and Managing the ‘Why?’ Generation:
APRIL 2008 -
The accounting profession is experiencing new cultural challenges
when it comes to addressing “Generation Y”—the
technology-savvy, multitasking individuals who are at the age where
they recently entered high school, college, or the workforce. These
challenges begin with efforts to recruit students into collegiate
accounting programs. The numerous innovative programs that have
been used to recruit the best and the brightest from this generation,
starting in high school, have largely been successful. A 2005 AICPA
report indicated that enrollment in accounting programs increased
19% during the period 2000–2004 (The Supply of Accounting
Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits for 2004, 2005).
the number of accounting majors has increased, recruiting and
retaining these individuals remains a highly competitive process.
To attract the most-qualified graduates, employers need to change
their approach. For example, a 2007 survey of the AICPA’s
Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) indicated that partners
identified compensation as the motivation behind a recruit’s
decision to join and stay with an organization; however, recruits
identified the opportunity to advance as their primary motivator
(The PCPS Top Talent Study: Gaining a Strategic Advantage
in Recruiting and Retention).
In this highly
competitive, shifting environment, what can CPA firms do in the
short term as they attempt to attract and hire this newest generation
of accountants? How will this generation’s characteristics
impact the management of accounting organizations? The following
examination of Generation Y provides insights for recruiting and
managing these young accountants.
within any generation have different traits, but the shared experiences
of its members impact certain attitudes and perspectives across
the group. For example, the political environment, the business
environment, and the cultural environment represent some of the
broad national trends that influence attitudes and perspectives.
Technological advances also play a significant role in shaping
Generation Y has been used to describe individuals born between
approximately 1979 and 1994. As a result, the current ages of
Gen Y range from 14 to 29. This newest generation of workers is
larger than its predecessor and is nearly as large as the baby
boomer generation. Gen Yers tend to have a strong sense of morality
and civic-mindedness. They are more ethnically diverse than previous
generations, and nearly one-third of them have been raised in
single-parent households. Because they are technologically savvy
and have grown up using personal computers, Gen Yers are referred
to as “digital natives.” They are multitaskers and
tend to be comfortable working in groups or in collaborative settings.
This generation values intelligence and education. They have high
self-esteem and are very confident. While they are goal- and achievement-oriented,
they are not overly loyal to any organization and they “want
Generation Y: Strategies for Accounting Organizations
of Gen Y require an adjustment in focus and perspective as accounting
organizations begin recruiting these students. Innovative recruiting
techniques are needed to engage this latest cultural shift. In
a competitive recruiting environment, employers must understand
and adapt to these trends to ensure that they are perceived as
a desirable place to pursue a career (see the Exhibit
for a summary of the following characteristics and recruitment
and retention strategies).
sense of morality: Why? Because Gen Y tends to have
a strong sense of morality and civic-mindedness, they are looking
for careers with social significance. Related to this trait is
the constant questioning of “Why?” Why is this important?
Why do we need to know this information? Why do we perform these
functions? In order to recruit these individuals, accounting firms
need to demonstrate the significance of the position and the role
the individual will fulfill within the organization. The accounting
profession must ensure that Gen Y understands the importance of
the accounting information and the attest function to the proper
performance of capital markets.
and achievement-oriented. Computer games provide
seemingly endless goals, with immediate feedback when a player
successfully moves on to the next level. This generation has grown
up playing computer games, so they are familiar with consistently
achieving goals in order to move forward. Experiences such as
these have made this generation exceptionally goal- and achievement-oriented.
They tend to desire these types of experiences in the work environment
as well. As mentioned previously, the recent PCPS survey indicates
that the opportunity to advance is their primary motivation to
join and stay with an organization. Opportunities to advance should
be communicated explicitly with potential recruits during the
natives. Because Gen Y has grown up with computers,
they are referred to as digital natives. They view computers as
merely a part of life. Computer technology and computer games
are not only pastimes, but learning tools as well. The Internet
opens the world up to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
As a result, Gen Yers expect a strong web presence and, when evaluating
a potential employer, frequently examine an organization’s
website as the primary source of information about the entity.
