When accountant Ellen Kessler and her husband talked about having kids, their discussions weren't limited to nursery paint colors and baby names. They also had to figure out the perfect month. Not so their children could have outdoor birthday parties, but so Kessler could both raise them and keep her career on track.
Welcome to busy season. Accountants are often fastidious by nature, but juggling the duties of work and their personal lives during tax season requires even more attention to detail. Often that means carefully planning around those months when 70-hour work weeks are the norm. Accountants, unsurprisingly, are all too familiar with the shadow of a looming deadline -- Tax Day.
Kessler, a certified public accountant with her own practice in Rockville, Md., tried to time her children's arrivals, but was successful only two out of three times. Two children have August and June birthdays, while the other was born in February.
"With my third child, I was back in the office two weeks after giving birth -- baby in tow -- cranking out tax returns. I would not recommend it," Kessler said.
Births, weddings, education and, of course, vacations, all revolve around that third of the year when accountants are busiest.
Many accounting firms try to make it easier for their employees to manage the competing demands of their home and work lives. Several have long been recognized on Working Mother's list of best companies for mothers to work. Ernst & Young, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte and RSM McGladrey made the magazine's 2009 list.
KPMG, for example, has a host of work-family programs, such as parental leave and others, including "shared leave," which lets employees "donate" their extra paid personal time to a co-worker who needs some for a medical emergency.
But its informal day-to-day flexibility has been the most popular with employees. "We have a culture of flexibility and offer programs where people do what will work for them," said Barbara Wankoff, national director of workplace solutions at KPMG.
Many firms have a similar approach. Katrina Cohen, a senior tax manager with KPMG in Hartford, Conn., often leaves early to drop her kids off for an activity and then will log back on after they go to sleep.
"As long as you get your work done, that's the important thing," she said. "It doesn't matter when or how."
Some tax professionals who work in overdrive during tax season, shift into a lower gear for the rest of the year. Millicent Powell, for example, a tax manager for BDO in Charlotte, N.C., works 50 hours a week during tax season and 25 to 30 hours a week the rest of the year.
BDO also routinely lets employees take a short-term leave to study for their CPA exams, according to Marcee Harris Schwartz, a strategy adviser at the firm.
New technology has allowed for even greater workplace flexibility than there was five years ago. The advent of iPhones and Blackberrys, Skype and video-conferencing has meant that employees work nearly anywhere at any time of day.
For Karen Burgess, a senior tax manager at Deloitte in Charlotte, N.C., technology has underpinned her career. Her main client is based in Houston. Her two children typically have a sports game or practice every day, including Sunday, and her husband travels for work. Working remotely has allowed Burgess to attend the practices and prepare her client's returns, sometimes working between periods at soccer matches.
"Even if I'm traveling for a soccer game, I can still be productive outside my normal remote location," said Burgess.
And when all else fails, accountants just put their problem-solving and creativity to the test.
"My son is becoming a Bar Mitzvah this June," Kessler said. "The only things I have done are reserve the room and order the invitations. Everything else has been put on hold until April 16th."
Write to Julie Steinberg