Frustrated tax professional
Frustrated tax professional

4 Win-Wins to Increase Efficiency and Decrease Stress in Your Tax Practice

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Tax season is around the corner. Together with the tide of tax returns, stress will take up shop in the corner office, so how can you make your office run more efficiently and manage stress? Here are some ideas to make tax season a little better. By the way, these ideas not only apply to tax preparers; they apply to all businesses, so keep them in mind when your clients complain about workplace inefficiencies and stress.

There exists an interesting nexus between stress and workplace efficiency, which manifests itself in the coping mechanism employed by those stressed. According to Paula Thomson and S. Victoria Jacque in “Creativity and the Performing Artist: Behind the Mask,” coping can be viewed as either task-oriented or emotion-oriented. Task-oriented coping deals with stress by focusing on the stress causing the problem, which can lead to increased efficiencies and work performance. The second type of coping mechanism is emotion-oriented. This type of coping focuses on the emotional experience, and tends to lower performance and efficiency.

Another view of coping by John E. Carr and Olle Jane Z Sahler is to characterize it as either active or passive. Active coping often involves confronting or trying to escape the source of the stress, while passive coping manifests itself as dormancy or inactivity. People are prone to active or task-oriented coping strategies when they perceive they have some control over the stressors. When they feel the stressors are beyond their control, they tend toward passive or emotional coping strategies.

If stressors are to be mitigated and used to increase job performance and efficiency, then understanding how employees perceive their stressors and the coping strategies they use is key. Like so many management opportunities, the menu of available options is largely dictated by the character of the workplace environment. If the environment is caustic, other than a systemic environmental change, nothing else will reduce the stress. In such an environment, employees often engage emotional or passive coping strategies, aware that the source of their stress is beyond their ability to control or improve.

Assuming the workplace environment is generally positive and supportive, work stress caused by excessive workloads, staffing shortages, pressing deadlines and a general frantic atmosphere, can be addressed in a way that reduces stress and increases work efficiencies by activating task-oriented and active coping strategies. Here are four ideas.

  1. Encourage employees to get up and move. Most repetitive work causes real physical discomfort. Hunching over a computer causes back and shoulder pain and strains the eyes. Employees should be encouraged to periodically get up, walk around the office, grab a cup of water, step outside and gaze at distant objects. Movement helps relieve body pain, water fights dehydration and refocusing eyes on distant objects alleviates eye strain. Many years ago, I owned a business that had a room of processors. Once or twice a day I would pump music into the room and instigate a dance break. The employees loved it, and it got them moving. Be inventive!
  2. Take lunch as a team. If possible, close the office during lunch and encourage employees to eat together. If the office is large, have functional operating groups take lunch with their supervisors. Use the time to debrief work. It can be beneficial for employees to discuss problems they are having with the group to encourage collaborative problem resolution and reaffirm that the company cares about employee problems. To get the most from team lunches, pay your employees for lunch. This sends a clear message that team lunches are important. However, a caveat: do not make the lunches feel like work. The lunch break is a time to de-stress. Discussions should be organic as they drift from serious work issues to entertaining anecdotes. I would often have lunch delivered during periods of high stress.
  3. Manage by walking around. This is a tried-and-true method of management. It is as simple as walking from employee to employee, listening to their concerns, gauging their work load, assessing their efficiency and effectiveness, and gathering suggestions and comments. These informal meetings allow the employee to take a short break from their work, while affording the manager an opportunity to gather qualitative information. Managers who employ management by walking around are often better informed on where the rubber meets the road than those who try to manage from their office.
  4. Limit caffeine. Have plenty of non-caffeinated available. If the only option is free coffee, employees are likely to become over-caffeinated, making it more difficult to manage stress. Consider a nice selection of herbal teas or flavored waters.

By employing strategies to compensate for inherent work stress, businesses can realize a bonus of increased efficiency. If the workplace is like a galley rowing to the constant beat of the boss’s drum, employees will burn out like candles on a cake. Remember that it is less expensive and more efficient to keep a good employee than hire a new one. Treat your employees as your most valuable and profitable resource – because that is what they are.

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