4 Ways to Work with Younger Accountants

Many accounting firms today are multigenerational. In some firms, there could be as many as five generations represented in the workplace – Centennials, Millennials, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists – all with drastically different work behaviors.

Some experienced professionals struggle working with young accountants because they believe they’re unwilling to work hard or aren’t loyal. These stereotypes are misguided and, in fact, younger accountants can be vital to your firm’s future success. The key is understanding how to work together. Here are four rules for working with young accountants:

1. Show Them How They Fit into the Firm’s Vision

In 2016, Deloitte surveyed nearly 7,700 young professionals around the globe to find out what companies can do to earn their loyalty. About 90 percent of young professionals surveyed believe that “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance," yet more than half of the respondents felt their employer had no ambition beyond making money.

Young professionals are socially conscious. They want to feel like they are part of something greater, and your firm’s vision can show them what that “something greater” is.

If your firm’s vision is outdated, non-existent or known only to members of leadership, it’s time to create a new one and share it throughout the company. Then, work with the young accountants to develop goals that align with the firm's vision.

2. Define a Clear Path to Advancement

In the Deloitte survey, 83 percent of respondents who planned to stay with their employer for more than five years expressed satisfaction with the professional development opportunities that their organization provided. Eighty-six percent were satisfied with the use made of their skills, and 81 percent were pleased with the amount of recognition they received.

While older generations may have seen the path to advancement simply as “work hard, pay your dues and get ahead,” that model doesn’t work for young accountants. Younger generations are willing to put in the hard work, but need to know where they're headed.

Young people today are straightforward about what they want and are not afraid to ask what it will take to get there. Show them they have a long-term place in your firm by giving them honest answers, investing in them, letting them put their skills and experience to work, and recognizing them when they do.

3. Don’t Micromanage

Micromanagement is not just an annoyance, but it also stunts the growth of young accountants who want the space and opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.

Experienced professionals may want others to conform to their way of doing things, but for young accountants to feel empowered, you must step aside, or risk disconnection. You might question how younger accountants will learn without your involvement and review of all their decisions. The answer is by providing better training. 

You can’t just hand a new accountant prior year papers and expect them to learn what they need to know. Invest in formal training that includes technical skills, but also legislative changes, technology and "soft skills," such as communication, teamwork and leadership.

Hourly billing may even be a form of micromanagement. Many forward-thinking firms are moving away from hourly billing, in favor of value-based pricing. Some firms aren’t there yet, and that’s OK, as long as time sheets are used as a billing tool, rather than a management tool.

4. Challenge Them

Young accountants are not content to do the same rote work month after month, year after year. They are looking for a career that challenges and excites them. A 2016 study by INSIDE Public Accounting found that young accountants rank working directly with clients as the #1 most enjoyable aspect of their job. 

Some firms prohibit young accountants from interacting with clients early in their career, but this prevents young accountants from really getting to know their client’s business and understanding the importance of their role in the client’s future success. 

Rather than keep young accountants in the office ticking off checklists, doing data entry that could be automated with technology and performing basic compliance work, give them opportunities to work with clients early in their careers. Challenge them to think early on about high-level advisory services instead of compliance. 

Time has proven that young accountants are willing to put in the work to be promoted and that they do have immense loyalty, if a workplace is a good fit and provides them the resources they need to grow. Never underestimate young accountants just because you haven’t taken the time to understand how they operate. When you give them the chance to use their skills and stretch their thinking, they will serve as your firm’s most valuable asset.