Open Forum on Motivating Staff During Busy Season

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AccountingWEB hosted an open forum workshop on Tuesday, March 6th to discuss and share ideas to help you and your firm through this year’s busy season. Read the full transcript of this session!

Some of the highlights that were covered during last year’s Busy Season Open Forum included:

  • Food, food, food
  • The Diet Challenge
  • Traveling bouquets
  • Tax season buddies
  • Survival kits
  • Photo contests
  • Silly themed days

Workshop Transcript

Gail Perry: Let's go ahead and get started! We really want to thank all of you for attending today, and welcome you to the AccountingWEB workshop.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: I am looking forward to this session.

Gail Perry: Today we're going to share ideas for relieving busy season stress, and we welcome all suggestions from all of you! Does anyone out there have any ideas they'd like to share?

Kristi: I am looking for new contest ideas. Something simple...

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Well I have a few to get us started:

Have a Friday Dessert Contest - Have spouses children bake desserts for the staff such as cookies, brownies and other finger foods each week and give a bouquet of flowers each week to the contest winner.

Have a Theme Meal or Theme Day - Picnic, Mexican, 50's Party, Hawaiian etc.? Encourage staff to wear appropriate attire for one of the above ideas. It doesn't take away from productivity, but it may lighten up the atmosphere for the day!

Gail Perry: You could hang a piñata in the staff kitchen - get a little aggression out of the way!

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Bring in Ice Cream Bars or Yogurt Bars during the workweek. Have a staff member, manager or Partner distribute the bars after lunch or before the end of the day. Nice idea for those firms in the Deep South.

Dale: We do bowling for bunnies...

Gail Perry: Bunnies?

Kelly-AccountingWEB: What is bowling bunnies?

Dale: We have 9 little pink bunnies we set up at the end of the hall and then roll (bowl) 2 3" round plastic balls to see who can knock down the most bunnies.

Bonnie Mann: We have been doing the theme meal once a month for the last four tax seasons and it has worked great but we are looking for something new.

We also flip for pop, where everyone flips a quarter; highest number of heads (or tails) is out. The looser buys every participant a soda.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Great - here are a few more ideas to ponder!

A Scavenger Hunt! Make up a list of "Find Someone Who?" (Use your imagination) phrases and encourage employees to have it completed by the end of the week. This is a great way to encourage employee interaction during those long days at their desks.

Potluck Lunch or Dinner! Have staff bring in a dish for lunch or breakfast and encourage staff to take a break and enjoy the meal with the entire staff.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: This is one of my favorites....

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Dress Your Manager Day. Anyone with direct reports would be dressed for a day by their staff. Have a few ground rules such as: It has to be gender specific and no skin! Have manager's dress up like nuns, biker chicks or dudes, in pajamas, as a policeman, Elvis, a Wiseman, a "used car salesman" and Joker etc.
Kristi: I like that scavenger hunt idea! Do you have some sample scavenger hunt questions?

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Who has traveled to Alaska or London?

Gail Perry: Find the person with the most brothers and sisters.

Bonnie Mann: One of my favorites is find someone who has paid their mortgage with their credit card.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: That's hard to find.

Gail Perry: Which member of the firm filed his or her tax return the earliest.

Dale: last year we had "beat the sheet" where every week we sent out more returns than the year before, we won a prize. Company shirts, swim passes gift certificates were some of the prizes.

Mary Bartlett: We provide a concierge service to our staff. We have a young retiree who runs errands for the staff -- they love it!

Gail Perry: Mary, that's a nice job for a teenager on Saturday's as well - someone's son or daughter looking to pick up a few extra dollars.

Gail Perry: Saturday childcare is good idea for teens to help with as well.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: You can also post a chart similar to the United Way to show the difference between this year and last year’s returns prepared.

Gail Perry: On nice weekend days, teens can come to the office parking lot and wash all the cars.

Gail Perry: (I'm trying to find ways to employ my kids this spring!)

Kelly-AccountingWEB: I worked for a firm that supplied busy season meals Monday through Thursdays from March 1st through April 15th. We had a caterer come three of the four days and ordered Pizza on Thursdays. We also had doughnuts and a cold sandwich lunch on Saturday. Food Food Food!

Mary Bartlett: How much weight did everyone gain? :)

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Well, we have to incorporate exercise along with the food!

