Like most economic sectors, the accounting industry is feeling the effects of The Great Resignation. The profound shift in the labor market as workers quit their jobs in search of better roles and greater job satisfaction has meant greater competition for employees who can pick and choose their working environment.
There’s also a profound demographic shift. By 2025, nearly two-thirds of the global workforce will be Millennials or Gen Z as older generations retire. Those two groups comprise the cohort of people born in 1981 or later. This younger set of people has very different desires and expectations about career and work than the generations that preceded them.
So, how can accounting firms attract and retain top young accounting talent? Understanding the goals of Millennials and Gen Z is key to hiring in accounting, as is determining how those wants sometimes conflict with a traditional role in the industry.
What’s different about the Millennial and Gen Z mindset?
Many of the opportunities younger workers seek are not that different from earlier generations. They want to have the chance to move up the ladder and use their advanced skills. Contrary to some rumors, pay is also very important to younger folks. Like their predecessors, they want compensation that offers a return on investment for their training and education.
What’s distinct about Millennials and Gen Z are the desires many older workers share — but never thought to demand in the workplace:
Growth and learning opportunities. Spurred in part by the aftermath of the 2008 recession, the chance to continually develop new skills is significant for young accountants. This can help give them a sense of stability and personal satisfaction.
Work that has purpose. More and more companies are concerned about corporate social responsibility (CSR) — the impact of their work on the local community and the world at large. Gen Z and Millennial employees want a job with meaning, even if it’s just the opportunity to contribute to a meaningful cause on occasion through their volunteering with their organization.
Work-life balance. This phrase has been bandied about for some time, but it remains important. Younger workers don’t want to give everything to their jobs — they want a life outside of the office, too. The recent pandemic has shifted ideas about where and how people can work, making hybrid arrangements more common.
Quality management. While older generations may have simply accepted whatever management offered, younger workers are putting a premium on quality oversight. They may choose to simply leave a job and work elsewhere instead of putting up with poor management. Gartner recently noted that in the wake of the pandemic, members of leadership teams have become relationship managers, focusing on people under their supervision as much as their work.
How is traditional accounting unappealing to this cohort?
Accounting teams should be prepared to adjust their working styles to appeal to younger generations. Successfully managing Generation Z in the workplace means first identifying what aspects of traditional accounting — some possibly more myth than reality — may turn off potential hires.
Work is repetitive. Many see accounting as a job where the same thing happens every day. The outdated view of accountants as “number crunchers” does a disservice to the depth of the profession and the potential new and interesting ways to use accounting skills.
The job does not offer personal satisfaction. Accounting can invoke the image of a worker sitting in a cubicle, whiling away the time until they have to punch a clock and leave. This does not necessarily reflect reality, where accountants can play critical roles in business strategy.
Long hours are par for the course. The idea that accountants put in long and thankless days as faceless workers in a large office building is off-putting for many younger recruits. Many firms are combatting this misconception by finding different ways to measure productivity, get work done more efficiently, and make all team members feel valued.
Busy seasons put constraints on time. Tax season is when accountants are historically the busiest. That also coincides with a time of year — spring — when kids are on break from school and families want to take advantage of increasing daylight hours and nicer weather. Even for those who don’t have families, the idea of a busy season where work is all-consuming is simply a non-starter for many younger workers.
What are some strategies for accounting firms to attract younger workers?
Accounting firms are like all employers in the current environment. They need — and want — to make substantial changes to build a younger, happier and more productive workforce. There are several successful strategies to achieve this.
Offer clear paths for advancement. When a firm takes on a new hire, it should outline how that person can get to the next stage in their career. As the employment relationship continues, offer check-ins and review periods that offer chances to move up in the organization.
Adopt a flexible work culture. This is the firm’s chance to show it can support work-life balance through initiatives like hybrid work environments, creative time-off schemes, and allowing people the freedom to work where they are most productive.
Develop a sense of community. By formally involving their firms in nonprofit causes and community initiatives, employers demonstrate they understand their firm’s role in the world. Promoting teamwork within the work environment instead of competition can also enhance employees’ commitment to the firm and their personal role in the organization.
Commit to technology. Technology can play a big role in eliminating those traditional long hours spent in a windowless cubicle. Many companies are leveraging technology to make work more efficient. This supports employees and makes accounting more appealing to Millennials and Gen Z.
Focus on transparency. Firms that are upfront about compensation, advancement and decision-making build more trust among workers. A younger employee is more likely to stay in an environment where they can understand how shifts in workplace hierarchies happen, instead of wondering if they are the next to be let go — or spend their hours grinding in a dead-end job.
How technology helps build a strong workforce
Modern accounting technology is a key tool for developing a team of satisfied younger workers. Caseware is a leader in the accounting solutions industry. Learn how Caseware Cloud can help you attract and retain today’s top talent by streamlining your workflow, reducing audit errors and freeing your team to work on higher-level issues.