Ease the Burden of Busy Season

BY GERRI CHANEL

  

 
 

With busy season just around the corner, here are some suggestions from firms that have learned how to make what could be their annual trial by fire less stressful and more productive.

By treating their staffs with an extra measure of consideration and carefully planning and analyzing their operations, these firms have found benefits that last well beyond the April tax filing deadline.

CONSIDER THE TONE AT THE TOP
Smart firms recognize that staff members work more effectively and efficiently—and with less turnover—when their contributions are recognized and the work environment is pleasant. “I’m always upbeat and walk in every day with a smile,” said Ralph Ricciardelli, the partner in charge of tax at Burzenski & Co. in East Haven, Conn. “Tax season can actually be enjoyable. If you have planned well and have people and systems in place, it is very gratifying to see it all work. And that spirit comes across to people.”

FEED THE TROOPS
Blum Shapiro, based in West Hartford and Southport, Conn., provides free dinner four nights a week for staff members working late. Staff members pay for lunch, though it can be ordered from local restaurants and delivered to their desks. A refrigerator is also stocked with healthy snacks such as fruit and yogurt. Alpern Rosenthal in Pittsburgh provides dinner several times each week, plus breakfast every Saturday.

“One Saturday someone came in and made fresh, hot pancakes,” said Dave Charnock, the firm’s COO. Atlanta-based Habif, Arogeti & Wynne provides dinner three evenings a week—but not on Wednesdays. “We tell staff that on Wednesdays we want them to go home and have dinner with their families,” said Dan Simms, managing partner and CEO. The firm also cuts prices in vending machines to 25 cents. On the last day of busy season, many firms sponsor a staff celebration. Burzenski & Co. adds a special treat: Limousines bring everyone to a restaurant for dinner and then take them home.

Blum Shapiro has had partners scooping Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for staff, wine tastings, yoga sessions and massages, said Vanessa Rossitto, one of the firm’s audit partners. The firm’s “spirit committee” offers ideas on ways to reduce stress and show appreciation. Alpern Rosenthal has themed food and events. This year, each month highlighted a decade from the ’70s to the ’90s.

SCHEDULE EFFECTIVELY
Many firms have transferred work scheduling to an administrative person to free up partner and professional time. At Burzenski & Co., Ricciardelli used to schedule all tax work. Now, he said, he has shifted most of this function to the firm’s office manager. “She may not know the accounting side,” he said. “But she knows when someone’s overworked and when work needs to be shifted.”

Alpern Rosenthal divides its tax department into teams, with each being responsible for a group of clients. Each team reports to a single team leader. “That way,” Charnock says, “people aren’t being pulled in as many directions at once—the team leader keeps the pulse of how much work each team member has and can more effectively redistribute the work as necessary.”

DON’T WAIT UNTIL BUSY SEASON IS OVER FOR A POST-MORTEM
Debrief regularly to capture feedback and spot improvements that can be made immediately. Some of the best feedback and ideas can come from younger professional staff or administrative personnel.

Habif, Arogeti & Wynne holds executive meetings weekly, with an operational committee meeting on alternate weeks to evaluate what is working and what is not. This committee is composed of employees at each staff level and from each division.

At Blum Shapiro, the tax department holds a half-hour meeting every Monday morning to discuss scheduling and any concerns. Likewise, at Burzenski & Co., the staff meets with Ricciardelli every Wednesday morning for an hour to identify problem areas, whether related to scheduling, technology or applying tax laws. These regular meetings also allow the group to share helpful tips.

By Gerri Chanel , CPA, MBA, freelance business writer. Her e-mail address is gerrichanel@aol.com.

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