When babies arrive in busy season

It’s hard to step away from work, but planning ahead and using technology can help.
By Sarah Ovaska-Few

Meta Olson, CPA, thought she would have no problems when her doctor named a late May due date for her first child. She'd be able to finish busy season at the Rochester, Minn., office of RSM US, an audit, tax, and consulting firm, with time left over to rest and ready herself for the arrival of her son.

But, as often happens, things didn't go as expected. Vernon was born April 12, 2017, after Olson developed a complication that poses major risks for both babies and mothers.

Both ended up being healthy, and Vernon was released after some time in intensive care. Olson said supportive co-workers quickly took over her caseload when she went on maternity leave more than a month earlier than she'd expected.

"We really did try to plan that," Olson said of having a child after her busy season was over. "Vernon had other plans."

Accountants like Olson who welcome new children during busy season can face a double set of challenges, a balancing act between getting up every few hours to feed a newborn and working at full speed to get clients' tax forms to the IRS in time.

Here are some tips that these busy-season parents offered for those expecting — and for firms that want to support new parents on staff.

Communicate early. Juggling a busy season and a new baby isn't easy, said David Almonte, CPA, CGMA, an audit manager at audit, tax, and advisory firm DiSanto, Priest & Co. in Warwick, R.I. He would know. Both of his girls — Adelina, 2, and Scarlett, 1 — were born during busy season.

In both cases, Almonte said he made sure to communicate early on with superiors at the firm he was with at those times. He suggested other soon-to-be parents talk with their supervisors and colleagues as early on as possible about developing a plan so that maternity and paternity leave can be spent without having to juggle calls from the office.

Delegate. Loni Winkler, CPA, a principal in the tax department at UHY Advisors in Farmington Hills, Mich., said having support is key. Her daughter Kinsley, now 3, was born on March 14, and her younger daughter, Brynn, 1, has a May 6 birthday.

"You need to have a good team," Winkler said about juggling busy-season demands and the arrival of a new child. "A good team at home, a good team at the office, and knowing that some days are going to be harder than others."

Winkler's firm works with many locally run small and closely held businesses, and lots of work is required to meet March and April deadlines. With each pregnancy, Winkler worked hard to manage her caseloads so that if the baby came early, another associate could easily step in and pick up where she left off.

"It really forced me to delegate," she said.

Her firm offered to have another associate monitor her email while she was out on leave, but Winkler said she found she was able to sort through her email and give quick responses or forward messages to associates while her newborn napped.

Use technology. Many firms have systems that allow associates to log in remotely and get a few hours of work done from home. Winkler tries to leave the office each night in time to have dinner and help get her young children in bed.

Once the children are tucked in, Winkler logs in and does a few hours of work so she can meet her daily goals. She also, oftentimes, does an hour of work in the morning before her daughters are awake.

Winkler said she also found FaceTime to be a big help. On evenings when she must stay at the office, the phone videoconferencing app allows her to chat with the girls and say good night as her husband tucks them in.  

Be flexible. Technology can also help ease a new parent's transition back to work, especially when his or her return coincides with busy season. When Almonte returned to work after the January birth of his daughter, and was looking at long workweeks in February, he rearranged his schedule so that he'd get quality time at home.

He said he was able to arrange his schedule so that he could come home at dinnertime every night and help get his two young girls fed, bathed, and into bed. Then he would log onto his accounts remotely and work several more hours at night.

It was tough, but Almonte said it was well worth it.

"I don't ever want to go a day without seeing my girls," he said.

Be kind to your brain. Newborn babies mean little sleep for parents, with middle-of-the-night wake-up calls from hungry babies happening regardless of whether mom or dad needs to work in the morning.

After going back to work following her maternity leave, Winkler took advantage of her firm's flexibility and would occasionally sleep in an extra hour after a night of little sleep and go into the office a bit later than normal.

"Ultimately, you do whatever it takes to get by and what works for your family," she said. Sometimes it takes some creativity with your schedule to figure out how to fit it all in, she added.

The lack of sleep and the busyness of having a new child can mean that your brain may not be as sharp as it usually is. To stay on top of things, Winkler relied heavily on to-do lists, schedules, and Post-it notes to make sure she wasn't neglecting anything at work.

She also looked over her emails at the end of the day to ensure she didn't miss anything important.

Keep it simple. All the parents said they tried to make the busy season in which their children were born as easy as possible, and are following that motto going forward.

That means slow-cooker meals, meal planning, and prepping food ahead of time. Winkler also hires someone to help clean her house during busy season. 

She uses a curbside grocery service so she or her husband can order the groceries online and pick them up outside the store for a small fee.

"It was a definite timesaver when trying to work the extra hours and take care of my family," she said.

Support can help success. Having a top performer out of the office during the busy season requires an adjustment for both firm leaders and associates. But it's important to be supportive of colleagues going through a major life event.

When you hear that an associate will be taking family leave during busy season, avoid griping about how the firm will have to scramble to find a replacement or spread the work to colleagues. Instead, leaders should show they're excited and happy for the expecting parent.

"You have to be excited for your employee; it's an exciting milestone in their life," Winkler said. "You adjust and then the person will be back."

Sarah Ovaska-Few is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

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