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Now accepting applications: 5 tips for mid-season hiring

Help wantedIt’s the middle of busy season, and you’ve just realized you could use a little more help. Maybe you underestimated your firm’s capacity, or a staff member unexpectedly needed to leave. When it’s all hands on deck to manage client needs, mid-season hiring is a curveball no firm wants to face. Here are a few ways to prevent such departures and prepare for the unexpected.

An ounce of prevention

Of course, one of the best ways to handle mid-season hiring is to prevent departures. 

While people will leave, and not always at the best time, a firm should try to create a fun office culture so employees won’t want to go anywhere else. This means creating a family-like atmosphere in hopes that staff members are less likely to leave “family” in the middle of a busy time. To make the firm more inviting, consider:

  • creating a "work from anywhere, anytime" policy for staff members, while fostering teamwork during in-office hours
  • providing healthy snacks each day and lunch on Saturdays for those who are working in the office
  • offering extras such as massages, ice cream treats, and car details
  • trying not to take yourself too seriously (while taking the work seriously)

Small firms may struggle with developing retention incentives if there are budget concerns, and a low staff count can restrict some of these tactics. Other options might include compensatory time or a leave bank to make up for all the extra hours. If interested in these incentives, firms must consult a labor law attorney to discuss applicable laws in their state.  

Preparation is key

A little preparation can help ease the pain of a CPA’s departure mid-season. Life events, such as a staff member going on maternity leave, can be prepared for in advance. This preparation can also help if a staff member leaves unexpectedly.

Ensure everyone, including management, is cross-trained, particularly for vital administrative tasks such as billing. Consider holding a 15-20-minute presentation on office procedures in case people need to pick up the slack.

Another part of preparation is building a strong team environment. When your staff has a team mindset, it’s easy to rally the troops. Consider creating a social committee that organizes social functions beyond basic happy hours so your staff members can bond over paint and wine sessions, family BBQs, escape rooms and other fun activities.

Regroup fast

No amount of worrying or hand-wringing is going to solve the problem of a lost employee. Call the team together and realign responsibilities of staff members who can get all the returns done. Regroup. Then have conversations with clients who may understand the situation and be more open to extending.

In the case of someone who didn’t leave but is unable to come to the office (e.g., suffered an injury), be flexible. A work-at-home arrangement could help keep a staff member on board while maintaining the workflow. Consider developing that kind of arrangement for employees who move out of the area as well.

Be selective with replacements

You may feel it’s critical to get someone on board right away, but resist the urge to take the first person available. You could end up with bigger and more costly problems in the end.

Anyone brought onboard will be handling firm finances and/or interacting with clients, so they must have impeccable integrity. In addition to technical skills, they’ll need to be willing to learn new software, firm processes and workflow, and be able to adapt to change. It’s also important to remember that anyone brought on board should align with company values.

Small firms should be extra vigilant when hiring mid-season. Consider hiring via word-of-mouth and through your networks rather than sourcing from agencies. Identify if this role will continue after busy season. If not, be sure to hire someone willing to be flexible. But keep in mind, if you’re hiring for a long-term position, whoever you hire must fit in with the firm’s culture. Small firms often employ staff who wear many hats and replacing a tax person can be more difficult compared to larger firms.

Be vigilant on retention

Although your retention rates may be stellar, it’s important not to get complacent.

Small firms should look for ways to make themselves more competitive in the job market. Consider increasing paid time off and developing flexible scheduling for employees. Stay on top of your employee’s work/life balance to avoid burnout.  

Here are a few more ways to improve your retention rates:

For some references, check the PCPS Flexibility Toolkit, which has some ways to implement flexibility in the firm.

When employees do leave, make sure you understand why. Ask departing staff members what you could have done differently to keep them on board. 

Create a formal exit interview process (like this one offered to PCPS Section members) that pays close attention to what people say about your firm. This will help you understand what areas of your firm need to improve. You may learn valuable information that can be leveraged to improve not only your firm’s culture but also the well-being of staff members.

By preparing ahead, hiring a new staff member during busy season can be an opportunity to grow your firm’s family and keep you focused on the most important part of your business – your clients.

Raleigh Cutrer, CPA, ABV, is a partner with Matthews, Cutrer & Lindsay, P.A.., a mid-sized firm in Mississippi. He oversees the firm’s tax planning and preparation practice, as well as the firm’s business valuation services. Raleigh has over 35 years of experience in numerous areas of taxation, including estates and trust planning and is a member of the AICPA's Tax Practice Management Committee.

Terri Hogoboom, CPA, is a shareholder with Cothran & Johnson Accountancy Corp., a small firm in Walnut Creek, California. Terri began working at the firm in 1979 and became a director in 1997. She earned a Masters in Taxation at Golden Gate University and specializes in trust, estate, and gift taxes.

Help wanted courtesy of Shutterstock.

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