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Check out this story for Desk Top Yoga and Stress Buster Ideas: Stress Busters and Desk Top Yoga

Mary Bartlett: We have the bulk food type bins set up in our kitchen with everything from fish crackers to M&M's and much more!

Mary Bartlett: We also have fresh fruit and good things of course.

Gail Perry: Here are some diet snack suggestions from, ideas for food to make available to staff:

Dried fruit and nut snack mix
Fresh fruit
Raw veggies
Half a whole-wheat bagel
High-fiber cereal
Low-fat, whole-grain crackers
Low-fat, whole-wheat pretzels
Also, granola bars and other power bars are great
Reduced-fat microwave popcorn
Nuts and yogurt may be boring snacks, but provide excellent sources of energy for getting through those long days.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: PIZZA!

Mary Bartlett: You guys are in to roughage (sp?)!

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Good idea, promote health during tax season, drink plenty of water too.

Mary Bartlett: I have disposable cameras set around the staff area for those Kodak tax season moments. I'll take the candid shots and put them into a PowerPoint surprise presentation at our after tax season party.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Good Idea Mary! Post them after tax season is done.

Kristi: That disposable camera idea is cute.

Mary Bartlett: Anyone on here from Rita Keller's firm? We implemented the "pink slip" idea this year.

Dale: I vote for Mary's Idea.

Gail Perry: Please explain the pink slip idea!

Mary Bartlett: You have pink slips that your team can fill out on another team member for extending exceptional service to a colleague or client during tax season and put it in a fish bowl. We meet every Monday afternoon at 3:00 in the conf. Rm and read each one so everyone get s acknowledged the last one out of the bowl wins $25 cash and is in the grand prize drawing - at the end of tax season for a prize of $50.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Money is always a good motivator!

Gail Perry: Great idea! And it's easy to do!

Mary Bartlett: I know a managing partner whom I gave the idea to that's giving away a trip for two to the Bahamas! I have a manicurist coming in Friday's who does massages and reflexology as well. The staff loves it! They are half hour sessions -- she's booked solid each week!

Gail Perry: The manicurist is a nice idea too - who has time to go out for that kind of luxury during the spring?

Mary Bartlett: I'm in Michigan -- we don't have spring yet!

Kelly-AccountingWEB: I make the time....

Kelly-AccountingWEB: I worked for a firm who had a large airline client who donated a trip to Mexico - Great giveaway! We also had a massage therapist come in every Friday for chair massages during tax season. We had the staff sign up for the service in advance, it was a great success. Some of the men didn't like it, but the rest of us did - it was free and it felt wonderful! We looked forward to it all week long.

Gail Perry: Of course there's always the ubiquitous NCAA pool - a weekly pool as well as the tournament pool. Does anyone have any fun spins on the NCAA pools?

Mary Bartlett: What about scanning baby pictures for everyone to guess -- a couple of them a week.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Have a baby photo - pet photo - high school yearbook photo Contest - Encourage employees to bring in their photos and post them on a bulletin board in your break room then have your staff guess whose photo or pet is on the board.

Gail Perry: That's always fun - after a few people do it, everyone wants to join in!

Mary Bartlett: Pop popcorn and meet in the conference room with your bag lunches and watch old movies

Kelly-AccountingWEB: What about April Fools Day?

Kelly-AccountingWEB: April Fools Gag! Even though April 1st is on a Sunday this year, you can still have fun with an April Fools Gag. A mid-sized firm I worked for sent out an e-mail memo from the Managing Partner informing everyone to respond immediately to the attached memo. The memo notified employees that effective the following Monday, all parking spaces in the employee parking lot would to be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis.

The memo asked employees to respond immediately to the memo in order to reserve their desired parking spot. Many employees fell for the prank and some were so upset (for a few moments) because they said that they got to work early and may not have a front row parking spot because they didn't respond to the e-mail immediately because they were out of the office when the memo came through. It was funny and we all got a laugh from it!

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Another April Fools Gag Idea - Ask employees to put (post-it) nametags on their personal belongings for the day. Tell them that you are doing an inventory count and need to know what is not company property. This is a great idea because you will be able to see who fell for the joke - it's there struck all over their desks!

Mary Bartlett: It seems like it's April Fool's Day around here all the time with the practical jokes -- funny things. Have your partners become soda jerks and make the staff banana splits.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: That's nice that you have that environment, it really helps - all year long!

