April 18th is this year’s tax deadline, which also means that it’s the end of Busy Season for many public accounting firms. For many accountants who have spent the past several months working long hours and days, celebrations are definitely in order to commemorate what is arguably the most difficult season for firms and accountants. This week, we’re paying tribute to their hard work by speaking with 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 Marcum LLP, a firm headquartered in New York whose philosophy is to commit to excellence both internally and externally. Learn more about Marcum's culture as we speak to Ruth Stone, the Human Resources Manager who tells us all about Marcum’s Busy Season, including her best piece of advice for CPA Exam candidates.
How did Marcum keep its staff energized and motivated during Busy Season?
We were heavy on the perks, which always work out well. We had masseuses, pizza lunches every month, birthday celebrations, and lots of happy hours. Other perks included smoothie bars, manicures, and observing holidays, such as our Valentine’s Day contest for “Most Amusing Blind Date” stories, a healthy eat-your-greens lunch for St. Patrick’s Day, and eating different ethnic foods each day of the week to celebrate Diversity week.
Another fun and popular activity we had was the Mount Everest Fitbit challenge. Those who wanted to participate were divided into multiple teams. The first team to have everyone collectively reach the total amount of steps needed to climb Mount Everest (116,000 steps!) won a gift card prize. This was a great way to keep everyone motivated and moving while engaging in friendly competition.
We believe that these fun activities help ease the monotony and tediousness of Busy Season.
Why do you think it’s important to keep staff morale up during this time?
You want people to still be motivated to do their best even though they’ve been working a tremendous number of hours and are missing their families and putting their social lives on hold. Busy Season can seem like an eternity when you’re in the midst of it, which is why we not only provide perks, but also encourage our staff to plan their vacations ahead of time so they have something to look forward to once Busy Season is over.
Things like this keep their heads in the right place, and it also reminds them that there’s more to life than their jobs. Keeping morale up in this manner helps people reach and cross the finish line.
What did Marcum do differently between last year and this year to better prepare for Busy Season?
Definitely added more perks, so that our staff always had some event or activity to look forward to. Staging these perks, spreading them out over time, and asking for internal feedback was key to having a better Busy Season. We have focus groups here and we asked people what can we do better? Everyone said they wanted lunch catered in at least once a month, amongst other things, which we acted on. Having them give us their feedback allowed us to make positive changes on their behalf.
What is your best piece of advice for current/future accountants to prepare for Busy Season?
First, there’s no getting around the killer hours, so it’s important to know your limits – and we do we offer flexibility in that area. For some, that means getting into the office earlier leaving at a normal time and then continuing to work from home if needed. Some individuals are more productive earlier in the day and others prefer working later into the evening at the office.
However, remember that just because the person next to you is managing their time in a certain way doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit. The most important thing is to communicate with your managers and team consistently. If you need to go home and have dinner with your family or take a break for a couple hours to reset your productivity, do what works best for you. You also have to understand the capacity of your cognitive abilities, which can be compromised if you’re working in front of a computer in excess of 12 or more hours.
Secondly, keep in mind that you’re not operating in a vacuum. You’re working in a team environment, and communication is important. Don’t be afraid to let people know if you’re feeling overwhelmed or if there’s anything else you’re having difficulty with. Keeping things bottled up will only make your performance suffer and your morale will decline. There may be a very simple solution, but not if no one knows what you’re going through.
Third attitude and perspective is a tremendous factor of how you navigate through Busy Season. You might not like to do the tedious work you’re doing, but it’s part of the job. Recognize the positive aspects of the job and minimize the negative pieces. When you realize that everything matters and it all plays a part in your professional development – you will feel differently.
Lastly, don’t take things personally. People do tend to lash out during busy season, but you have to attribute this to high stress levels, lack of sleep and tight deadlines. Just handle it and move on.
What will Marcum do to celebrate the end of Busy Season?
We will be celebrating on 4/18 at our After-Busy-Season party at Dave and Buster’s in Manhattan in Times Square. We enjoy this venue since everyone can mingle, play games, eat, drink, and just de-stress. The location is convenient to public transportation and we anticipate that everyone will have an amazing time.
Anything else you’d like to share?
If you’re looking to pursue a career in accounting, concentrate on getting your CPA Exam finished between graduation and when you start your first job. You’re already in a school mindset, so you should take advantage of that. I’m seeing more and more students that are coming in extremely qualified. For example, I had interns this year that were on par with my first year staff.
There’s no doubt that this trend in excellence is making the profession more competitive. If you apply to a firm having already passed the CPA Exam, you definitely have an advantage since (upon accepting an offer) you will eligible for a CPA bonus as well as reimbursement for the exam sitting fees.
It’s a great way to get ahead of the game and jump start your career. I see a lot people stuck at certain levels because they can’t advance to manager without their CPA license. (a requirement at Marcum) It’s even more difficult when you are in the midst of other personal obligations. The earlier you get your CPA Exam out of the way, the better.
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