They evaluate websites not merely on the information content of
the site but on the site’s quality as well. For example,
facing declining accounting enrollments in the early 2000s, the
AICPA launched StartHereGoPlaces.com in an effort to attract the
next generation of accountants. This website presents the opportunities
of the CPA profession, using a fun, interactive approach. Included
are business simulation games and other interactive components
as well as a student magazine, and scholarship and internship
information. The features have inspired more than 1 million students
to visit and use the website in recent years (see www.aicpa.org/YoungCPANetwork/).
on an online presence and technology-based recruitment may prove
equally successful for accounting firms attempting to employ Gen
Y. For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ website has a section
specifically designed for campus job candidates, to attract potential
employees. This site includes profiles and interviews with current
“hip” employees describing their exciting jobs and
great benefits, as well as information on how PricewaterhouseCoopers
encourages and accommodates its employees’ volunteer work
and community service. Without
prompting, the author’s students often talk about information
they have read on firm websites about jobs and employment, indicating
they are accessing and making use of information provided by the
firms. Efforts such as these will likely expand as more firms
recognize the importance of a strong Internet presence for potential
recruits and place increased emphasis on website development and
intelligence and innovation. Gen Yers do not give
respect based merely upon age, experience, or even organizational
“authority.” They value intelligence and genuine contributions
to the organization. They prize innovative thinking and ingenuity.
Consequently, highlighting the creative and productive aspects
of a position to a job applicant is crucial. Employers must emphasize
challenges, growth opportunities, and the contributions employees
can make to the organization. Unfortunately,
one of the most difficult, yet most important, aspects of recruiting
is describing to applicants the hierarchy of the organization
and the progression up the organizational ladder. This will require
explaining the insights gained through experience within the organization,
while not dismissing the value the recruit brings to the organization.
This is necessary because the traditional job progression will
often be viewed as slow and pedantic. Recruits will appreciate
a collegial atmosphere and honest dialogue.
work/family balance. Gen Yers tend to seek a balance
between work and family and are motivated by not only salary but
also benefits and schedule flexibility. Having a flexible work
schedule is important because Gen Y wants a life outside of work.
Students frequently stop by the author’s office to discuss
job offers and the associated benefits offered by each organization.
The discussions often cover what each student’s lifestyle
working for various organizations may potentially be like. This
generation is seeking something beyond an all-consuming career;
they want time to build and maintain personal relationships. Emphasizing
these job attributes to potential employees will appeal to their
need to have a life outside of work.
The author once asked a campus recruiter to describe the worst
faux pas she ever witnessed by a potential candidate. She described
an interview in which the candidate’s cellphone rang …
and the candidate took the call! Multitasking is a way of life
for this generation. During their waking hours, they are constantly
bombarded by technology, yet, in many cases, appropriate cellphone
etiquette has never been taught, or even discussed. It is the
author’s perception that accounting majors tend to be somewhat
more aware and conscientious about appropriate behavior and are
eager to learn. A quick “Do you need to turn off your cellphone?”
should be enough to avoid an unwanted interruption during an interview
or office visit.
work and collaboration. Gen Y has been educated
during a period when group projects have been intertwined throughout
the curriculum from the time they were in elementary school. As
a result, most have developed group skills and are adept at accomplishing
tasks while working in teams. In fact, the author’s high-school-age
Gen Y son is already quite proficient at identifying peers with
the appropriate skill set for team projects and is very articulate
about the types of people with whom he works well and those with
whom he struggles. These skills are beneficial for accountants,
and can be evaluated during the recruitment process by watching
potential hires performing informal team-building exercises.
Gen Y: Strategies for Accounting Managers
profession is uniquely positioned to benefit from the skill sets
and attitudes that Gen Y brings to the workplace. Yet, while these
individuals are immensely talented, there are aspects to the cultural
shift that will present new challenges to accounting managers.
Consequently, just as approaches to recruiting will need to adapt
to this new generation, management techniques will also need to
the importance of tasks and projects. Getting the
buy-in of Gen Y employees will require that managers explain the
importance of the “whys.” Telling these employees
“That’s the way we’ve always done it”
will not satisfy them. They want to understand the genuine need
to perform functions or tasks. While this constant questioning
of authority may sometimes prove challenging or frustrating to
employers and managers, these employees’ fresh perspectives
should bring new ideas to organizations and the profession.
delineate expectations. Gen Y desires to be valued
based on their intelligence and contributions to the organization.
They tend to be hard workers who are motivated by clearly defined
goals. While these are attributes that are highly useful for employers,
they will require clear dialogue with new employees. These individuals
push for clearly defined parameters without ambiguity. Obviously,
this will not always be an option in a work environment, because
ambiguity is sometimes unavoidable in a complex organization.
