Managing Stress and Energizing Your Team During Tax Season: Insights from Industry Leaders

By Julie Smith and Kelli Risse

Tax season can be an incredibly stressful time for public accounting firms and their teams. The pressure to meet deadlines, manage client expectations, and maintain high levels of productivity can take a toll on even the most experienced professionals. 

Now is an ideal time to prioritize managing stress in the office to prevent burnout and attrition after tax season. Not possible? Not only is it possible, it should be a high priority if you wish to keep your talent. Recently, the two of us had an opportunity to explore the topic of stress in public accounting firms this time of year.

In many firms, tax season is some form of organized chaos. And, after tax season, accountants often feel burned out, or even worse- they leave for perceived greener pastures. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

It is possible to have a firm culture that minimizes stress- even during tax season. A culture people enjoy and choose to join. An environment that is pleasant to work in all 12 months of the year.

Protect Your Team First and Foremost

Protecting your team should be your top priority during tax season. This means setting realistic expectations, backing into appropriate internal deadlines, and giving your team the time and space they need to decompress. You have to set your team up for success both during and after tax season. At Harper & Company, we shut down the office the week after tax season to give everyone a chance to recharge.

Set Expectations and Boundaries

One of the biggest challenges during tax season is managing client expectations and setting boundaries. It’s essential to communicate with clients and set expectations from the outset. As tax season begins, set a hard deadline and stick to it for accepting client documentation and getting returns filed by the filing deadline. Make it clear that if all documents are not in the office by that established date, the return will be extended. It is extremely important to honor these internal deadlines- this is part of what sets your team up for success. 

If a firm owner chooses to work late and answer the door at 7 p.m. to a client begging him or her to get their tax return done by 4/18, don’t say yes! If your internal deadline has passed, the answer is an unquestionable ‘no’ with an offer to extend. 

Manage Your Mindset

In addition to setting expectations and boundaries, you should pay attention to your own mindset during tax season. Rather than viewing stress as harmful and miserable, how can you use stress to your advantage? This shift in perspective can also help you stay focused and productive, rather than feeling overwhelmed.

Fuel Your Body and Manage Your Energy

Can you imagine crossing the finish line to a marathon and having nothing to eat after running 26.2 miles? How would you feel? Tax season is much like a marathon. To stay energized during these months, it’s crucial to fuel your body with healthy food and take breaks to move and connect with others. A great tip for managing your energy is to identify what drains your energy and what brings it up. Every time you drain your energy with a grueling tax return for example, do something that brings it back up, such as taking a walk or having a conversation with a colleague.

Identify Signs of Burnout

Finally, it’s essential to identify signs of burnout and address them before they become a bigger issue. Utilize your team by asking for help or offering to pick up the slack for someone else to balance workloads, and be flexible. Most importantly, listen to your body, and take breaks as needed to refresh and refuel.

As a firm leader, keep your finger on the pulse of the team. If you notice that someone is working late regularly, not taking breaks, and not engaging or connecting with others in the office, it’s time to intervene. Take the time to have a conversation and give that team member some guidance or relief. Make sure your team knows you have their backs every day, especially when dealing with challenging clients.

Managing stress and energizing your team during tax season requires a combination of mindset, strategy, and self-care. By setting realistic expectations and boundaries, communicating with clients, fueling your body, and managing your energy, you can successfully navigate this challenging period and come out on the other side with a motivated and energized team.

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