both ways, with work needing to be done on
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You have called generational issues one
of the top concerns facing the accounting
profession, along with the economy, glo-balization, technology, regulations and
Weiss: There are several themes that are
dominating, and certainly the economy is No.
1, but one of the surprising themes that keeps
coming up over and over with our members
is the challenges of working with different
generations in the same workplace. Generational issues have been there since as long as
there have been generations, but they seem
to be even more of a challenge these days, I
think, first of all, because there are people
working longer. A couple of years ago, as I
like to say, everybody was concerned that all
the Baby Boomers were going to retire and
nobody would be left to take over. Thanks to
the economy, everybody is now worried that
the Baby Boomers will never retire and that
the next generation doesn’t want to work and
play by the same rules.
How do Boomers and Millennials differ?
Weiss: Work/life balance is just a very major difference for the generations. The Baby
Boomers grew up in an era where you defined
yourself by your job. Working long hours was
a badge of honor, getting the corner office
was the ultimate reward, being well-compensated was something you got with great
pride. Those values, while not unimportant
to younger people, are not the defining values of the next generation. They would easily sacrifice a corner office and money for
more flexibility and time with their family
If you ask somebody 50 years old to define
themselves, they’ll say, ‘I’m a CPA;’ if you ask
a 35-year-old to define themselves, they’ll
say, ‘I’m a soccer coach, I’m a leader in my
church and community.’ They will not necessarily start by defining themselves through
that profession. Work/life balance is just the
lack of interest in putting in a 60-hour week
for the rest of their life. To the younger generation, it does not mean they do not have a
commitment to work — they absolutely do,
[but] they see it as being done differently.
What makes this a big issue?
Weiss: The reason I think it’s a big issue
and that it hits the smaller-firm environment
even more than the big firm is because in
tough times, you have fewer people in your
workplace to turn to. During busy season,
these partners of these small firms need ev-
ery single person for many hours, for many
weeks in a row, and they are having a hard
time instilling in the younger generation the
need to be there, to be productive. And that a
return on investment for the firm takes prece-
dence over other things, and they are mysti-
fied and frustrated, these partners, when it
doesn’t seem to resonate with their younger
staff. Younger staff say, ‘What’s the big deal
if I work from home, and if I get it done, why
do you care how and where I get it done?’
There is a huge gap between the partner ex-
pectation and the Gen Y expectation of how
are having a
the need to
you work together in a workplace. A small
firm has fewer resources, [so] if someone isn’t
there, they can’t give it to the second, third,
fourth or fifth person on the team. So these
issues are even tougher for a smaller firm
where there’s less resources and less capacity to have people flex-timing when you need
people in the office. A large firm has more
resources and flexibility to work within these
Have firms come to you and said that these
are the issues they are dealing with?
Weiss: Yes. We are hearing increasingly
from our small-firm partners, from the quintessential Baby Boomers, that they are not able
to instill in the next generation the expectations of what it takes to be a successful CPA
in a firm environment, particularly during
busy season. We’re being asked by our small-firm partners to help their younger staff to
connect the dots to better meet the partner
expectations. But I will tell you, in that plea,
what we are trying to also say to the senior
partner is that you also need to do a better
job of connecting the dots in understanding
your younger staff.
How are they responding?
Weiss: There is hesitancy in wanting to
connect the dots in both directions. The key
is to be able to work with both generations
effectively, and getting an older generation to
better understand and embrace what a work/
life balance looks and feels and sounds like.
How does communication differ?
Weiss: Communication still involves talking and being able to communicate with a client effectively in the very old-fashioned way.
You can use Facebook, you can Tweet, you
can effectively e-mail all sorts of stuff, but the
ultimate ability to win a client’s confidence
to get the business for the firm and keep the
business still boils down to some old-fashioned communication. That is something the
older folks can instill in the younger generation. We all sit in our offices and e-mail the
people next door. But if you are really trying
to build a relationship with a client over time
or win that relationship, there has to be some
old-fashioned interaction going on.
What sort of successful strategies have you
seen firms use for recruiting and retaining
Weiss: The firms who take the time to
spend a little planning on strategy on this issue see some results, whether it’s the firm
retreat where you choose to highlight this, or
send some staff for training on these issues.
The key, however, is that the senior managers
also have to embrace this. Any change in the
workplace culture starts at the top.
What does that success look like?
Weiss: A younger staff who is more willing
to understand what it means to put forth the
effort during busy season for the firm, who
understand why you are doing it, the importance of it and has a sense that they are going
to be rewarded in a way that is meaningful for
them. Money is one criteria, but rewarding
through great communication, time off, and
flexibility is the recognition they seek. AT