Firms should consider initiating a management development program
or mentoring program to train and encourage talented staff. Such
programs recognize achievement and potential without necessarily
requiring extensive organizational resources. An open, collegial
dialogue about career progression will establish an environment
of mutual respect and understanding.
employee feedback. Because Gen Yers are used to
playing computer games with immediate feedback on their decisions,
they will want immediate feedback on their work performance as
well. Similarly, because computer games allow progression to higher
levels as soon as “proficiency” at lower levels is
demonstrated, these employees will also seek job success and recognition
right away. One commentator (Jean M. Twenge, Generation Me:
Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive,
Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before, 2006)
suggests that employers will need to explain that “success
and privileges will not happen overnight” and acknowledge
how frustrating it is but “it’s the way business works.”
This is why
an accounting firm should define the normal progression during
the recruiting process. The desire for immediate feedback will
nonetheless require some extra effort in the early days of a new
employee’s career. An open dialogue will, again, allow new
employees to grow and feel valued. Employers should emphasize
the collegial nature of the work environment.
technological innovation. As businesses increasingly
use technology, new employees will be expected to have the expertise
to handle the challenges. In fact, Gen Yers’ level of comfort
and expertise will provide additional resources with which to
build a company’s technological capabilities. Their prowess
with newer technologies may provide new opportunities or efficiencies.
For example, instant messaging may become an increasingly useful
tool within the work environment by allowing employees to communicate
about work-related issues in virtual real time. Employers should
encourage Gen Y employees to use innovative computer technologies
to make the workplace more efficient.
Yers treat e-mail communications with the same informality as
instant messaging or text messaging. This means that e-mails may
be filled with numerous abbreviations and poor spelling. An employer
may need to explicitly communicate the appropriate e-mail style
and etiquette to new hires.
criticisms. Gen Y has been educated in school environments
designed to build high self-esteem. As a result, Gen Yers tend
to have a great deal of confidence and be quite optimistic. They
have high expectations about their future and are sometimes unaware
of their own limitations. Often students have not experienced
criticism in an educational environment prior to college and thus
must develop the ability to accept and synthesize constructive
comments in a work environment.
As a result
of their previous educational experiences, Gen Y employees initially
tend to have trouble accepting responsibility for shortcomings
or failures in their work and look outward for a potential cause.
Once hired, this may require awareness and concerted effort within
the organization to ensure that assignments are framed clearly
and criticism is structured constructively. In fact, Twenge suggests
with something positive and explain the reason behind your criticism.
Do not be surprised if you encounter defensiveness. Things will
go better if you can take that in stride and not get defensive
in return; just explain why it’s wrong and move on. Over
time, young employees will grow more accustomed to criticism;
it might just take longer since they are not as familiar with
collaborative style of management will help ease this transition.
flexible schedules. Additionally, because Gen Yers
desire a balance between work and family life, organizations should
consider adding increased flexibility to work schedules as well
as options such as working from home. Efforts should be made to
minimize excessive overtime and extended travel.
limitations on multitasking. Gen Y has grown up
in an environment in which they can instant-message multiple friends
at the same time, play a computer game when the online “conversation”
slows down, and text message at any time of the day. They are
adept at handling multiple tasks simultaneously. This ability
should prove useful in a work environment which requires the capacity
to multitask. While Gen Yers handle simultaneous multiple tasks
very well, there are times when they need explicit instructions
to focus on only one task. In addition, an employer’s rules
concerning the use of computers,
cell phones, and PDAs during work hours should be explicitly described.
collaboration. Managers should use Gen Y’s
ability to function within a group by encouraging collaboration
when appropriate. Clearly, some tasks within accounting firms
do not and should not require collaboration, but there is room
for innovation. Consider reorganizing tasks to allow collaborative
efforts and novel approaches to projects.
Transition from New Hires to Leaders
Gen Y has
numerous positive attributes and skills. Gen Yers are intellectually
curious and do not accept the status quo. They tend to question
current practices and ask whether there is a better approach.
An inclusive management style works well with this generation.
These employees will look for ways to streamline or improve tasks
and projects. They have the technological skills to incorporate
current trends and innovative technologies into accounting departments
or industries. Gen Y works hard and, if properly motivated and
recognized, will provide the organizational and professional leadership
to move the accounting profession into the 21st century in a significant
and meaningful way.
here to view Sidebar.
Yeaton, PhD, CPA, is an assistant professor of accounting
at Ramapo College of New Jersey, Mahwah, N.J. She would like to
thank her three Gen Y children and their friends.