J. Hoege: We have auctions each Friday at 4pm (Feb - April). Throughout the week, associates earn 'Fun Bucks' (FB) that they use that Friday to bid on prizes. A director acts as auctioneer, and associates earn FB from managers and directors throughout the week by staying late, working on a tough project, etc.

Mary Bartlett: that's a great idea.

Gail Perry: What kinds of things do you auction? Or what are some ideas for good auction items?

J. Hoege: The director or auctioneer will spend 15 minutes on trivia or games so associates can earn more FB. It's a great opportunity for the associates to see the 'fun' side of directors. The prizes range from board games to gift certificates (we try to use our clients whenever possible).

Jacquelene Tate: Our admin staff brings in a picnic lunch for the entire staff. Their spouses come along and grill the food.

Gail Perry: If the weather's nice, you can set up a grill outside on an afternoon and fill it with hot dogs and burgers - it's always nice to let the staff see a glimpse of daylight this time of year!

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Speaking of staying late, how do you address that during tax season and after tax season, do you provide time off, comp time, overtime pay etc?

Jacquelene Tate: we pay overtime along with banking the first 40 hours.

Dale: Our firm, prior to becoming a CPA, you earn overtime. After becoming a CPA, you earn two weeks a year personal Time, in addition to your vacation time.

Gail Perry: I used to work for a firm that provided no overtime pay during the spring, but from Memorial Day to Labor Day we worked four-day weeks - every weekend in the summer was a three-day weekend.

Melody Wagler: Our firm gets paid straight time for all hours worked and then receives comp time for half of the overtime worked.

Jacquelene Tate: We also have many members who cut back their hours during off-season.

Dale: We still have too much to do for the upcoming October 15th to take short weeks all summer.

Mary Bartlett: Other than tax season we have flex time -- if they work more than 40 hours they can come in late one morning, etc.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: I like the four-day workweek during the summer. Flextime seems to be more popular than ever in firms across the US - It is a benefit that new employees are seeking.

Melody Wagler: We close at 4:00 during the summer and have a half hour for lunch.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: What about a Friday Happy Hour - Beer Wine and Popcorn!

Mary Ellen: What about the liability associated with service beer /wine?

Kelly-AccountingWEB: As for liability, you can incorporate a policy into your Company Policy Manual for this and other company sponsored events.

Melody Wagler: Only half of our firm drinks!

Jacquelene Tate: We try to do happy hours at least once a month. In addition to that we also do; bowling, dog track outings, etc.

David Molinaro: I hate to be a downer to this discussion but does this really help. We have done more many of these ideas, have done more then ever but I don't see any major improvements.

Dale: We always have beer in the fridge for after 5:00, no good for me, I don't drink.

Gail Perry: Here's a suggestion for keeping up the energy levels during the spring months - encourage people to take an exercise break each afternoon. One way to make this happen is to send around an office-wide e-mail message each afternoon, say at 3:00, with an "exercise of the day"

Mary Bartlett: Gail -- examples of 'exercise of the day'?

Gail Perry: I'm going to enter in some sample quick exercises that you can use to get started

Exercise #1: Neck stretches:

1. Turn your head to the left until you feel a light stretch.
2. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds.
3. Return to the starting position.
4. Turn your head to the right, and hold for 10-15 seconds.
5. Return to the starting position.
6. Repeat the whole sequence 10 times.

Amanda: We played a fun game here that the staff really enjoyed raising money for a local charity...

Jacquelene Tate: I think the staff appreciates the effort we put into the extra-activities even though some may not always participate.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: What about adopting a roadway, help clean up the air during the springtime. Great marketing tool too. You firm name appears on the sponsor sign along the road. And employees get out of the office for a few hours

Bonnie Mann: David, we have found that to keep the effect the ideas have to be changed from time to time or staff members become bored.

Amanda: We put the partners heads on turkey clipart and affixed them to jars... then placed them in the lobby and asked the staff to put money in to vote for the biggest turkey. We raised hundreds of dollars for the local food bank... and people were so excited about the contest they were throwing $20 in at a time.

Gail Perry: David - have you gotten any feedback from your staff about what specifically brings them down during busy season? Is it not seeing their family, not getting enough sleep, too much work for too few employees...?

Mary Bartlett: David -I think you try to find things that work in your particular culture. Perhaps our ideas don't work for you. To tell you the truth the staff really wants the face time and recognition more than anything.

Mary Ellen: Any suggestions for handling the folks that "put down" the programs you try?

