Achieving Work-Life Balance in a Small Firm
In the accounting profession, the balance between client work, family and personal time can seem elusive. Indeed, who hasn’t wondered whether it was possible to have a life in the midst of a punishing tax season? With this in mind, Julie and Martin Lepper, principals of Lepper and Company LLC, shared tips for improving work-life balance in an Audit Talks podcast. When the couple founded their own tax, accounting and payroll services firm, work-life balance was among their guiding values.
Establish a mission and values that support work-life balance
To start with, the Leppers explained what influenced their values for the firm. Both felt their life and career experiences played a major role in shaping their views. Additionally, training and education played an important part. The couple brought a variety of experiences to the table. Following a B.A. in Accountancy, Julie earned an MBA and Enrolled Agent license, while gaining 25 years of accounting and technology experience. Meanwhile, Martin received a B.S. in Criminal Justice and an M.S. in Management, Strategy, and Leadership. He spent 27 years across a variety of industries in operations, product development, and technology management roles.
“There were several factors that shaped our mission and values, and a lot of it was related to the idea of having a strong work-life balance, a place where our employees can come and still have everything that they want in their life,” Julie said. She worked in both public and corporate accounting before starting the firm. Moreover, she and Martin have experienced working in the professional while starting a family and caring for ageing parents. “So, we have been through lots of different life phases, and every one of those life phases impacted how we wanted to run our firm. We want to have an environment where our employees can thrive.”
A four-day workweek after tax season
When Martin and Julie worked at Johnson & Johnson, the company offered a flexible four-day-per-week work schedule in the summers. He and Julie instituted the same program at their firm. Without a doubt, it helps employees lower stress levels and achieve a better work-life balance. Employees could take three-day weekends when kids were out of school without burning PTO or vacation days. Above all, it lets everyone relax and recharge after a hectic tax season.
Take care of employees holistically
The Leppers strive to establish mutual gratitude and respect with coworkers and employees. Martin believes personal experiences and mentoring “positioned us to take a holistic view of the people in our company and think very critically about how we treat people both inside and out of our firm.” Further, they seek to “create a supportive environment where people can perform at their best, regardless of what they’re going through outside in their personal lives. We feel that that helps us build a really strong company.”
As a result of participating in an athletic program at Johnson & Johnson, the Leppers value the science of performance. There, they learned how psychology, exercise, physiology, and nutrition integrate to sustain human energy, performance and resiliency. Hence, they encourage employees to focus on their health and support them in athletic pursuits.
One of the Leppers’ mentors is Rich Sheridan from Menlo Innovations, who writes about the concept of joy. Specifically, Menlo focuses on happiness at work because adults spend so many years there. Another mentor is Dave Ramsey, the financial educator; Julie is an Endorsed Local Provider. Trust is a cornerstone concept in the Ramsey organization. Consequently, the Leppers worked to establish high trust and a culture of joy at the firm.
Increase efficiency through technology
Running a small firm requires good technology. Without it, employees spend too much time on manual data entry and routine administrative tasks. Most professionals feel frustrated and bored if forced to perform those tasks too much.
Similarly, in a small firm, it is easy for the principals to become mired in IT and technology administration. Specifically, software updates and server administration takes a lot of time, if a firm utilizes on-premise solutions.
To institute efficient workflows, the Leppers rely on the CCH Axcess suite of tax solutions. The integrated, cloud-based solutions share a common database, so professionals don’t spend time rekeying data between systems. Further, the entire tax workflow is digital and supports anytime anywhere secure access.
Cloud solutions impart flexibility and resilience
Because their team can work remotely, they didn’t miss a beat when the COVID-19 pandemic struck this year. “For us, it was really, really easy. All of our software’s in the cloud. We’re using Office 365. Our phone system is even through the internet,” Julie explained. “Everyone was up and running within a very, very short period of time. We fully use the CCH Axcess suite, so all of our clients are in the database. We have all the phone numbers. We have all our notes from all our phone calls, from all our meetings.”
Offering a work environment with best-in-class technology not only keeps existing employees satisfied, but it also aids in recruiting. “And it’s been really nice to hear when we hire new people how happy they are, because they can just get to work. They’re not playing around with trying to do things through Excel and all different types of workarounds, because we have good software and it’s readily available when they need it where they are,” said Julie.
Build a better work-life balance for your team
Throughout the podcast, the Leppers outlined specific tactics for improving work-life balance within firms. Additionally, they shared their philosophy for approaching leadership, organizational psychology, motivation, and engagement. For more of their ideas, you’ll want to listen to the complete podcast.