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Staffing up for tax season

November 18, 2011

Tax season might be a few months away, but now is the time to start thinking about how to manage staff and adequately prepare for the extra work, longer hours and tighter deadlines that accompany this time of year. Even companies that have accountants on staff often need to bolster their team with additional, highly qualified talent. And those individuals are in high demand.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that accountant and auditor employment will grow 22 percent between 2008 and 2018, which will add 279,400 more positions to the 1.29 million already-existing jobs. In fact, U.S. News and World Reports named accounting as one of the best careers for 2011 because of that demand. But along with that demand comes fierce competition for talent, so it’s important that staffing decisions are made well in advance of tax season to ensure that your company receives the best and the brightest talent.

Although bringing in additional staff for tax season should be considered, the first step is to pay attention to current staff. Make sure to set clear expectations among finance and accounting employees, plan their workloads and be upfront about any additional hours that will be needed to complete all required tax and regular work assignments. Consider experienced employees a valuable resource that can help educate newer staff. In fact, you may want to consider training high-performing employees to lead tax training courses or act as mentors for new hires.

When thinking about your staffing strategy for 2012, don’t be afraid to ask existing employees what did and didn’t work in 2011. Addressing questions and concerns from prior year’s experience can help improve efficiency and alleviate stress among staff. Ask yourself and colleagues what systems and processes worked; will this tax season be more complicated; will additional hours and resources be needed? Answering these questions upfront will go a long way towards ensuring success this coming tax season and beyond.

Improving productivity and workflow during tax season is only half the battle. It’s equally important to ensure that talent is kept motivated during this busy season. Try to reward high-performing individuals by allowing for flexible work arrangements. Weekend work is a given during tax season, so consider letting staff adjust their hours as they see fit to achieve a better work-life balance. Also, if possible, provide home access to email and shared drives to increase staff productivity while also providing further flexibility for employees.

Tracking workload for each employee is always critical and even more so during this stressful time of year; however, it’s also important to know how productive each tax and finance employee is. Remember that productivity is a measure of the results achieved, and not the time spent on the return. So consider the whole workflow before determining what productivity means. An employee who works slower, but is more thorough might still be more productive because his or her returns don’t need as many corrections.

Once you’ve adequately assessed existing staff, you can determine whether you need to bring in additional staff to help ease the workload. Temporary staff can help with some of the standard elements of corporate taxes, leaving your more experienced team to handle more complicated aspects of your business. Also, because temporary employees are hired on a contract basis, companies can hire exactly the skills they need for exactly the time period that they need them.

Additionally, hiring temporary staff allows an employer to assess, on the job, if the person has the right skills and cultural match for the organization, so should a full-time position present itself down the line, they already have a candidate they know is the right fit. Here are some things to consider before hiring a temporary employee for tax season:

•    Think ahead. Very often companies make the mistake of hiring a temporary worker and then not being ready to put him or her to work immediately. Before you’ve even begun to look for temporary help, create a list of activities that he or she can do in the short term. Also remember to allow some time for any training or orientation that is needed.
•    Look for a reputable staffing partner. If you choose to use a temporary staffing firm, make sure to do your homework because all are not created equal. Look for a staffing firm that has extensive experience in filling accounting and other finance positions for the precise work you need.
•    Create a support system. Don’t make the mistake of leaving temporary employees on their own after the initial orientation. Make sure you have seasoned professionals ready to answer questions and provide additional support as needed.
•    Be realistic. You should absolutely expect the best from any temporary employee you hire, but it’s not fair to compare him or her to an employee that has been with your firm for many years. Set goals that are challenging, yet achievable.

Tax season is a challenging and often stressful time for corporations, but it doesn’t have to be. The most important thing to remember is that talent is what can make or break a company during tax season, so that should be the first priority.

Whether reassessing and preparing existing employees, or bringing on temporary workers, it’s important to remember that human capital is the most important part of tax season. Those companies that do so will have a successful tax season—next year and beyond.

John Marshall is the president of Accounting Principals.

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