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Essential Tips for a Happy Busy Season and Beyond

Mar 7th 2017
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Turns out romantic relationships aren’t the only relationships you have to work at if you hope to maintain passion over time.

A recent study from Robert Half and Happiness Works indicates that professionals, such as accountants, need to fan the flames of their careers if they hope to stay enthused and excited beyond the glossy “honeymoon period” of their first year on the job.

According to the study, professionals with between one and two years on the job are less happy, less interested in their work, and more stressed than those still in their first year. After three years or more on the job, happiness levels edge back up and interest levels increase. In fact, those with the greatest tenure (21 years or more) showed the highest level of interest in their jobs.

“Once they get past year one, the honeymoon appears to be over for many professionals,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half. “After 12 months on the job, employees are expected to work more autonomously and take on added responsibility. At the same time, aspects of the job that at first seemed novel and interesting may lose their luster.”

He added that managers should be aware of this “second-year slowdown” and take proactive measures to keep employees engaged, such as providing stretch assignments and ensuring that workloads are manageable.

“By keeping an eye on it, companies can help minimize the risk of losing productive staff members who have already been through a learning curve,” McDonald said.

The study does indicate, however, that employees realize at least a portion of responsibility for happiness lies within their own hands. While managers can take steps to create a happier work environment, when asked who’s responsible for keeping spirits high on the job, 25 percent of professionals said it was their responsibility alone. Another 5 percent said it was all in their firm’s hands. The majority of respondents – 70 percent – cited a combination of the two.

Robert Half suggests several tips professionals can use to maintain their career spark over time, including:

  • Find your passion by tapping into your firm’s higher purpose.
  • Proactively seek out challenging new assignments.
  • Ask for a raise, if warranted, as you take on more responsibility.

How to Avoid Busy Season Burnout
But in the unique bubble that is the accounting profession, where grueling deadline pressure and sustained long hours can dampen the zeal of second-year CPAs and partners alike, professionals and firms need to take additional steps to avoid busy season burnout and cultivate continued happiness year-round.

At least part of the busy season solution, McDonald said, lies in adopting the right mindset.

“Though easier said than done, accounting professionals should approach each busy season as a new busy season; each year as a new year. No two tax seasons are the same, for example, and the accounting profession is changing fast and constantly, bringing new challenges and opportunities,” he said.

Paul McDonald

McDonald offers these four additional tips accounting professionals can use to maintain their spark throughout the years as they build tenure at their firm.

1. If you find yourself stuck at work, reflect back on why you went into public accounting. Focus on how you are helping clients be successful and growing your career.

2. Look for new challenges. For example, talk to your manager about working with clients in different industries or offering training to your colleagues. Find ways you can grow beyond the job description. Consider serving as a mentor, which will allow you to help a less-experienced colleague while gaining new insights and sharpening your leadership skills in the process. Or look into contributing bylines for accounting publications or blogs and presenting at industry events, which will enable you to expand your skills, network, and visibility.

3. Commit to continuous learning. In addition to preparing you for advanced positions, you’ll gain new perspectives, identify new challenges, and develop new ideas.

4. Have an outlet outside of the office, such as a hobby, volunteering, physical activity, or participation in a professional organization. This gives your mind a break from work and can help you recharge. Prioritize your time, including taking breaks at work, eating lunch somewhere other than your desk, and going on vacations. This is essential for avoiding burnout.

The Firm’s Role in Cultivating Happiness
Accounting firm leaders themselves, of course, also shoulder a large portion of the employee happiness equation, and with the accounting profession’s current talent shortage, those who refuse to make employee happiness a priority are setting themselves up for failure.

McDonald said there are several steps accounting firm leaders can take to help their employees maintain a positive work-life balance, offset busy season burnout, and increase employee happiness throughout the year.

1. Let staff know how much you value their work. Research from Robert Half and Happiness Works found feeling appreciated is the primary factor in whether accountants are happy in their jobs.

“Celebrate victories large and small – you don’t need to wait for the end of busy season. Employee birthdays and anniversaries, major work accomplishments, firm growth, and life milestones are all good reasons to celebrate. The recognition doesn’t necessarily need to be elaborate – it just needs to happen,” McDonald said. “Encourage staff to recognize their peers, too.”

2. Don’t let positions stagnate. Ensure your team members have new challenges and stretch assignments to pursue. Talk to them about their potential career path with your firm, including the steps they need to take to advance and specific ways you’ll help them achieve their goals. They’ll see you’re invested in their success and be motivated to grow professionally.

3. If you’re not sure whether your employees are happy in their jobs and have the resources and balance they need, ask them. Check in with staff regularly to understand their aspirations, challenges, and concerns.

4. Ensure the firm is working to enhance staff members’ work-life balance and reduce stress for employees. Robert Half, for example, is seeing an increasing number of firms offering job-sharing arrangements, flexible schedules, and additional vacation time. 

5. Don’t be afraid to get creative to help your team. For example, if possible during busy season, set aside occasional Saturdays as work-free. Consider a day a week when meetings, excluding with clients, are prohibited. Go off-site for team-building activities, and look for group philanthropic opportunities.

6. Ensure you have proper staffing levels to limit employees’ stress and help them achieve work-life balance. Move quickly to fill open positions, and bring in interim professionals to assist during periods of heavy workloads.

7. Never underestimate the power of the end-of-busy-season party. Employees and their significant others truly look forward to this event because it provides a sense of much-needed recognition, as well as a sense of completion to another long busy season.

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