• Crackin’ Under Pressure: Making Mistakes During Busy Season

    By | February 29, 2016

    As you may know or be experiencing right this very second, it's a stressful time of year for accountants and the people around them. Whether you're working on tax returns or year-end audits or any other professional number crunching activity, that stress can cause people to make mistakes. Some of those mistakes are big, some are small; some are significant, some are not. Regardless, mistakes are always mortifying to those who make them and, regardless of what you think, EVERYONE MAKES THEM. How you choose to deal with mistakes is usually the difference between a small problem, a big problem or maybe even looking for a new job.

    I only bring this up because someone dropped us a link last week to this 8-K for Celldex Therapeutics that our tipster called the "Best 10-k fail of the year":

    Celldex Therapeutics, Inc. (the “Company”) hereby announces that the Company’s financial printer inadvertently submitted the Company’s annual report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2015 (the “10-K”) while preparing a test file. While the Company does not anticipate any substantive changes to this document, today’s version of the 10-K should be disregarded and, as previously disclosed, the Company intends to release fourth quarter and year-end 2015 financial results and file its 10-K on Thursday, February 25, 2016 before the U.S. financial markets open. The Company’s executives will host a conference call at 8:00 a.m. EST on February 25th to discuss 2015 financial and business results and to provide an update on key 2016 objectives.

    Yep! There's an extra 10-K in there, alright. But it's no big deal, Celldex seems to have bigger problems. Who knows what really happened, but I'm sure there's human in there somewhere who had to say, "Uh, my bad, guys." The important thing is they straightened it out fast. Not all mistakes are handled so well.

    Personally speaking, I've always been the type to fess up right away. My thinking behind that is: 1) Keeping it to myself was always too nerve-wracking and 2) I prefer getting embarrassment over with as quickly as possible. On the occasions that I made a mistake at work and didn't confess right away, I'd spend endless nights dreaming about it, just waiting for a early morning call from someone who'd figured me out and planned an elaborate shaming. God, the dread. It's true that the fear of the thing is always worse than reality. But sometimes reality surprises you! So! That's why I gleefully admit to my mistakes.

    Over to you all, now. How do you handle mistakes when the pressure's on? Did you ever let something go on too long and it morphed into an even bigger problem? Share your experiences below. The good, the bad, the stuff that got you fired.

    • N.E.R.D.

      Cracking under pressure? Never heard of it.

      Just kidding. I see others crumble around me sometimes. I’ve had partners/managers in the past have full on meltdowns. I lost respect for them; and I learned from their mistakes.

      • Honest Question

        What have you learned to do differently to help you cope better?

        • N.E.R.D.

          Keep the job in perspective, and don’t tie your personal character to your work. Don’t feed into negative energy at the office (office gossip, complaining about your job to your non-friend peers, etc.). I vent to my friends outside the biz so that my negative energy leaves the office and doesn’t add to the pressure.

          I also leave my job at the office and all that comes with it. I make an effort to not complain about my job at home (I try to, I don’t claim to be perfect).

          What I’ve noticed is that when people have meltdowns, they’re no longer making good decisions and cannot think clearly. This leads to more mistakes, more meltdowns, more of the same; it’s a vicious circle. I’ve watched first hand the managers that are cool and calm when the pressure’s on and the ones that go cry in their cars during the afternoon. “Who do I want to emulate?” I ask myself. I also don’t have the time/effort/energy to throw that person a pity party; we’ve got work to do.

          I’ve identified this behavior from observation and experience, and I don’t let myself go down that path mentally.

          • Scharfinator

            Solid advice outside of public accounting too.

            • N.E.R.D.

              Thanks.

          • N.E.R.D. That is some very good advice. Thank you for sharing.

          • To add, it is very difficult to leave the job behind and not talk about it at home to one’s partner. It takes a certain amount discipline and dare I say it, mental strength to do so.

            What I have noticed is the further up the pyramid you go, the less people there are to confide in, so it can become a lonely old place and one falls into the trap of complaining at home. Needless to say, it doesn’t make for a happy one. Hence many find solace in drink and drugs. (Caleb – now’s there an open item you could discuss.)

