When your department is down a staff accountant, the show must still go on. Key tasks, such as handling accounts payable, accounts receivable, journal entries, and general month-end accounting duties, often end up delegated to remaining staff. Everyone needs to pitch in to fill the gap, and sometimes this can be overwhelming, leading to frustration and even burnout. You'll need to flex your leadership skills to guide your team through the transition.
Here are five suggestions for helping everyone rally:
1. Get people re-oriented
If your firm has reduced staff, remaining employees may feel confused about their roles. Help them feel more grounded by first reviewing job descriptions, responsibilities and team interactions and then asking what team members feel are the best elements and biggest challenges of their jobs. If you can, reassure employees that their jobs are not on the line, and, in fact, their efforts are more important than ever.
2. Review the realigned responsibilities
One fewer team member means more work for those remaining. It's not difficult to reassign tasks, but it does require some careful planning to make sure the transition is smooth.
Evaluate the skills and current workloads of remaining employees to determine who can best perform the tasks left by the former staff accountant. Distribute tasks across several different employees so the brunt of the load doesn't fall on one person. Essential functions such as report reconciliation and supervision or review of automated accounting activities can be reassigned to nearly any accounting professional with at least a few years of experience. Managers may need to assume higher-level or more sensitive job functions, at least temporarily.
However, this may also be an opportunity to groom some employees for promotion, so expanding their responsibilities can boost their career development. Ask for feedback from employees so you can monitor progress.
3. Promote better time management
Impress upon your staff the importance of staying organized and continually prioritizing activities. Effective time management can boost productivity significantly.
- Encourage the use of free time-management apps. Two popular ones are Remember the Milk for individuals and Cube Anywhere for teams.
- Have employees lower the volume of ringing phones, turn off radios and limit other noise interruptions so everyone can focus.
- Ask employees to schedule meetings in continuous time blocks rather than intermittently throughout the day and to set aside long periods of time for work so meetings don't take over the day.
4. Deploy teams effectively
Dedicated teams are more effective than intermittent ones. When staff accountants focus on projects from inception to completion, productivity is high. But when employees must shift attention between bits and pieces of multiple projects, their attention is scattered and the work suffers.
As everyone pulls together to complete projects, remember to recognize the hard work and success of your team. A little appreciation goes a long way.
5. Work with project professionals
If you decide to take advantage of temporary accounting professionals, you wouldn't be alone in that choice. Seventy-two percent of CFOs interviewed in an Accountemps survey said accounting temps help their organizations access specialized skills on an as-needed basis.
It may be time to hire a temporary professional if:
- The workload is too heavy, or there are too few employees to absorb extra work.
- Your team is already working at 100 percent capacity, seems tired and burned out or routinely works overtime.
- Errors are being made because employees attempt to churn out work too quickly in order to finish it all.
Hiring accounting professionals on a temporary basis allows you to staff up more quickly. You also save money by turning a fixed staff accountant cost into a variable one, because you need to hire talent only for as long as you need help.
Bringing in temporary accounting help does require some upfront work on your side, as you want to be well-prepared so things run smoothly on all fronts. Make certain the role and projects that individual will work on are clearly defined in advance, and, if training is involved, prep your staff ahead of time.
When your accounting staff is missing a critical member, the entire team can suffer. Low morale and overwork are common results, unless you take steps to bridge the gap until you hire a new staffer. As a manager, it's up to you to help ease the burden on existing staff by taking steps to prevent burnout, exhaustion and stress.