How to Keep Your Team Engaged During Busy Season 

About the Author: Katie Thomas, CPA, is a content creator, 2021 & 2022 40 under 40 CPA Practice Advisor recipient, Top 50 Women in Accounting recipient, and the owner of Leaders Online, where they help accounting professionals increase their impact, influence, and income through thought leadership and digital marketing. Feel free to visit Leaders Online or connect with her on LinkedIn to get in touch with Katie.

Busy season leads to long days that turn into long nights that turn into long weeks – of work that never seems to end. There’s a good chance you’re familiar with the stress and burnout busy season puts not just on you but also on your team. Everyone is buckling down on a shared goal, but it’s up to you to keep your team engaged.

An engaged team will help you push through this chaotic season with success.

Here are some of the tips that helped me and the teams I worked with get through these periods without pulling our hair out:

9 Tips for Keeping Your Team Engaged During Busy Season

1. Set Team Expectations

If you want the busy season to be as smooth and stress-free as possible, ensure everyone is on the same page from the get-go. Set team expectations so there are no questions about who is responsible for what and when. 

When it comes to setting expectations, consider:

  • Are some team members learning or doing something for the first time? Do they need extra training or time built into the schedule?
  • Once expectations are set, don’t micromanage. Being a good manager doesn’t require micromanaging.

As part of setting expectations, I also recommend being clear on what’s expected in terms of working hours, location, and what is considered a success. For example, do you expect staff to stay in the office until 6 PM each night, and then they can go home and finish work at home or do they need to complete all of their work before heading out for the evening? Setting these expectations will keep everyone on the same page. 

2.  Keep Communication Clear

When it comes to the importance of clear communication, there’s a lot we could discuss. Clear communication is important for many reasons beyond helping eliminate the risk of miscommunication during a time of the year when errors can be extremely costly and stressful.

Leaders need to be engaged with their teams. In fact, one study found that 51% of managers are disengaged. If managers aren’t engaged, getting a team to be “all in” when it matters most will be an uphill battle. Clear communication can help engage teams and shows that team leaders care.

In addition to communicating expectations, as discussed in the last section, ensure you’re also providing team members with regular feedback and recognition. Sometimes, just a simple email from my manager telling me I was doing great made the biggest difference. 

Finally, don’t forget the importance of listening when it comes to communication. Communication must go both ways. Whether a team member is raising a concern or sharing an idea to improve a process, be sure you listen closely and consider what they have to say. 

3. Ask and Don’t Tell

How we say something can make the biggest difference. Teams want to feel a sense of camaraderie, where everyone is working towards a goal together. Telling your team to do things, rather than asking, will likely demotivate your group and disengage them.

Instead of saying, “call Katie now and ask her for these files,” it’s much better to say, “can you give Katie a call later today when you’re free to ask her for the files we need?”

A simple change in your approach will make managers and those above more likable among their teams and staff.

4. Reward the Team When the Season Ends

Busy season is stressful, even for dedicated workers who say that they’re “fine” or that the season wasn’t too bad. If you want to keep your team happy, consider doing the following when the season is over:

  • Reward your team with paid time off
  • Give team members a bonus for hard work
  • Provide the option of working remotely for a few days, if that’s not currently an option

If you communicate any of these “rewards” with your team before the end of the busy season, it will provide a ”light at the end of the tunnel” moment for them. Your team will have something to look forward to and know that their hard work is well-appreciated.

Teams respond very well to the acknowledgment of their hard work and effort. If you fail to reward teams when the season ends, it can cause some members to feel like their hard work and effort were overlooked.

You can also provide one-off rewards during the busy season. I had a manager who would give out gift cards during the busy season when he felt as if we went above and beyond. Gifts aren’t necessary, but knowing my hard work went unnoticed made a difference.

5. Provide the Right Tools

Many companies are moving to cloud-based systems and automation to help their teams. FloQast is a tool that can save 26% of the time spent on closing books, and there are many tools that will help alleviate your team’s workload during the busy season.

Be sure your team is aware of the tools available and knows how to use them. 

I remember during my public accounting days, there were times when we’d get new software right before the busy season, but they’d fail to train us on how to use it. So, we’d default back to old processes and not use the tools available. Do you think I wasted time by defaulting back to old processes and tools? Likely so, but I wasn’t trained and didn’t know any better. 

Bottom line, make sure your team is provided the tools necessary to do their job and also the proper training on how to use them.

6. Minimize the Risk of Rampant Stress

Stress is a part of the busy season, but you want to stop it from running rampant. A few of the times when I pushed the busy season with minimal stress were moments when:

  • Leaders led by example, so I knew that the manager was working just as hard as the rest of us
  • Focus was on productivity and excellence rather than the total hours worked
  • Downtime was encouraged to give employees a break

You can also allow for work flexibility to enable anyone who is stressed to have time to breathe. In fact, this is such an important point that it’s the next tip.

7. “Where of Work” Flexibility

At this point, many accounting departments are becoming more comfortable with remote working arrangements. Some have returned to the office fully, while others offer hybrid options.

If you don’t already, consider allowing some flexibility in where your team works. The busy season calls for long hours, but those hours may not necessarily need to be spent in the office. 

If your team is following the best practices for remote working, then allowing a hybrid or even fully remote arrangement may make the season less stressful for everyone.

I really enjoyed my managers who would allow me to leave during busy season at 6 PM, go home, eat dinner with my family, and then log back on from home. While I would have rather spent that evening doing something else other than work, at least I was able to work from the comfort of my own home. 

8. Create Work/Life Boundaries

With smartphones and remote working platforms, the line between work and life can easily become blurred.

Ensure your team understands the importance of setting boundaries to improve their work/life balance. If you have team members working remotely, encourage them to create designated work areas at home, and to “shut the door” on the work day when they’ve finished their tasks.

Even if your team is in the office, make sure that everyone is respecting their home time. We all need time to rest, recharge and focus on other things. 

Burnout will be around the corner if work/life boundaries aren’t set.

9. Remember to Have Fun

Busy season can take a toll on everyone. During this hectic time, encourage everyone to have a little fun. It will help keep morale up and give the team a little time to breathe. 

How can you add fun to the office?

  • Have food-themed days. Everyone will be busy, so instead of asking your team to bring in a dish, order catering. If you’re working remotely, you can have food delivered to employees. 
  • Host in-office dinners for your team and their immediate families. These special events will help maximize family time during the busy season.
  • Create a challenge you all participate in. Maybe it’s a wellness challenge or a trivia  challenge. Whatever it is, it’s important to have something to focus on other than just the busy season.
  • Invite everyone to happy hour for a chance to unwind and socialize. 

A quick note on outside events. They can be a great way to add fun to the busy season, but I encourage you to not make them mandatory. Some team members may just want to head home and rest, or they may have other obligations that they need to attend to, like catching up with their laundry that’s been piling up during the busy season. 

I always appreciated managers who didn’t make outside events mandatory. Those who will be energized by the event, they’ll be there. For those who want to go home, let them.

Final Thoughts

It can be challenging to keep your team engaged during the busy season, but it’s worth the effort to make the season as stress-free as possible. Make sure that your team has the tools they need to succeed, that communication is clear, that team members are rewarded for their efforts, and work/life boundaries are respected. And if you have the time, try to incorporate a little fun to keep morale high during this stressful time.