        • dumpus

          Realizing that whatever happens at work is not the end of the world is a good start. Realizing that mistakes happen is another.

          A good place to start with how to react to things is to try and relate it back to your personal life.

          For example: sending the wrong version of a spreadsheet to a client is the equivalent of dropping a coffee mug while emptying the dishwasher. When you drop the coffee mug (and its *when*, not *if*), you say “oh shit”, you clean it up, you apologize to the nary concerned significant other in the next room, and you be more careful in the future.

          Many overstrung young professionals react to this equivalent at work like they just caught their significant other in bed with their least favorite coworker.

          People respond better to leaders who keep things in perspective. Groundbreaking analysis, I’m sure.

          • The problem is the culture of some accountancy firms is ‘never to err’. While I agree that sending the wrong spreadsheet to a client is no great shakes, it can look unprofessional and sloppy. Hence some Senior Managers get irritated by elementary mistakes. This said, small errors do get blown out of proportion, and as dumpus notes, there isn’t a need to.

            • N.E.R.D.

              “Never to err” quickly devolves into the blame game and then the Jungle (dog eat dog) if things get real bad.

              Maintaining images of perfection is very difficult. I try to dispel that illusion immediately with everybody I interact with (I readily admit to my own mistakes, or I don’t drag their nose in shit when they make a mistake); it diffuses the tension several notches.

        • Honest Question

          Thanks for the advice. Point and Clique, any thoughts? How do you cope with that one manager who makes your life hell breathing down your neck?

          • Point and Clique

            I piss people off sometimes because I’m capable of laughing at everything. We once requested a reconciliation for a $28 million account (PM was $11m) and got it 2 days before filing with only $8 million reconciled (so $20M was missing). We just laughed. I know one among us was miffed at how we could something so funny in a deadline situation, but you have to be cheered by the absurdity sometimes. Rather than melt down, pound the table, and scream “SHIT!!” (true story about a manager on another audit I’m familiar with), we called up the guy who gave us the PBC and had a good laugh. Sometimes it’s critical to have a certain client contact that you can sit back and watch the clusterfuck with. This gets harder as a senior because you become one of the painbringers to the client and can’t fraternize qiute as much, but it’s still possible.

            Other than that, it helps if you maintain a balance of power. There was some study about game theory a few years back noting that the most successful participants were those who were dicks to dicks, but were nice to other participants who were nice. Ditto for the firm. There are a couple managers who I’d happily do a favor if they asked. If there’s a fucking jerk in the bunch, though, I’m unavailable, busy, sick, etc. or I just flat out ignore their e-mails. Fuckers in public accounting firms depend on the threat of a bad review to coax people below them into consistently helping them in hopes of improving their standing or earning their respect. Obviously it’s harder to ignore them if you’re on a one year-round job and this person is your only superior (it also gets steadily harder to pull off if you’re a manager and are getting dominated by a single partner). But if you’re on a carousel of busy seasons, then let the shitty manager bask in their own trainwreck of an audit. You’re just another person on a long list of sad associates or seniors that they’re going to try and pass off their shit to, and there’s always some sad sack on the list who’ll say yes (they’re future shitty managers themselves).

            Experience has taught me that you’ll never earn their respect or get a good review; they torch everyone because they’re miserable. So if you feel you’ve struck a balance, it relieves some of the pressure of wanting to take a bat to their windshield.

          • Jennifer

            It’s not the only gig out there. Don’t live and die by this one job.

            People will believe what you believe about yourself. If you walk around acting like you’re ashamed of yourself, you’ll be treated accordingly. If you can shrug it off, people will admire your confidence.

    • Spectrum

      The most awesome response I ever received when I told one of my bosses I forgot to hit “send,” which could potentially result in $15k worth of fines to a client: “Oh well, that’s why we have insurance.” I was so relieved I almost cried.

    • PwCASSociate

      I saw cats and thought Adrienne was back 🙁