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As most of you are probably aware, keeping a team member smiling can honestly feel like a full-time job.

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From juggling the office drama, to trying to implement more flexibility options, it’s hard to define what it will take to motivate your accounting staff, especially during the critical times of the year (i.e. busy/tax season).

Then, on top of it all, I bet you have tried to implement incentive bonuses, additional PTO and maybe even sprinkle in a Happy Hour or two, just to keep employees from disappearing behind their computers.

But your employees are still not happy and what’s worse? Motivation is beginning to steadily decline.

Although this might run through your head, my guess is that it’s not the time to hang up your hat and sell your practice. Or give up on hiring the “so-called” selfish and entitled millennials altogether.

Instead, think outside of the cubicle and try implementing a fresh new set of motivation tactics. To get you started, here are 4 surprising (and creative) ways to motivate your accounting staff.

Let’s dive in.

Tactic #1: Encourage & Emphasize “Small Wins”

“Harvard’s Teresa Amabile’s research found that nothing is more motivating than progress in meaningful work and nothing more taxing than setbacks.”

We’ve all been there. Put our blood, sweat, and tears into a project only to get it rejected by someone who thought it was a “silly” idea. At times, this can feel soul-crushing and make you want to just call it quits. Or, on the other hand, feel like you are drowning in your work, and never getting ahead with the constant emails, phone calls and management trying to understand why the budget is over its hours.

We all need small wins to help us get through the day. Tiny congrats for knocking out a small project, or checking off a never-ending to-do list can provide the foundation to ignite joy back into the workplace.

The key is to obtain a steady amount of challenge, achievement and feedback.

Here is an additional insight into Teresa’s findings:

“This pattern is what we call the progress principle: of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work; of all the negative events, the single most powerful is the opposite of progress—setbacks in the work.’

‘We consider this to be a fundamental management principle: facilitating progress is the most effective way for managers to influence inner work life. Even when progress happens in small steps, a person’s sense of steady forward movement toward an important goal can make all the difference between a great day and a terrible one.”

Teresa's  insight of invoking small wins to produce innovation and creativity transitions us nicely into our next unique tactic to motivate your accounting staff (see tactic #2 below).

Tactic #2: Implement 1 Day of Employee Creativity

This idea has been thrown around the workplace, quite a few times and some outlets even have begun to call it: “The Google Way Of Motivating Employees”. By encouraging creativity in the workplace, thinking outside the box become a norm and your business will begin to flourish.

Dan Pink, a New York Times Bestselling Author of Drive, details out that the key to motivating employees is a healthy balance of autonomy, mastery, & purpose. Here is a quick video from Dan that showcases the science behind motivation in the workplace:


As you might have noticed in the video, Dan explained how an Australian software company Atlassian gave their developers one full day every quarter to do whatever they wanted. The only requirement was that the developers show their results at the end of those 24 hours.

Without the pressure of supervisor oversight or other project demands, Atlassian’s developers came up with a range of valuable new products and assets to benefit the company, like bug fixes for their software. And all they were given was 24 hours of autonomy.

So how can accounting firms implement a way for their employees to spark innovation and creativity at work?

Allow your employees to have 1 full day every quarter, during work hours, to do whatever they wanted.

Yes, just 1 day, out of the 90 days, to allow your employees the autonomy to choose what they want and how they want to spend their time during that day. Then, at the end of the day, request a meeting where your employees showcased what they worked on or did during those work hours.

“Management is great if you want compliance, but if you want engagement… self-direction is better.” - Dan Pink

Employee Creativity Day [EMAIL TEMPLATE]

I have created an Employee Creativity Day – Email Template which details out what the day will look like, questions the employees might have as well as the rules involved with implementing this tactic. Click here to gain access to the email template.

Tactic #3: Host Bring Your Pets To Work Day

Allowing pets at the office can be beneficial to your company's bottom line. Benefits of pets in the workplace include increased morale and productivity, happier employees, lower absenteeism rates and even improved relationships among co-workers.

And the best part of this tactic? It is actually backed by science. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness. They can also increase the opportunities for socialization (inside & outside of the workplace).

In a 2012 study hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University, employees who were around dogs in the workplace reported feeling less stressed than employees who have dogs but left them at home.

“The study proved what we always thought: Having dogs around leads to a more productive work environment, and people get to know each other through the pets,” says Lisa Conklin, Replacements public relations manager. “If you are in a position where something is stressful, seeing that wagging tail and puppy smile brightens the day--it can turn around the whole environment.”

Pets at the workplace

Of course, the outcome of this study makes sense when you begin to think about the joy of walking around the corner and spotting a tiny Pomeranian prancing down the hallway. Pets inherently make most people happy and bring a sense of companionship to the office. With the reduction and stress and the increase in smiles, it is almost guaranteed that your office’s motivation levels will see a facelift, instantly.

Tactic #4: Invoke Emotion Into The Workplace

We all have emotions, that are unfortunately, suppressed most hours of the workday. The accounting workplace, in particular, is set up for formal conversations with a tiny bit of water cooler banter.

But what if you allowed your employees to showcase curiosity, joy, anxiety and even anger? What insight could that bring to leadership in understanding how to manage and motivate your accounting staff effectively?

“The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention” - Richard Moss

To start off with, try requesting one-on-one meetings between leadership & staff (i.e. a partner and an associate) as well as individual meetings between peers (a senior & a senior). Host these meet-ups during a coffee break or provide a longer session with a lunch date.

During those meetings, talk about everything else except for work. Family, relationships, pets, passions, dreams, any conversation that brings life back into your team member.

This will provide a safe zone for the employee to express emotions and feel comfortable doing so. You will begin to learn more about the human behind the computer and really start to understand the driver behind your employee’s motivation.

Remember that a creative environment is a thriving one. Encourage creativity and watch your business flourish as thinking outside of the box becomes the norm.

Have any more unique tactics to motivate your accounting staff that has worked well for your firm?

Leave a comment below to share with the accounting community!

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