Personal and pivotal perspectives on timely topics, written by our professionals.
By Melissa Castro, CPA
If there’s one thing every public accountant dreads, it’s “busy season”. The long hours at the office can take their toll, but there are plenty of ways to incorporate bright spots into the day and boost morale. Having gone through four years of busy seasons myself, I put together a bunch of ideas (some better than others) that might brighten your busy season, some of which we’ve tried at our firm, and some of which we haven’t…yet.
Before I dive into the list, I wanted to share something my fellow co-worker observed the other day at work: “I was having a pretty bad day, but then I saw they had mint chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer. Now I’m having the best day.”
On that note, I have to start with the obvious, FOOD. Whether it’s a sundae bar, a smoothie station, or a themed snack based on the National Days Calendar (I just learned that National Cream Cheese Brownie Day exists and that it falls during busy season… just putting that out there), food-based surprises, I’ve found, are always a crowd-pleaser. Even something small, like adding new coffee and tea varieties to the pantry, can break up the monotony. It’s also nice to have healthy options available throughout the day, too, like nuts, fruit, even hummus. Oranges are the fastest to go in our office, and it’s also the easiest fruit to offer your cube-mates a slice of!
Speaking of healthy options (but only briefly, as this is not my area of expertise), incorporating small doses of fitness into each day can also help boost your spirit and wake you up. If possible, you could designate one conference room as an “exercise room” – you could have small weights, a mini trampoline, or a punching bag. Every firm should have a punching bag.
Now back to something I know more about: silly contests. The best kind of silly contest is fun to participate in regardless of whether you win (and also fun to stumble upon, years later, in your e-mail archives). For example, you could hold a contest to come up with the “best” accounting-themed band name (dibs on Materiallica, Mega-debit, and Sum 1041). A personal favorite of mine is the “guess the baby” contest — there’s always one baby photo that stumps everyone in the firm. You could also have a firm-wide “scavenger hunt” of employee fun facts – that’s how I learned that one of our tax managers used to DJ at a college radio station playing metal and hardcore music and that a member of the HR team appeared on an episode of Deal or No Deal. I recently had to come up with a fun fact about myself for a team-building event and consulted my husband for a suggestion. He replied a bit too quickly, “just write that you've had the first five notes of ‘Deck the Halls’ stuck in your head for the last 8 years,” and now my co-workers are no longer confused when I hum “Fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la” in the spring.
E-mail is also a great tool for spreading cheer. You can send your co-workers daily funny/off-beat news articles, “kid logic” anecdotes from the internet, or cute animal pictures. I recommend picking a different animal theme for each e-mail, such as “animals who are looking forward to their post-busy season haircut” or “animals who got caught committing fraud” (see below).
Don’t just limit yourself to text and pictures – you can also share music with your co-workers. If something good comes on Pandora, shoot them an IM that says, “lol, OMG remember [insert one hit wonder here]??” If no one in your general area objects, you could choose a time, say, after dinner, when each person takes a turn playing a song at regular volume. If the songs are all from the same genre or decade, even better. If you’d prefer to keep music confined to your earbuds, one idea is to make a playlist of movie songs from your youth in the hopes that the nostalgia will create a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. There is sometimes the challenge of wanting to listen to music but not wanting to be distracted by lyrics — try instrumental soundtracks or even songs in a foreign language – not being able to understand the words is almost as good as no words at all.
Then again, if you prefer words, and miss the days when you had time to read something other than a set of financial statements, you can listen to podcasts, especially those with an element of humor (a.k.a. those that have nothing to do with accounting). Personal favorites of mine include: “Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine,” in which a hapless husband and a doctor-wife explore treatments for different ailments throughout history; Freakonomics Radio, which invites the listener to “explore the riddles of everyday life and the weird wrinkles of human nature”; and Radiolab, noted for “weaving stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries.” Reading a book or watching TV can be a challenge to squeeze in during busy season, but a podcast manages to fill the void while also allowing you to work – or commute.
I also find that hearing or reading about other jobs I would not rather be doing is great for putting my own work into perspective. Just reading the titles of the episodes listed on the Wikipedia page for Dirty Jobs will send you running back to your disclosure checklist (although for every cloth diaper cleaner there’s also a fireworks maker and a maple syrup extractor… although those jobs likely have a busy season too). You could also read blogs detailing the horrors of waiting tables, teaching middle schoolers, or working in the fitting room of a large retailer.
It’s also nice to break up the day with a phone call to someone you care about. Call a grandparent, great aunt or uncle or a little niece or nephew; they won’t be expecting to hear from you, and the recounting of their day will be completely different from yours.
Rewarding staff for their hard work or your co-workers for favors is another great way to boost morale, and can be as easy as a trip to the dollar store to pick up some small, silly trinkets. You can dole out scratch-‘n-sniff stickers, dinosaur-shaped erasers, or anything glow-in-the-dark (with the hope that the recipient never works late enough to see the item glow). Even the simple act of saying “thank you!” goes a long way. I recommend a thank you paired with a donut-scented sticker.
Speaking of things that cost a dollar, you can reward yourself $1 each time you complete a dreaded task or reach the end of each day in order to save up money for a post-busy season splurge. You could also do the same thing to raise money for your favorite charity – even better, you could eat a cookie each time you set aside a dollar for charity; it’d be like having your own personal bake sale each day.
Of course, you don’t necessarily need to spend money to have fun during busy season. There are plenty of ways to have fun for free. For example, after regular work hours, if you see your co-worker in the hallway, say, on your way to or from the bathroom, challenge them to a dance-off. If they’ve read this blog post they won’t be confused by your challenge. Or, you can have your significant other bring your baby into the office – this typically only delights the ladies, but you can’t please everyone. If you don’t have a baby, encourage someone else who has one to bring theirs in. Again, you may need to show them this article so they’re not alarmed by your sudden interest in their infant.
Another way to have fun during busy season is with language. Consider alternatives to the typical swear words uttered in frustrating during peak hours, perhaps from an earlier time in our nation’s history. You may want to try out, for example, “Zooterkins!”, “Zounds!”, or “Potzblitz!”, which pretty much all mean the same thing. A friend and I used to utter “Bob Saget!” in moments of frustration, so don’t feel like you need to be limited to words with Z’s in them.
But, I think everyone’s favorite treat during busy season is the 15-minute massage. Which got some of my female co-workers thinking, why stop at on-the-job massages? Why not have on-site manicures for neglected fingernails? I’ve tried thinking of an equivalent for the men in our office, and the only thing I could think of was… a second 15-minute massage.
Lastly, I stumbled upon a couple ideas from the internet, which we haven’t done in our firm yet, but I feel like 2017 could be a great year to try new things. One firm started “Busy Season Secret Buddies,” like a Secret Santa gift exchange. Each participant picked a name and did something small and fun for their buddy once a week. Another firm auctioned off its partners and then had the partners wash cars while the employees ate hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream. All proceeds were donated to a local charity. I can’t decide which idea I like more (and hopefully I won’t have to decide!).