The tax profession has always been resilient and adaptable in nature, and this time of the COVID-19 pandemic is no different. Teams are required to think strategically and nimbly to support one another at the individual, team, and firm-wide levels.
Now more than ever, however, firms maintain a laser focus on saving money. While financial stability is imperative to any firm’s survival, these challenging times have proven particularly difficult for overworked employees. We are seeing the direct effects of excess stress and pressure on employee performance and wellness. In order to achieve both short- and long-term success, corporate leadership should consider staff well-being a priority for the company.
The tax & accounting industry just surfaced from its longest ever busy season; and given the current political and socioeconomic climate, next year will likely be equally as hectic. To make matters worse, employees are attempting to meet these challenges while running on empty. It’s no surprise that depression and stress are on the rise. This mass lack of energy combined with an overwhelming workload creates adverse effects on employee health and productivity, which ultimately impacts employer profitability. If corporate leadership does not make immediate changes to support a culture of wellness amid this turbulent time, companies can expect higher medical costs, increased risk, and reduced productivity in 2021.
So, the question then becomes: Is your firm being penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to its COVID-19 resilience, employee burnout prevention and profitability plan? Are you supporting the employees that are not laid off but now have double the work and half the support? How are we empowering our people to not only survive this pandemic, but to thrive in this unprecedented time?
Now is the time for leaders to set themselves apart. This is the exact best moment to implement a plan that is progressive, personal, relationship-focused, and meaningful. Now is the time to adopt a culture of well-being and a proactive philosophy to professionally grow the tax industry. In doing so, you can inspire a human solution to save your firm.
A culture of wellness starts with belonging
“It begins with leaders creating a culture of belonging, where people feel they actually belong,” says Katya Stepanov, diversity leader and CEO of the Inheritance Project. “This often overlooked value is what make employees enthusiastic, harder-working, and [willing to] cultivate their most creative ideas.”
Leaders might wonder how they can cultivate an environment where everyone feels as though they belong. Below are a few ideas to inspire, support, and empower your staff during these challenging times:
1. Trade expectations for appreciations — While many teams are doing their best, that best might not look the same as it did last year. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, our basic needs of safety, security, and stability are being shaken to the core during this unprecedented time. As leaders, we need to understand that and do our best to mitigate further feelings of being overwhelmed among employees. One way we can cultivate confidence in our teams is through a practice of genuine appreciation. Go out of your way to express your gratitude for your employees and both their small and large contributions to the company.
2. Build and maintain strong relationships— Communication has always been essential to personal and professional success, but it’s time to raise the bar. “Our professional relationships need to be tended to more frequently and with great care,” says Sarah Krom, managing director of accounting firm SKC & Co. CPAs. Remember, different team members experience different at-home scenarios: with children, without children, or spouses who are laid off, Krom adds. “We need to be empathetic and compassionate to the well-being of our team to ensure its success.” As we think broader, this same principle extends beyond our teams to our clients, vendors, and other core relationships in our business.
3. Engage in transparent leadership — This can be the most challenging of all, but it builds long-term trust. Even when it comes to layoffs, employees would rather hear the truth than exist in a state of perpetual fear. Engage in open and collaborative dialogues that focus on the betterment of the individual and the organization as a whole. Cultivating radical teamwork and transparency will create an impactful sense of belonging for all.
Where to go from here
Elizabeth Gillon, CEO of Women in Tax, TaxProvision.Net, and Gillon Tax Advisors, says the importance of a wellness mindset cannot be overstated. “Often in tax, the challenges and pressures of our demanding profession do not allow time for self-assessment and growth,” Gillon says. “That is where the importance of wellness, and wellness programs, become pivotal.”
Creating a culture of well-being and belonging requires much more than exchanging appreciations. When circumstances become complex, we can incorporate simple solutions to garner significant impact. “Actual commitments to real programming will support a change the culture,” notes the Inheritance Project’s Stepanov. “A simple statement of support means nothing unless it comes with action to back it.”
For example, Krom says her firm goes above and beyond to support the well-being of her employees and her business, adding that the proof is in their low employee turnover, profitability, and incredibly loyal clients. “Success in life can only come fully if there is overall base wellness at all levels,” Krom explains. “Stress is the primary challenge we see in our profession and it’s crucial that we take care of ourselves to successfully manage and overcome it in our professional lives. I do believe that we can only thrive as individuals, if wellness is a significant component of our lives.”
Indeed, we’re living in a time where we have an opportunity to reform and reset the rules. The decisions we make and actions we take will literally shape the tax & accounting industry for years to come. This crucial decision requires empowered leaders to take proactive action.
Leaders shouldn’t wait for their peers to be the early adopters. Instead, they should be the change they wish to see in the industry.