Jacquelene Tate: Ask them for a suggestion for another program.

Bonnie Mann: The people with the negative attitudes are offered the opportunity to provide the next idea.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Good idea Bonnie, ask for their input next time.

Mary Bartlett: You're never going to please everyone, but if you keep the ideas coming and trying different things, you'll get them with something eventually.

Mary Ellen: Thanks, I'll ask them for suggestions, good idea! =)

Kelly-AccountingWEB: What about post-busy season parties etc.? Any fun ideas?

Jacquelene Tate: Baseball game with tailgate, golf outing and company picnic to name a few.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Bus trips are always fun and relaxing! Family Zoo Outings!

Bonnie Mann: We have an awards type ceremony at the party, with awards for things like biggest night owl and tidiest desk.

Gail Perry: We used to have our favorite restaurant set up a buffet in a private dining room and we could eat until we couldn't eat any more.

Rusty Gavette: We are renting vans and taking the staff and spouses to San Diego for the weekend provided we reach our production goals.

Dale: The partner in our firm with the greatest A/R on 1/1 is responsible for planning and hosting the 4/15 party

Mary Bartlett: Dale -- love it!
Mary Thomas: Our firm hosted a Hawaiian Luau for the after-tax season party last year. Complete with roast pig and all the trimmings! This year our theme will be the Olympics - with competitions and medals!

Rusty Gavette: We compare to last year and post daily production goals.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: How do you gauge your goals? Do you share that with the staff?

Gail Perry: One thing we did that worked nicely was each year, at the end of busy season, the partner in charge took each of us out to lunch - one on one (it took several weeks to get this accomplished), and listened carefully to our specific complaints and praises regarding how tax season went - and suggestions that we made were implemented. It was very rewarding.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Great idea. That helps with preparing for next season and ensuring problems are addressed.

Bonnie Mann: We perform after tax season evaluations. Staff members meet with management and review the performance of management and the firm.

Dale: We had a suggestion box last year. Suggestions that were implemented earned $50.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Upward feedback/evaluation is a good tool. More firms could benefit from this tool.

Gail Perry: OK - here's another exercise, #2, this one for the lower back:

Sit straight in the seat. Tighten abdominal muscles and press your lower back into the seat back. Hold for 10 counts, and then relax. Repeat five times.
Exercise #3 - these are shoulder stretches:
Shrug your shoulders, and then relax them.
Roll your shoulders forward and backward.
Gently shake your shoulders.
Pinch your shoulder blades together.
Reach over head and stretch, while stretching do side bends.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Crack Knuckles

Mary Bartlett: Put back out

Mary Bartlett: Can't work ;)

Gail Perry: OK - don't go too far!

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Workers Comp - what a time to take some time off

Gail Perry: Exercise #4: Forearm stretches

Place palms together with fingers pointing toward ceiling. Keeping palms together, slowly lower hands until you feel a stretch.
A couch for "power napping" is a nice touch too. Cozy slippers would be OK too

Kelly-AccountingWEB: I like to idea of slippers during work hours - maybe Saturdays!

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Does anyone provide a TV in a common area for lunch breaks etc?

Mary Bartlett: TV's in our conference room they can use.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: What about bring your pet to work? Off hours or Saturdays?

Jacquelene Tate: I wish we could but our lease doesn't allow it.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: That is a nice benefit for employees with pets... They help relax everyone.

Gail Perry: I've read of one firm that allows pets on Saturdays.

Dale: No, we had an accident left in somebody's office last year.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Just use the three strikes your out rule!

Dale: you are more patient than most.

Mary Ellen: what if an employee got bit, or worse yet the dogs fight - Who let the Dogs Out? HAHA

Mary Bartlett: LOL

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Better bit by a dog then snapped at by a stressed co-worker! LOL

Mary Ellen: lol

Gail Perry: Here's Exercise #5: Hand Stretches

Make a fist, then span or spread your fingers as far as possible. Repeat.

Melody Wagler: The exercise person is cracking me up!

Gail Perry: Here's Exercise #6: Wrist exercises
Standing: Place your left arm by your side and bend it at the elbow (in a 90-degree angle). With your palm facing the floor, let your hand drop. Place your right hand under your left hand. Use the fingers of your right hand to push the fingers of your left hand back toward you, until you feel the stretch in your palm and wrist. Hold for 10 seconds. Release and repeat with other hand.

