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Retain Your Top Talent Post Busy Season (It's not what you think)

Employee Wellness: Part 3

“My People Are Not Important”, Said No CEO Ever...

I’ve never met a CEO or leader of any organization that said their people were NOT important. 

However, is the better question perhaps where are their people on the priority spectrum?

In part-2 of this series on employee wellbeing, we looked at the severe impact that the pandemic unleashed on the workforce resulting in the accelerated adoption of (virtual) mental and other health care services.

The challenge is that despite employers increasing their employee wellness related benefits each year, studies suggest that the workforce seems to be continually more stressed than ever before.

Busy Season Burn-out

In 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized burn-out an "occupational phenomenon".

And in case you’re interested in what exactly is considered “burn-out”. The WHO defined burn-out as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.”

As a CPA, I’ve been through my fair share of busy seasons, I know many audit professionals that will quickly raise their hand as having met the above “burn-out” definition!

In this third part on our series on employee wellbeing, we’ll look at how the Harvard Business Review (HBR) conducted a pilot with a 40 person EY team over a busy season, the 5 key behaviors everyone implemented, and the (very) surprising results of actually getting more done in less time.

Here’s How The Pilot Worked

According to the HBR, most corporate employee well-being programs are well intended, but that there is also a deeply embedded mindset change of “more, bigger, faster is always better” that needs to be challenged for the aforementioned wellness programs to get full support.

During 2018, the same 40 person EY team had survived yet another busy season, but it left them exhausted and demoralized. In other words, the usual way most accountants feel after another hectic busy season!

So in 2019, HBR decided to conduct their experiment over the same January through April busy season with the same team, BUT…

The team had to build more rest and renewal into their lives… together. 

And as a result, see whether they could accomplish more, in less time and feel better at the end of it.

Talk about a tall order!

5 Key Behaviors Everyone Performed for Rest and Renewal

Here are the 5 key behaviors that the entire team needed to perform to build rest and renewal into their daily routine and support each other in doing so.

  1. Do your most important work first. As soon as they opened their laptops and started work for the day they had to do what was most important first. And they do it uninterrupted for 60 - 90 minutes. Then take a renewal break.
  2. Lunch and move. Take at least a 30-minute lunch break and get away from your desk and do some type of movement.
  3. 5-minute break intervals between 90-minute work blocks. If it isn’t possible, at least do one minute of deep breathing to clear your bloodstream of stress hormones.
  4. Transition mentally and emotionally after a working day. Do something after a working day that helps you make that transition from work.
  5. Create a routine to get at least 7 hours of sleep.  

Here’s What Happened

The team was more efficient and productive and got more work done in fewer hours! 

At the end of the busy season, they found that not only did the team feel dramatically better, they also recovered significantly more quickly than the prior busy season.

They attributed the success of the pilot to the entire team’s willingness to embrace this major change in working routine through the busy season and supporting each other along the way.

And Here’s The Talent Retention Kicker 

After the summer months are over, audit talent starts dropping off left and right as they simply cannot stomach the idea of enduring another 15 weeks of exhaustion or burnout. Sadly, a situation HR and talent professionals know all too well... 

However, what they found with this 40 strong EY pilot team, was that their retention rate stood at 97.5%!

If you want to learn more about the lessons they learned and tips for implementing a similar experiment in your organization you can read more about it here.

Another way forward-thinking accounting firms are dealing with talent shortages and alleviating stress on audit teams during a firm’s busy seasons is through our trusted strategic talent partnership program. Our program provides quality public accounting talent with relevant industry experience for your busiest time of year. Schedule a free consultation here to learn more.


Interviews, training, payroll, performance monitoring, wellness… leave all the painful, lengthy and expensive administration to us and enjoy the peace of mind that you’ve “locked-in” the best talent for your upcoming busy season. Schedule a free consultation here.

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