Managing the Millennials
The rising emphasis on transparency, accountability and financial reporting, coupled with the globalization of commerce, means more work is on the horizon
for accounting firms. That’s the good news.
But one look around a firm’s meeting room
will tell you that the profession is graying, and
conversations with human resources executives will reveal that turnover rates among
young accountants are on the rise.
That combination is not so good.
The Millennial generation, those under
the age of 30, is 80 million strong and will
be a force in the labor pool for some time.
Millennials are well-educated, sophisticated, and don’t necessarily see their careers
following a traditional path. The recession
experience and the resulting unemployment
have made Millennials wary, and this may
pose additional recruitment problems for
Firms must deal
with their changing
BY STACEY RANDALL
tion model on which firms are built chafes
against the Millennials’ desire for career and
My conversations with accountants, accounting professors and young accountants
who have left the profession confirm that
Millennials worry that selecting a specialty
will “pigeonhole” them, locking them into
an inflexible career track. I was surprised by
how many people I spoke to who used the expression “pigeonhole,” an indication of how
widespread this perception is.
HOW TO COMPETE BETTER
Accountants and auditors are valued precisely because of their deep knowledge and
Create new opportunities.
Millennials crave challenge. To tap into this desire
for challenge, firms might consider ways
in which younger employees can be cross-trained. A broader skill set may make these
workers more marketable, but, counter-intui-tive though it may seem, it will make them
more loyal, since they tend to see loyalty as
a two-way street.
For example, a young auditor may be assigned to work temporarily with the consulting side of the business. This experience will
stretch that individual’s skills and will enhance their ability to cross-sell in the future,
a true win-win for all parties.
Redefine success. Unlike prior genera-
Millenials are well-educated,
sophisticated, and don’t
necessarily see their careers
following a traditional path.
A CLASH OF EXPECTATIONS
A nationwide survey of 167 laid-off Millennials conducted by SBR Consulting last
year found that 55 percent of respondents
answered “no” or “unsure” when asked if
they would work for corporate America for
the long term (defined in the survey as more
than five years). Their future plans include
starting a business, working in the nonprofit
or government sector, or focusing on raising
a family. This is a pragmatic group, however,
since 44 percent saw themselves in the corporate world for the short term (within the
next three years).
The implications of these attitudes for the
profession as a whole are serious, because
they affect the entire talent pipeline. Every
firm, large and small, will be competing for
workers. Equally important, the specializa-
Stacey Randall is the founder and chief
consultant of SBR Consulting LLC, a firm
specializing in helping companies attract, retain, manage and reward different
generations in the workplace. Reach her at
expertise, so radically altering the business
model is unrealistic. Yet the looming demand
for accounting services and the shrinking
talent pool give urgency to finding ways to
accommodate the expectations of young
It’s likely that your firm, like many others,
has focused on short-term development of
Millennials but possibly not yet on their long-range career track. But you’re not too late to
begin the conversation, and the sooner you
start, the stronger your succession plan and
competitive market position will be. Here are
some steps you can take:
Gather information. Examine the firm’s
voluntary turnover for the past several years
to identify exactly who is leaving. For example, are they primarily people who have been
with the firm fewer than three-to-five years?
Interviewing Millennials currently on staff
may yield invaluable insight into their views
on career paths and on how well their job
experience thus far has met expectations.
Look at your competitors. Do they have
any Millennial-oriented programs in place?
Look outside of your industry, too. Perhaps
clients will share with you their strategies for
developing younger workers.
tions, Millennials are more prone to measure
career success in terms of quality of life and
personal fulfillment, not executive ranking.
So firms would do well to shift the career path
conversation from “titles” (e.g., manager to
partner) to “new experiences.”
TIME TO START THE DIALOGUE
The coming talent drain and worker shortage are undeniable. The most recent Occupational Outlook Handbook issued by the
U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor
Statistics expects employment of accountants
and auditors to grow by 22 percent between
2008 and 2018, much faster than the average
for all occupations.
In the meantime, unofficial estimates are
that as much as 75 percent of the American Institute of CPAs’ current membership
is expected to retire in the coming years, in
keeping with the aging Baby Boomer trend.
Combine this with increasing turnover
among young accountants, and it’s clear
that organizations that want to thrive must
begin discussing ways to accommodate the
newest entrants into the workforce. These are
uncharted waters, but it’s essential to begin
the journey. AT
What happens when Woodstock meets
Twitter? Father-daughter team Meagan
and Larry Johnson of the Johnson
Training Group share a few ideas in
Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to
Linksters. Published by Amacom, the
book offers character descriptions of five
generations and how to manage them
in the workplace. Take this example on
managing Generation X, illustrating
the difference between subjective and
Subjective: “You need to be more excited about your assignments. Your lack of
enthusiasm is bringing everyone down.”
Objective: “When you roll your eyes
and say this project sucks in the middle
of a meeting, it really brings the rest of
us down. I’d prefer that you keep those
kinds of downer statements to yourself.”
The book is chock full of that kind of
real-life advice, and is an engaging read if
you’re interested in generational issues.
Check it out — we’ve added more
bloggers to Accounting Tomorrow: Rick
Solomon, chief executive of Ran One
Americas, brings a philosophical perspective to firm growth and success; Luke
Sniewski, a CPA and fitness consultant,
is writing about wellness on the job; and
Brett Owens, CEO of Chrometa, shares
his perspective on how social media can
speed up recruiting and retention efforts.
In other ATOM news:
Raleigh, N.C.-based Hughes Pittman
& Gupton is the first accounting firm to
earn the Green Plus certification from the
Institute for Sustainable Development.
Wenli Wang, a partner at Moss
Adams, blogged about her experience
coming over from China and how her
firm’s Forum W women’s initiative supported her career
of PDI Global gave
us some good
guidance on how
to find the best
for your firm.
You can find it
all online at www.
— Liz Gold