Mary Bartlett: Are you an aerobics instructor on the side?

Gail Perry: Not at all - Most of these exercises are found on the site - they have a lot of suggestions for office exercises and snacks to eat at your desk.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: None of us at AccountingWEB are exercise buffs. AccountingWEB has some good ideas on Desktop Yoga. Search the site for Desk Top Yoga! Great story.

Gail Perry: A quick Internet search for desk exercises or desk stretches will provide you with plenty of ideas, if your staff is interested.

Mary Bartlett: Will we be able to get a copy of all these great ideas today?
Gail Perry: Yes - we'll post the transcript of this workshop in the related news story on our site, later today.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Any other suggestions or neat ideas?

Kelly-AccountingWEB: What about tanning beds? They give a little boost. Dangerous for your skin, but it does perk you up! Just a few sessions to help out!

Jacquelene Tate: Does anyone have a suggestion on how to get your staff to respond to emails and memos?

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Good luck, if you find the answer, let me know!

Jacquelene Tate: haha

Bonnie Mann: response deadlines listed in the senders document do help.

Jacquelene Tate: I do that - and I usually send a reminder email to the memo for a response.

Mary Ellen: Sometimes voicemails referring to the memo or email with the deadline stated is helpful.

Bonnie Mann: Maybe your staff has nothing to say? :)

Mary Ellen: Many of our folks are out a lot during busy season -and they are not as good about keeping up with their mail, however they are all good about checking voicemail.

Jacquelene Tate: I will take your voicemail suggestion - thanks.

Gail Perry: We did a similar workshop to this one last year, and one of the many good ideas that came from that event was the idea of assigning "tax season secret buddies"

Jacquelene Tate: Go on.

Gail Perry: Everyone drew a name, then provided inexpensive treats and surprises for their secret buddy during the spring.

Dale: We have a staff accountant assess penalties for leaving and not signing out, not turning in time sheets on time etc.

Jacquelene Tate: what type of penalty?

Mary Ellen: how does it work? How does it motivate?

Dale: A penalty for staff and seniors is a six pack of beer or equivalent, for managers and partners is a 12 pack or equiv. - whatever the offender comes up with that is "equivalent" If not paid within a week, the penalty doubles. We get all sorts of stuff as payment, ice cream cookies, flavored coffee.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Good idea!

Jacquelene Tate: Anything other than alcohol?

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Pizza

Mary Ellen: Do they get it or do they buy it?

Jacquelene Tate: cool - thanks (again)

Gail Perry: Another idea - pass around a word search or a crossword each afternoon for a quick break. There are services that will come to your parking lot and perform oil changes - this is something the firm could sign up for on a nice day, if everyone parks in the same lot.

Bonnie Mann: Donut Fridays, each week someone different brings in donuts for the whole office.

Gail Perry: Some firms arrange for dry cleaning pick-up and delivery service.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: My firm did this, it was nice not having to make the time to drop off and pick up my dry cleaning.

Gail Perry: And speaking of pizza, what about sending pizzas home one night for the family members who are abandoned in the spring?

Dale: our office buys donuts every Friday and has lunch catered twice a month where we have a meeting.

Mary Ellen: we do this year round and the employees love me (me included). I mean they love it not me.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Send some to the AccountingWEB Staff - WE LOVE DONUTS AND PIZZA TOO!

Bonnie Mann: We are having a pizza party on Thursday at lunch. Want to come?

Melody Wagler: I would have never guessed that!

Gail Perry: We're almost out of time - any other motivating ideas before we finish this session?

Dale: We sometimes take turns preparing our favorite meals for the office; the office pays for the supplies needed.

Jacquelene Tate: We have birthday lunches once a month - all the employees pitch in and pay for the birthday Person(s) lunch.

Mary Ellen: We have birthday cake once a month for all that month's bdays - the first Wed of the month at 3:00.

Gail Perry: Cakes are nice, even if there is no occasion.

Dale: we do birthday cakes for every birthday. The last birthday is responsible for providing the cake for the next birthday person.

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Thank you all for your great ideas and participation. Thanks a bunch! We wish you and your staff all the best over the next couple of weeks.

Gail Perry: We really want to thank everyone for coming today and for sharing all of these great ideas! Good luck with the remaining days of tax season!

Jacquelene Tate: thank you for your time everyone!

Kelly-AccountingWEB: Visit us again soon! The Staff of AccountingWEB- Good Night!

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