If there’s anything we learned from millennials, it’s that the accounting profession must adapt to their lifestyle, and constantly strive to keep them happy and motivated. And, just like millennials today, a new generation – centennials – is coming in just five short years, representing the future of accounting.
Born in 2000 or later, centennials are still making their way through adolescence, so the jury is out on how they will change and adapt to the workforce. But, before you panic and feel overwhelmed about this new generation and its place in the accounting profession, you should know that centennials offer a very bright, positive outlook, and have many differences from the generation before them.
So, here are some key characteristics of this generation, offering insight into how accounting professionals can deal with, and mold, the next generation of accountants.
What’s a centennial?
To better understand a generation, we first have to see what they went through and how they were impacted.
Centennials have not felt the impact of a major, singular devastating event such as 9/11; instead, for many, their first encounter with conflict came from the 2008 financial crisis when they saw the hardships their parents and friends’ families went through. This shock caused them to be more humble, more grateful for what they have, more respectful of hard work and more inclined to pursue entrepreneurism, all in the wake of seeing their parents’ traditional employment fail to yield financial security.
One big difference is that they grew up always having the internet, rather than obsessing about it in their ‘20s. So, instead of seeing it as a shiny, new toy to consume and frolic over, the web is no different to them than running water; it’s always been there and simply represents a means for communication, entertainment and education. Interestingly, centennials have an even lower attention span, and are less likely to process complex topics and memorize large amounts of data. However, they are adept at broaching different topics and activities, as well as thinking abstractly, something computers have a hard time doing, even with all the talk about artificial intelligence and machine learning. This can be particularly helpful for firms.
Centennials are also very cultured and culturally accepting, having grown up with social issues, such as the legalization of gay marriage and headlines about police brutality. All of this has made them more sensitive to gender equality and race relations.
More pragmatic, less idealistic
This new generation brings exciting revelations that the accounting profession will certainly embrace; one is that centennials are more pragmatic.
Rather than being self-absorbed and so focused on self-expression and standing out, this new generation is much more tempered, showcasing realistic expectations, more self-assuredness, a resilient nature and even better behavior. In fact, as shocking as it may be, today’s youth is 43 percent less likely to smoke, 34 percent less likely to binge drink and 45 percent less likely to have sex before age 13 than teens in 1991, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey on U.S. youth by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is also to say that centennials are less likely to exhibit the risky or dangerous behavior associated with millennials, and more likely to work hard and practice integrity.
While millennials are often so caught up in digital communication, the fact that centennials grew up with technology is a great advantage for the accounting profession. That’s because the majority of centennials actually prefer to connect with people in person, according to the survey. And, perhaps stemming from events such as WikiLeaks, the group seems to be more into their privacy and anonymity, communicating on services such as Snapchat.
On the other hand, connecting with centennials is a challenge, but one you can certainly tackle by being flexible and understanding. You see, while millennials consumed technology and often worked the system to their advantage, centennials will likely be bolder, ready and willing to change it. This may mean centennials want more control, finding their own ways to get things done with the tools at their disposal. But, rather than trying to make them do things a certain way, invite them in and be mindful of their propensity for discovery and growth, unlocking untapped potential for you and your firm. If you don’t, they may find success on their own, or seek out your competition who may be more inclusive of their capabilities.
For centennials, conforming is just not in their DNA. So, enforcing a certain dress code, for example, will likely turn them away. They’re more basic and subdued, but this is not to say that they won’t go the extra mile to take your firm to the next level.
These folks are hyperaware of what’s around them, living and breathing technology and the ability to access it whenever they desire. Therefore, like the generation before them, they want the flexibility to work anywhere at any time. Moreover, they love immediate and informal communication from everyone on the team, especially the higher-ups. So, make sure you cater to this and promote a transparent, conducive environment for them. If you aren’t doing this already, you’re behind the 8-Ball.
Embrace the centennial change
As you can see, this new wave of centennials brings a lot to the table. If we learned anything from the millennials before them, it’s that we must embrace change and be willing to adapt to future generations.
So, be understanding of all these centennial characteristics and don’t be afraid to welcome them to the profession. After all, they are the future, and pretty soon, they’ll be making their mark on the profession. Forward-thinking, flexible firms that embrace centennials will see their greatest impact and success.