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Hey managers! Your staff is stressed, and busy season isn’t entirely to blame

Shutterstock_420082801The symptoms of the flu are easy to spot: fever, cough, body ache, fatigue. When one of your employees has it, you know it. During busy season, there’s no contagion more dreaded – it can tear through your office and derail your productivity in a flash.

Well, that’s not true. There’s one thing more dangerous that’s out to infect your firm.

Stress is one of the top killers of productivity. Estimates suggest that about 550 million workdays are lost every year due to it. Compared to the flu’s 17 million lost days, that hand sanitizer on your desk may not be keeping your firm as healthy as you thought.

The key to recovering from stress is early intervention. Learn how to recognize the warning signs of stress in your staff and intervene quickly to cure what ails them.

Warning signs

Everyone deals with stress differently. Some people embrace the pressure and thrive. Others suffer a decline in performance. People can get physically ill, miss work or lose faith in their career choice. In a collaborative environment, just one stressed-out person can throw the broader group completely out of sync.

The first step in diagnosing stress-related problems is taking your staff’s behavior pulse. Look out for these warning signs:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability or bickering among staff
  • Disengagement, apathy or absenteeism
  • Working excessive hours
  • Reduced productivity and lower work quality
  • Lack of energy, enthusiasm or comradery

Once you identify the signs, you can move on to finding a cure.

Home remedies

Curing a stressed-out staff means figuring out what’s causing the symptoms. You already know they’re working long hours and are under enormous pressure to get everything right. But beyond normal busy season stress may lie a deeper problem. Get to the bottom of it by asking staff about their pain points and address them immediately.

Once addressed, inoculate your team against future illness by creating a culture where they feel comfortable raising issues. Encourage open dialogue so they can lean on each other for support when times get tough. Consider implementing a few of these methods into your staff’s routine:

  1. Introduce short team building exercises to break down barriers and get people talking.
  2. Celebrate the small stuff. Maybe it’s a work anniversary or your tax manager just got that completed organizer from the one client that never gets it in before deadline.
  3. Allow employees to step away from their desks several times a day to rest their minds. A quick break can do wonders for overall productivity and reduce burnout.
  4. Start a reward system that acknowledges your staff’s contributions and incentivizes their hard work. An extra half-day of paid time off or a gift card to a local coffee shop should do the trick.
  5. Ease up on the formalities. Consider designating one day a week as casual day. Or better yet, close the office and let staff work from home on Tuesdays.
  6. Get people relaxed. Introduce them to micro-meditations and chair yoga or bring in a masseuse to work the tension out of the team’s collective shoulders.
  7. When all else fails, remember the great universal motivator: food. On Friday nights when your tax staff is tired and looking at yet another Saturday morning of return prep, lift their spirits with a meal.

A tough pill to swallow

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things may end up getting worse. The weekly staff meetings are now 60 minutes of arguing, and pizza Friday left your vegan receptionist hungry. At that point, there’s only one thing left to consider: You’re causing the problem.

Sure, the stress and inherent long hours that come with busy season are completely out of your control, but is there something you are doing that could be making things worse? Could you be doing a better job motivating your employees? Do you lead by example? Are you as patient as you could be? Are you the “one stressed-out person” that’s making it difficult to foster a calm environment? Your staff may not realize how stressed you are, too. As a manager, you have to set an example and manage your own anxieties so you don’t add to the malaise.

Give yourself — and your staff — a break. Busy season isn’t a cake walk, and this year may be more stressful than usual. To ease the pressure a little, the AICPA created a busy season hub jam-packed with news, resources and tools that’ll get you through to the other side. Go check it out, then check in with your staff. You’ll all be on the road to wellness in no time.

Allison Carter Fanney, Communications Manager - Tax, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

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