Staffing Up for Tax Season
Run an Efficient Practice While Ensuring Success

By Cyndi McDermott

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FEBRUARY 2007 - Corporate tax filings are an annual endeavor for companies across the country. The value of finance and accounting staff with tax experience is particularly high during this time of the year, when long hours, increased stress, and tight deadlines are commonplace. Given the time demands and growing list of priorities for finance and accounting staff, effective management of human capital is crucial to ensuring a successful tax season.

Plan Ahead

Corporate tax-return preparation and submission follows a similar cyclical workflow each year. As a result, preparers can prepare for the process far in advance. Doing so can lead to a more proactively managed approach when tackling the demands and challenges of the tax season’s heavy workload.

An important part of planning ahead is ensuring that staff is continuously educated on process changes in a timely fashion. This lead time is important in providing staff at all levels with the right information, while allowing ample time so they may overcome any learning curve associated with process adjustments. Maintaining this open dialogue with employees will ensure a well-organized and efficient tax season.

Additional planning tips include the following:

  • Address questions and concerns as soon as they arise, easing concerns and allowing for more time to focus on delivering solutions as deadlines quickly approach.
  • Use prior years’ experience as a tool for planning the upcoming year’s strategy
  • .
  • Learn from what was and was not effective in the past, and think about new challenges that will need to be overcome.
  • Ask yourself and your colleagues: Will this year be more complicated? Will additional resources or time be necessary?

People Agenda

Corporate tax work is often very detailed and complex, making staff with direct experience even more essential. Although it is only a portion of an employee’s job description, it is important for accounting and finance hiring managers to consistently look for individuals with tax experience when interviewing and selecting staff. This will ensure that the organization is consistently staffed with the appropriate manpower as tax season approaches each year.

Furthermore, managers should actively identify additional internal accounting and finance staff who can pitch in on other activities to relieve the burden during the busiest portions of tax season. In doing so, be careful to ensure there are sufficient resources focused on day-to-day objectives so that nothing falls through the cracks. Set clear expectations among staff in planning their workloads or any additional hours needed to complete all required tax and regular work assignments. Using the expertise of experienced employees is also a great way to prepare newer staff before tax season.

Additional tactics for managing staff include the following:

  • Train high-performing employees to facilitate tax training courses or to act as mentors for new hires who must get up to speed quickly. Leveraging the experience of seasoned professionals is imperative, and employers should reward high performers appropriately to keep them on board.
  • Allowing flexible work arrangements is one way to increase employee satisfaction, thereby improving retention. Although companies often require weekend work during tax season, consider letting staff spread their hours as they see fit in order to achieve a better work–life balance.
  • If possible, provide home or other off-site access to e-mail and network files to increase staff productivity while simultaneously providing further flexibility.

Temporary Staff

Prior to tax season, corporate tax managers must assess whether they have the skills and capacity in-house to manage the process effectively. Oftentimes managers view temporary staff as a solution for low-level administrative tasks, but well-trained and experienced temporary resources are also available, and they offer employers highly specialized skills.

Tax season presents a short-term need for increased support, and temporary staff can be a great resource to help manage this crunch time successfully. Furthermore, temporary employees often do not receive the same benefits and compensation as full-timers, thereby presenting a cost-effective approach to solving the short-term need for additional resources. Retired corporate tax professionals and top accounting students are great examples of temporary staff who can increase a company’s diversity while adding valuable intellectual capital and experience to the business.

Hiring temporary staff also provides a test period whereby an employer can evaluate the performance of a worker before deciding whether to hire the temporary staff member full time. If all goes well during tax season, employers can make a well-informed hiring decision when open positions become available. This provides more valuable performance information than can be obtained during a half-hour job interview or brief phone conversation with professional references.

Evolving Regulatory Environment

Employing well-informed and -prepared tax professionals is especially helpful in ensuring that a firm has a staff that is knowledgeable and up to speed on the constantly changing tax code. Chief among recent regulatory changes are the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)—particularly section 404, regarding internal controls—and the IRS’s new electronic-filing requirements for corporate tax returns.

Both issues have forced tax staff to overhaul their processes to ensure compliance with these new regulations. This can be an arduous task for tax managers, often resulting in increased time, staff, and money spent making the appropriate adjustments to remain compliant. These challenges become particularly apparent during tax season, making it necessary for companies to stay above the fray by being well informed about changes and prepared to overcome these hurdles as early as possible.

Outsourcing

With the impact of SOX and other financial accountability requirements, accounting staff is often needed to manage day-to-day processes aimed at maintaining internal controls or producing detailed reporting. This leaves staff little time to assist during tax season. When this happens, employers can look outside the company for solutions. As such, outsourcing can be a viable option to consider as part of a plan for executing a successful tax season.

Outsourcing tax-return preparation lets staff focus on providing the more valuable services necessary to meet regulatory and other business obligations. It is important, however, to appropriately assess internal capabilities before looking outside the organization. If process efficiencies, including the use of new software or other technologies, can be initiated to manage tax season internally, it might be preferable to try these solutions before turning to outsourcing.


Cyndi McDermott is a senior vice president with Ajilon Professional Staffing (www.ajilon.com), a unit of the staffing firm Adecco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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