Help staff let off steam during busy season

Planning fun activities for your staff can make tax season less stressful.
By Teri Saylor

As accounting teams trudge into the long winter months, laboring to make hard busy season deadlines, it can help to turn down the pressure from time to time.

We asked representatives from four accounting firms to describe their favorite methods for cutting the tension, promoting camaraderie, and building good will during the busiest time of the year. We hope this list sparks some ideas for busy season activities to try at your own office. For more suggestions, visit the AICPA PCPS's Busy Season Fun Calendar.

Feeding the team. Busy season brings on a plethora of stressors, but finding food doesn't have to be one of them. At KRS CPAs in Paramus, N.J., the team is treated to dinner every night during the week and lunch on Saturdays. "We rotate the menus and give staff opportunities to choose the meals," said Patricia Amato, firm administrator and human resources manager. The firm makes it easy by relying on online delivery services and local restaurants that deliver.

KRS employees explore culinary creativity during the firm’s busy season cupcake wars. Photos by Patricia Amato.
KRS employees explore culinary creativity during the firm’s busy season cupcake wars. Photos by Patricia Amato.

Serving those in need.
Helping others less fortunate and giving back is one way some accounting firms take the edge off stress. Last year, employees in BKD's Indianapolis office competed in a charity bowling tournament and raised $3,000 for the local Boys and Girls Club, according to Kassie West, social media and public relations lead. And interns in the firm's Kansas City, Mo., office spent a day packing food kits for needy kids through the local Harvesters — The Community Food Network.

But helping humans is only part of the firm's mission to give back. Their busy season goodwill also extends to the animal kingdom. "Tax season coincides with kitten season at animal shelters and our team in Wichita, Kan., loves to help out at the local animal shelter because kittens make everything better," West said.

Keeping active. To ease tension, employees at BKD participate in games of dodgeball and pingpong. At KRS, employees team up for midday cornhole and pingpong tournaments to mix a little fun in with hard work, Amato said. As the players win their way through rounds of play to the tournament championships, the rest of the firm converts to cheerleaders and pulls for their favorite players.

"We schedule the championships on Friday afternoons so our employees can enjoy the fun, celebrate with snacks and libations afterwards, and go home," she said. After all, they'll be reporting back to work on Saturday. Winners receive gift cards to local restaurants and attractions, "so they can do something fun after the busy season and make up time with their friends and families," Amato said.

During busy season, employees at the BKD office in Wichita KS play invigorating games like dodgeball to help combat stress. Photo provided by BKD.
During busy season, employees at the BKD office in Wichita KS play invigorating games like dodgeball to help combat stress. Photo provided by BKD.

Playing silly games.
Busy Season Olympics rule at GBQ Partners in Columbus, Ohio, according to Sara Robertson, director of market strategy. But rather than swimming, running, or doing gymnastics, accounting professionals at the firm compete in a weekly series of games that require brainwork, skill, and dexterity. Their form of Olympics includes games with names like trashcan three-point challenge, Play-Doh challenge, 10-key challenge, target golf, and Wii Mario Kart. "We tally everyone's points each week and at the end of the season, we award gold, silver, and bronze medals and various prizes," Robertson said.

Of all the silly games the firm enjoys, bean counter is the most popular, she added. Jars are filled with various candies, and employees who come the closest to guessing the number of pieces in each jar win a $25 gift card. "These games help build camaraderie among our employees and help clear their heads, so they are able to put in the long hours," she said.

Having fun with fashion. Whether coming to work as Harry Potter characters or superheroes, or simply dressing in the same color schemes, accountants know how to style their clothing for Saturday Spirit Days at BKD's national headquarters in Springfield, Mo., according to West. "Spirit Days make coming to work on Saturdays a lot more fun," she said.

At Withum, headquartered in Princeton, N.J., employees also have themed days during busy season, according to chief marketing officer Rhonda Maraziti. "On some Saturday workdays, we invite staff to wear their favorite sports team jerseys. We also have beach themes, and on those days our teams enjoy coming to work in Hawaiian shirts," she said.

Finding pleasure in simple things. Stress-busting activities don't have to take the form of firmwide competitions. Low-key activities also give employees a chance to bond over simple pleasures during a tense time.

During busy season, KRS employees love to indulge in rounds of all-day bingo and never have to leave their workstations to play. "They have bingo cards on their desks, and throughout the day we share the numbers over a group instant message and give prizes to the winners," Amato said.

Employees in Withum's New York City office have come to enjoy their rented popcorn machine so much during busy season that it has become an annual tradition to bring it in, according to Maraziti. Withum also has been known to rent a cotton candy machine and set up a hot dog stand during busy season.

At GBQ, employees break the tension by enjoying happy hours during busy season. Photo provided by GBQ.
At GBQ, employees break the tension by enjoying happy hours during busy season. Photo provided by GBQ.

Relaxing into the home stretch.
When the going gets tough, some firms get serious about stress relief and bring in the ultimate relaxation tool: a spa. Withum provides employees with soothing chair and hand massages, and some of the firm's offices even hire yoga instructors to help employees relax, according to Maraziti. KRS pairs massage sessions with soothing music and aromatherapy to help melt away anxiety, Amato said.

While workday spa treatments and other activities during busy season may divert employees away from their deadlines, managers believe that allowing them to let off steam helps them focus and maintain their energy level when they need it the most.

"We know our deadlines, but we believe it is important to take a break, have some fun, and find time to relax during this stressful time of year," said Amato.

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at

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