Despite the current economic slowdown, the busy season is well underway as firms across the country are preparing the onslaught of returns that roll in during the weeks and months prior to April 15. The increased workloads during this period create the need for more workers to assist with the rush, and temporary employees are an effective resource during these times.In years past, firms have increased staff by up to 40 percent during tax season to supplement full-time staff. Temporary employees offer a number of advantages for big firms, and therefore are a commonly used resource during the busy season.

First, temporary employees are often available to work odd or extended hours. In many cases, seasonal tax hires are college accounting students, so their schedules are more flexible. Second, seasonal workers rarely receive the same payment or benefits as regular full-time employees, so they are a cost-effective option for big companies dealing with overwhelming workloads. Finally, temporary stints during tax season can act as a test period for employers looking to recruit potential full-time hires.

It's not uncommon for accounting firms to offer temporary tax season staff more permanent positions, especially when many of the temporary workers are university students nearing graduation and seeking full-time work.

During the stress of tax season, however, it's not always easy to determine who among the surplus workers is a good fit to stay on. After several months of long hours and overwhelming workloads, it's highly unlikely that managers have been able to spend enough quality time with employees to accurately determine their ability and whether or not they offer promise as full-time employees.

This lack of knowledge makes it challenging, if not impossible, for managers to determine which of their seasonal workers are most deserving of longer, more permanent positions. So how do managers decide who to bring on to their staff full time, who to use again next year, and who to disregard?

ASSESSING ASSESSMENTS

Employee assessments are one accessible tool that can help managers make these difficult decisions. A well-developed employee assessment program allows managers to assess their employees' knowledge and competence in conjunction with their confidence.

Often, seasonal employees are trained swiftly and en masse. Some employees will undoubtedly struggle with this training method, and while they may be able to perform adequately in the short term, their lack of confidence in their own knowledge may have a negative effect on their performance in the long term. It is not always obvious with short-term employees who among them truly knows and cares about what's going on and who, for lack of a better term, is "faking it" to make it through what they consider a temporary placement. Employee assessments can determine which employees fall into each category, making it easier to decide who deserves a longer-term position.

In some cases, firms don't even require their temp workers to have previous tax experience, so an effective system should be in place to help executives "weed out" the less-experienced employees from the competition for full-time positions. Investing in the extra salaries and further training of such ill-prepared employees could potentially result in significant losses for businesses.

Employee assessments are also useful when adapting and re-evaluating training programs for the following year. Knowing what your seasonal employees understood and retained from their crash training course will help immensely in improving future programs. Tax season is a stressful time for everyone, so any tool that can help seasonal tax employees feel more prepared to deal with the onslaught of returns should be welcomed by managers across the board. Also, by assessing employees from year to year, managers can identify the best workers to call back the following year, and thus can help ensure an increasingly high level of seasonal employees for the year to come.

The pressure of tax season is felt by both temporary employees who are tossed into the job and by managers who worry about the quality of their new hires and how well they'll cope with the large volume of work and the demand for quick results. Having an effective assessment program in place will assist managers in improving training programs.

They are also immensely helpful when it comes to selecting quality workers for permanent positions and returning seasonal positions in subsequent years. Investing in the right employees reduces costs and improves business productivity - two key goals for any successful business.

Mary Clarke is chief executive at Cognisco (www.cognisco.com), a global online employee assessment and learning consultancy.

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