This week, we’re celebrating the end of Busy Season by speaking to different firms and discussing the importance of Busy Season as well as what they’re doing to celebrate another year in the books.
Today, we feature Geffen Mesher, a firm located in Portland, Oregon whose mission is to support the lives, plans, and goals of people--those that they serve as well as those who call the firm home. We spoke to Julie Brodell-Martin, Talent Development Manager who tells us why it's important to use creativity to get through Busy Season as well as what first year staff can expect during this time.
How did Geffen Mesher keep its staff energized and motivated during Busy Season?
We do all sorts of things to try to keep morale up during the season. First and foremost is the food – I call it the season of eating. We cater dinner 4 times a week – and it’s delicious food from local catering companies and restaurants. Portland has some great restaurants and food carts that we try to incorporate as much as possible!
We also have plenty of healthy snacks in the office such as veggies, cheese, yogurt, and nuts, and serve breakfasts on the weekends. One of my favorite things we do every year is host Friday night wine-downs. These are themed wine/chocolate/food nights where everyone gathers at 5:01 on Friday and decompresses a bit. It’s a great opportunity to reconnect with each other and relax.
We also have a pet therapy clinic, where we bring in trained/certified therapy dogs into the office. There is nothing quite like spending a bit of time with a huggable dog when you are stressed out!
Finally, this year we started a series called Wellness Wednesdays. Each Wednesday we offered yoga, barre classes, meditation or massage sessions for our employees. It was a great way to unwind and breathe – and a good way to squeeze in a workout! We try to foster a healthy work environment (sit/stand desks, wellness rooms, 2 treadmills, healthy snacks, etc.) and this was a great addition to our overall approach. In fact, it was so well received that we have extended this program through the end of the summer.
We try our best to make sure we’re responding to what our staff needs while at the same time being creative with the solutions.
Why do you think it’s important to keep staff morale up during this time?
It’s such a deadline driven industry, and unfortunately a lot of the work is compressed into small windows of time. It’s just the way it is. It’s important to make sure that staff feel valued, appreciated, and looked after at all times, but especially during this time of year because they are working so intently. That’s a hard thing to do during Busy Season because it’s easy to say, “Thanks for all your hard work!” but it’s harder to really show the appreciation.
To remedy that, our managers are allocated a certain amount of funds to award people who go above and beyond. This award comes in the form of cash, gift cards, or quick little pick-me-ups. We know that Busy Season can be difficult for first or second year staff, so we also try to make things as comfortable for them as possible. So all in all, we believe happy, healthy employees will generate better client service. It is in everyone’s best interest to keep our staff happy and we work really hard to do that.
What did Geffen Mesher do differently between last year and this year to better prepare for Busy Season?
We did a lot more to prepare – we really encouraged leveraging down work and increasing efficiencies. We were also better staffed which always helps and had a great team of seasonal people and administrative support.
We also incorporated a lot more creative ideas into how to energize and motivate the staff. We were responsive to the generation that we’re working with who are younger, used to having more flexibility, and having information at their fingertips. Our great administrative team has been a lot of help in making sure everyone is on board with everything and is on the same page to have a successful Busy Season.
What is your best piece of advice for current/future accountants to prepare for Busy Season?
It’s a marathon, not a sprint – don’t push yourself too hard in the early weeks - you need that energy for the final push. If you have a weekly chargeable hour goal and you don’t have the work in the very beginning, see what you can do to help someone else on the team. Every new accountant will stumble at some point – and that’s ok; the key is learning from those challenges. Communicate with your supervisors – always communicate. Ask questions! Know that everyone is going through the same thing, and that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s also a good idea to schedule and prepare your personal life to take the hit of Busy Season ahead of time. If you have pets, arrange for someone to walk and feed them regularly; if you have a family, strategize how they will be supporting you and one another during this time.
What did Geffen Mesher do to celebrate the end of Busy Season?
We had a huge end-of-busy-season party where all employees were invited and everyone was encouraged to bring a guest. This year it was at a local bowling alley with plenty of food and drinks. We also had raffle prizes given away twice an hour that increased in value as the night went on – capping out with a grand prize of an Apple Watch. We paid for cab or Uber/Lyft rides home so that everyone got home safely. We also always close the office the day after the deadline so that everyone can take a much deserved nap!
Anything else you’d like to share?
It’s a tough time of year – but there really is nothing like working together as a team and reaching that deadline – knowing you gave it your all. It’s a good feeling.
Also, remember to set and manage expectations for everyone. I’ve always been very honest with new staff as they come in, especially during Busy Season, letting them know that everybody’s feeling the same pressure, no matter where you’re working this time of year. But it’s important to know that it ends! This short, compressed time of year where you’ll feel intense stress eventually goes away.
I think with a firm like ours (125 people), we’re lucky that we can be creative with our methods in managing workflow and offering unique benefits. I think that’s one thing we’ve done really well: responding to the changing workforce and being open and flexible to new ideas and new ways to offer different perks that other firms wouldn’t think of doing or want to do. Our staff really appreciates that, and we appreciate them!
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