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Millennials in Accounting Firms: What Makes Them Tick and How to Keep Them Engaged

Has any other generation been analyzed and dissected and reviewed as much as the millennials? Millennials are defined as the generation born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s/early 2000s, and they’ve been on the front lines of technology and innovation throughout their entire lifetimes.

Millennials have shaken up a number of industries and business areas. Is it any surprise that accounting firms may wonder how to handle millennials as part of their workforce, whether that means recruiting them, mentoring them or retaining them?

According to PwC’s research on millennials in the workforce, it’s important to invest time in understanding this latest generation of workers and adapting your firm’s priorities to meet their needs and position yourself well for the future.

For many millennials, success isn’t defined by paying their dues early to secure the corner office in 20 years. This generation is focused on how they can have a fulfilling integration of work and personal life now as well as 20 or 30 years down the road.

So, when it comes to millennials, what are they looking for, and how can you make sure your firm is evolving to meet the needs of its current and future workers?

Focus on Work/Life Integration

Millennial parents, not just moms, but dads too, have expressed a desire to be more present in their children’s lives.

That means making parental leave a viable, working option for these employees. Leading companies like EY are taking a cue from millennials and providing additional leave for parents of both genders, so they can be as dedicated and impactful at home as they are at work.

It also means giving them the flexibility to play an active role in their children’s lives. While they may have to make sacrifices during the mad dashes of tax season, give them a chance to be more flexible during other times of the year.

The loyalty you’ll generate by valuing what’s important to them will pay tremendous dividends over the course of their tenure with you.

Allow Them a Greater Understanding of Their Role and of the Firm’s Overall Business

There has to be more to life than sitting down and reviewing financial documents and tracking time in 6-minute increments.

Millennials aren’t afraid to work hard. On the contrary, they welcome it, if they understand what they’re working for.

Doing work without an idea of its impact and its role in the overall organization can be soul-crushing regardless of generational cohort. Give your millennial employees a chance to see your organization’s strategy and, if they express interest, to participate in the implementation process.

When they understand why a certain document or process is important, they’ll be better able to manage their work in relation to it.

One great way to give millennials a role in this arena may be to allow them to strategize ways they can build new business lines with existing clients. They’ll be encouraged to give the work/client a deeper look and to develop a greater understanding for their business and goals.

On the client side, your millennial team can put that youthful enthusiasm to work by persuading clients to expand their horizons and to use technology-driven payment methods, like fee financing through your online payment portal, to cover the expense of adding services with your firm.

Offer Them Constant Feedback

The latest generations of workers are accustomed to frequent and instantaneous feedback through their social media connections. They can post a vacation photo from abroad or a picture of their pet in their own backyard. Either way, they’re sure to hear plenty of positive reinforcement from friends and acquaintances.

For this generation, a starchy, once-annual performance review is not going to cut it. They’d rather hear from you on a regular basis, as soon as it’s merited. From their earliest days, they’ve been able to ask for feedback and to have dialogue over their career and personal efforts, and they want this openness to extend to the workplace as well.

If the news is good, it stokes their motivation. If it’s not quite as good, they’d rather hear it upfront and right away than spend the remainder of the year lowering themselves in your esteem.

Use the Right Technology

Digital natives weren’t born with iPhones in their hands but they might as well have been. These young people were the early adopters of many technologies we use today, so they’re accustomed to integrating tech seamlessly into their work lives.

Millennials understand there are many ways to do things, and they’re not trying to be annoying when they ask for access to technology. Rather, they understand the benefits integrated technology can provide a company and they want to work well for you by managing their efforts in the most efficient way possible.

When you look for ways to bring technology into play for the company, it can be beneficial to find ways that technology can reduce boring, mindless work, like payment management, so your staff can be freed up to put their brain power toward more interesting and useful problem solving projects.

Eliminate Annoying Processes

Nothing is more frustrating to millennials than doing a process just because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” Look for opportunities to improve processes that are time consuming and unwieldy and put their minds to work.

As an example, millennials have seen disruption take place across many sectors. Give them the opportunity to disrupt some processes within your business.

Ask them how they’d handle a process differently or task them with suggesting process improvements. Where you might see a perfectly rational paper invoicing process, the generation that’s grown up with PayPal and Venmo might second guess you and recommend electronic payment processing.

Shorten Your Dress Code

GM CEO Mary Barra boiled her company’s dress code down to two words: “Dress appropriately.” If your dress code takes up multiple pages in your employee handbook, you have a problem.

Millennials look at their personal style as something intrinsic to their personality. This generation is comfortable with tattoos in the workplace, for example, because it’s an expression of personality just as much as a tie or piece of jewelry or hairstyle.

Millennials aren’t expecting every day in the office to be Hawaiian shirt day. They know when to smarten up for a client meeting and when they might have a slow day in the office and be able to dress down a bit.

Extend trust by allowing them to dress appropriately for the social context.

Measure Based on Productivity, Not Hours

Millennials want to be judged based on their work output, not whether they were in their desks from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. This attitude isn’t unique to millennials, but this latest generation has been the most vocal about their concerns.

Millennials are willing to leave the firm environment and seek a career in a different sector all together to ensure the working environment that they want. On the plus side, they’re also willing to delay a promotion or give up additional pay in order to have access to flexible work and control over their schedules.

Help Them Find Meaning in Their Work

Accountants are in demand across all sectors, from traditional public firms to the financial industry to businesses of all shapes and sizes. There are plenty of opportunities for millennials to work in areas that are more trendy and buzzworthy and still make comparable salaries.

Your competitors for these resources are not just other CPA firms now, they’re startups and everyone else.

So, what can you offer that makes them want to stick around? It’s not necessarily about more pay. This generation is known for strong views and for choosing work based on the issues that matter to them.

Many millennials say they’d be content with less pay if they felt they were doing meaningful work. Take a look at your client portfolio and see where you can give them a chance to make a difference, whether it’s supporting a nonprofit, teaching a financial literacy class or mentoring small business owners.

No Generalizations

After this entire article telling you “millennials like this, millennials don’t like that,” there’s one catch. Millennials really, really don’t like generalization.

As the generation that’s been blamed for “killing” everything – from paper napkins to newspapers to golf – millennials are accustomed to taking a lot of abuse from media, corporate leaders and politicians.

Here’s the thing though – the youngest millennials may be preparing to intern at your firm, but the older end of the cohort is in the late thirties/early forties range. There’s a world of difference across that spectrum and you can’t fit this broad and diverse generation into a neat little box.

So while the guidelines laid out in this article can give you some insight into what the millennial generation values, the best way to learn what millennials want from your accounting firm is to just ask them.

Create a culture that is innovative and that builds partnerships between your established leaders and your promising young people.

Give millennials a chance to show you how hard they can work and how much they can shine, and the success they create – for themselves and for your firm – just might surprise you.