: Dennis - that's good advice - who's going to say "no" to a partner?

I've heard that there are always going to be 20% that are FOR anything, 60% will go ALONG with anything and 20% that NEVER want to do anything. Maybe good advice would be to focus on the 80%?

Are there other ideas that maybe you do at another time of the year that could fall into tax season given a "rework?"

Dennis E Decauwer: I find it harder to get participation in after hours events. So we usually try to do something short but fun around 3pm. We tend to save the big after hours events to off season

Lara Niles: I've ordered pizza for the tax season widow & family for those that stay late - make it easier on them. A note that tells them how much we appreciate their significant others work and time!

Donna A. Cohen: Usually every spring, the partners will take those employees that golf out for a day at the club. Any suggestions for what I can do for my admin staff and those that do not golf?

Dennis E Decauwer: Gift certificates are always a treat.

Chris: Donna, we have given our admin staff gift certificates to have a massage or a facial. That went over really big.

Lara Niles: Donna - a day at the salon or spa - It works wonders!!

Donna A. Cohen: Just because a partner asks doesn't mean it will do any good!!!

Dennis E Decauwer: Donna -- sometimes you just have to give up on some individuals. Sometimes the peer pressure to participate gets to them after a while --- sometimes it doesn't

Lynn Foster: We also did guess the number of jelly beans in the jar and gave away a Hilton Head Vacation to the winner.

Dennis E Decauwer: Lynn - Was it a big jar??

Lynn Foster: Jar of Jelly Beans - about the size of 2-gallon jar.

Lara Niles: Wow Lynn - that's a nice prize!

Donna A. Cohen: My firm would never go for something that "big"! (The Hilton Head vacation - too expensive)

Lynn Foster: It was not really that expensive around $500 none of our team members will forget it.

Session Moderator: I know of a firm that sent the assistants to Medieval Times for a luncheon. They loved it.

Session Moderator: I've found that accountants are very competitive. Do you ever put them in teams?

Lara Niles: We try to stick to one team - the whole firm.

Session Moderator: Speaking of money, how do your firms decide on a budget for "fun?"

Donna A. Cohen: The partners decide on the budget for any holiday party or outing.

Session Moderator: Do any of you ever get donations from your vendors for giveaways?

Session Moderator: For instance, an office supply vendor may donate items or simply give gift certificates. There's no out of pocket for the firm.

Dennis E Decauwer: We got donations from our vendors for our Client Appreciation Party that we threw last fall.

Lara Niles: We have vendors bringing cookies and candy by all the time. It's really thoughtful.

Session Moderator: We have about 10 minutes left of our workshop. Are there any questions you have or any issues you would like to address?

Lynn Foster: Can we do this again some time soon?

Session Moderator: Sure! This is your online community. What would you like to talk about - this subject?

Lynn Foster: I would like to continue with this subject - for at least one more session.

Lara Niles: I agree - this was fun. I like this topic. It's really helpful!

Lara Niles: To make sure that everyone spent their tax season bonus we went to a local mall on 4/15. President gave each of us a $100 bill. Our instructions were to spend all of it - or as close as your could come. You had to get something for yourself, something for the office and something for someone else. The person that came the closest to spending the $100 got an additional $100. Oh - we also had a 45-minute time limit.

Dennis E Decauwer: That is a great one!!

Session Moderator: I'm sure we can find time to revisit this subject and maybe expand on other culture ideas for firms.

Chris: Lots of great ideas!

Session Moderator: Thanks to all of you who participated. Feel free to email us with your ideas for future workshops, too. We need to know how to best serve you.

Lara Niles: I guess we'll just wait for an email inviting us back again for another session??

Session Moderator: Yes, we actually can set up a time outside the workshop to do this if you all want to get together to discuss these ideas for this tax season. How does that sound?

Dennis E Decauwer: Sounds good to me.

Lara Niles: Bye everyone. Thanks for the ideas!

Dennis E Decauwer: I really didn't have time for this today, but am glad I made time.

Lynn Foster: Me too.... thanks to everyone.

Lori Olson: First chat room for me -it was great! Thanks for the ideas (my employees thank you too!! :-)

Session Moderator: I'm glad you made time, too. We'll make sure you know very soon. Thanks for an informative and interactive session!

Lynn Foster: First time chat for me also. I like it.

Session Moderator: Take care and have a very successful week!

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