The accountant's guide to surviving December and January
In principle, with the odd exception where partnership income might be involved and accounts are awaited, it should be possible for accountants running tax practices to spend the whole of December and January sunning themselves in the Caribbean or skiing in Switzerland.
All that it takes is super-efficiency on the parts of clients, staff and yourselves so that all tax return information is delivered early and processed immediately.
The cost savings would be phenomenal, since paying overtime or taking on temporary staff is a very expensive luxury. Indeed, those savings could literally be ploughed into that holiday of a lifetime.
Fantasy over. In reality, rather than the sun of the Caribbean, you are likely to endure the heat of hell, barely sleeping for two months, sneaking out of the office late on Christmas Eve with a feeling of guilt secure in the knowledge that you will need to work at home right through the holiday period, while everybody else is getting suitably merry at your expense.
With this knowledge, it is vital to do everything possible to make these two months bearable. In part, this comes down to taking all of the actions suggested elsewhere in this series. It is unlikely that these will lead to a perfect outcome but they may mean that you can get home and see the children every now and then and only work 12 hour days for five days a week.
The key here is to get systems in place which will ensure that the tax return process runs smoothly while also bearing in mind other work that should not be neglected.
It is amazing how often firms just about deal with this horrendous bulk of work but then discover that something else has been missed because staff and more significantly partners have taken their eye off every other ball while they were firefighting.
This is also the time to assess the work that needs to be done and the time available to do it. You should begin to prioritise the work and get your staff to do so as early as possible, making sure that the most important clients get perfect service, even if that means sacrificing the kind of performance levels that you would normally expect to give to some of your other clients.
Sometimes it may be better to accept defeat and inform a few clients that they will not have their returns completed by the statutory deadline. If it is their fault, don’t be afraid to tell them so. If it is yours, then underwrite any penalties that they may suffer and accept that this is the cost of maintaining a good, long-term relationship.
Try to keep staff happy and as calm as possible, reminding them that the worst is almost over and keep an eye out for anybody who looks really stressed. They are likely to be the ones who will succumb to illness or make the kind of mistakes that we all dread.
Simple little things like providing a plentiful supply of fruit, perhaps chocolate and biscuits in extremis and kind words can all make a big difference at this time.
It is also worth remembering that sometimes overworking can be counter-productive. People indisputably become less efficient when they are killing themselves trying to get things done.
It may well be sensible to send people home early from time to time in order to allow them to recover physically and mentally from the traumas of working flat out. The following day there will almost certainly get the backlog cleared and do more than otherwise have been the case.
Go one step further and try doing the same yourself. This will provide a much-needed reminder of what the family look like or how relaxing a bad movie can be when your brain is overflowing.