By Hitendra Patil
Accountaneur: The Entrepreneurial Accountant
“I never believed that millennials is an issue my firm needs to address.”
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When the owner of a fast-growing firm that is 100 percent on the cloud expressed this to me, I was surprised. No, astonished.
I was expecting a 100 percent cloud firm was a perfect match for the perceived preferences of millennials.
So, what about the millennials was troubling this firm? And is it a challenge for many other firms?
A bookkeeping firm owner recently told me that his staff’s productivity is only three days a week. The problem? Employee disengagement!
NY Times Best Seller author Chester Elton and his organization, The Culture Works, conducted a new 7,000-person research study. It unveiled three key findings to unlock employee engagement.
Accounting firms are not immune to this disengagement discomfort. Millennials now form the biggest portion of the workforce in America. And baby boomers are retiring. This combination is a burning issue for the accounting profession to overcome.
What Really Motivates Millennials?
Millennials often leave good jobs in search of fulfilling their need for more challenges.
Surprisingly, money is at the bottom of the motivation scale for millennials. Do not misunderstand. Millennials tend to negotiate hard up front to get the best possible pay package. But once done, money is no longer a motivator. It is simply a satisfier.
What, then, really motivates millennials?
The research revealed that:
- One of the topmost motivators for millennials is impact, i.e., they want to know that the work they do makes a difference.
- The next top motivator for millennials is learning, developing and growing in career.
- Interestingly, millennials want their work to make their families and friends feel proud. Work-life balance is high on the agenda of millennials.
Do not be surprised if a millennial wants to leave your firm because he/she is not able to get the time to travel. They want quality time with the family and play a responsible role in growing the family.
What Will Help Accounting Firms Attract Millennials?
Accounting firms looking to engage millennials need to give fair pay but after that’s done, it is all about:
- Learning, development and growth
- Work-life balance and Family
Remember, for millennials, impact is a top motivator. They want to know they are making a difference.
As an accounting firm (or any other business), if you have that “higher call,” you will attract millennials. It’s not just what we do and how we do it but why.
For example: Yes, we are an accounting firm, but we donate our time and money for charities. We raise funding for drinking water in remote areas. We raise money for farmers and food ... and so on.
Millennials have grown up with technology and social media. It is their second nature to remain connected to their communities. “We are doing things to better the community” resonates well with millennials.
With their learning, development and growth focus, millennials need to know how they are going to develop themselves. Creating a career path as just a task, responsibility and designation roadmap is not enough anymore. It is important to also explain how that growth path will develop which competencies in them. If you can clearly articulate to millennials that they will have more opportunities to go deeper and learn wider, they may change jobs but they might prefer to change jobs within your firm.
What Will Help Accounting Firms Retain Millennials?
“Millennials want to work for six months and be a CEO.”
That is a complete misnomer and an exaggerated perception.
Research indicates that over 65 percent of millennials are looking to change their jobs within two years. The life span of an employee in a company seems to be shortening drastically. And accounting is a deeper knowledge profession. Time is essential for anyone to come to terms with the demands of the accounting and tax profession.
So how can accounting firms win over this conundrum? How can accounting firms keep motivating millennials once they join the firm? Four ways:
Quick onboarding: The cost of hiring-training-replacing cycles is high. And that’s not going to change with the millennial generation coming into workplaces. We just need to find ways to better manage the expense of this hiring cycle. Earlier, it would take a year for a new employee to learn on the job. Now, we simply don’t have a year; maybe we have 30-60 days. And that tells us we need to onboard the employees quickly and train them fast to make them productive as quickly as possible.
Quick mentoring: So the idea is that you want to supply the knowledge quickly and assign mentors to lead their learning journey as quickly as possible. It requires a definite change in the “learn-on-the-job-by-yourself” attitude. It is an investment by firm owners and partners to shape the futures of their firms. It might sound like unbillable hours. But if you do not invest this time, it will cost your firm significantly in any case – by having to keep rehiring at a faster frequency.
Quick acceptance: A faster attrition rate is a reality with the millennial generation. Do not feel they betrayed your trust by leaving your firm more quickly than what you expected. We just need internalized acceptance of this fact. Do not excommunicate them and ostracize them. As a firm owner, even when you have to say goodbye, do it in a dignified way. For example, “Hey, this is great! Tell me about the new opportunity. We wish you well. If you ever decide to come back, please make sure we are the first to know.” (If you want them back.)
The idea of "We have to keep millennials employed with us for 10 years" may be misplaced. We need to say, “Now that we've got them, let's engage them. Let's have fun. Let's be productive. If they leave, they leave. And let's make sure we've got a good pipeline coming in.”
Quick flexibility: Work-life balance and family are also top motivators for millennials. The shift from hourly billing to value pricing may be slow and gradual, but the shift from “working hours defined by employer” to “working hours defined by me (the millennial employee)” is much faster. With the millennial age group being 19-36, the occurrences of family-related events will be more frequent. This will demand more flexibility of working hours – not necessarily of productivity, output and outcomes. Fortunately, rapid growth of cloud technologies gives accounting firms the ability to break free from locational boundaries. This just needs a flexible mind, and preparing for internal processes that can measure work outcomes irrespective of location.
And millennials are tech-savvy. If they don’t know something, they will crowdsource it from their friends. It is definitely important for accounting firms to make their internal systems, knowledge and people “social-enabled,” without the traditional (metaphorical) walls separating people. Be accessible. Having a mentor up front and having a very clear career and development path is critical.
What Will Help Accounting Firms Attract and Retain Millennial Clients?
The concern is not just millennial staff. Accounting firms’ clients are also going to be millennials. So how do accounting firms get and keep millennial clients?
If you can get like talking to like, your chances of success are greater. Baby boomers selling to millennials can be a real disconnect. Millennials selling to millennials – you are better off. But the millennial generation is actually a wide spectrum of age range so some millennials already act like baby boomers.
There are personality assessments that help us figure out who you are, what you are good at and what you are passionate about. These tools help you match people with clients. And they can help you know who can form a better team within your accounting firm.
“Impact” and “flexibility” mean a lot to not only staff but also to millennial clients. Associating with communities with which millennial clients associate can cut short expensive sales cycles. The flexibility to access not only their accounting reports and tax information but also their accountants at the time and place of their choosing can be huge factors in their decision to work with you (or with your competitor).
The Accounting Firm’s Quick Cheat Sheet to Win the Millennials Battle:
Here is what a millennial would think to him/herself when choosing and working at a firm:
- I have a community to work with and make a meaningful difference.
- I have a career path that develops me.
- I have a mentor who actively leads and guides me in my career progression.
- I have access to the knowledge base of the firm and its people.
- I am continually learning.
- I have the flexibility to deliver work on time without always being bound to the clock and location.
- I earn enough to take care of my needs and my family's needs.
Accounting firms that provide millennials these seven experiences may well succeed in attracting and keeping millennials longer than their competitors.