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What Millennial Workers Want

Employers have been struggling to understand Generation Ys attitudes and values. Learn how firms can position themselves as employers of choice to this generation.

September 22, 2008
Sponsored by Accountemps

Ever since members of Generation Y (Gen Y) — also known as the Millennial Generation — began streaming into the workforce, employers have been struggling to understand and adapt to the attitudes, expectations and values of this new generation of workers.

Many accounting firm leaders and managers have publicly noted that members of this generational group seem to have much different career expectations than some of the generations that preceded them. Consequently, there is a greater realization that traditional motivators and career paths, such as the partner track that has long existed at public accounting firms, may not have the same relevance or appeal to this generation.

Numbering nearly 80 million, Millennials are broadly defined as those born between 1979 and 1999. As more and more baby boomers ease out of the workforce in the years ahead, this sizable generation will become an increasingly vital segment of the workforce. And as their numbers and influence grow, accounting firms will need to continue to seek a better understanding of what makes members of Gen Y tick. Of paramount importance to firms is how they can attract and retain this generation of employees so that they can meet their future business needs even as the talent pool constricts as a result of boomer retirements and growing shortages of skilled workers.

To gain insights into how accounting firms can position themselves as an employer of choice to this generation, Robert Half International and Yahoo! HotJobs recently teamed up to survey more than 1,000 of the most senior members of Gen Y, those between 21 years to 28 years of age. The key findings from the survey are contained in the report, What Millennial Workers Want: How to Attract and Retain Gen Y Employees. Here are some of the highlights:

Money matters. Millennials acknowledge that they’re eager to climb the salary ladder. They said they are most likely to be lured to another firm by higher pay, better perks and benefits, greater opportunities for advancement and more interesting work, in that order. In light of this finding — and considering that Millennials have grown up surrounded by technology and its associated instant results — employers may have more success attracting and keeping Gen Y workers by making them an attractive upfront salary offer, rather than a low starting salary with the possibility of a raise or bonus down the line.

Workplace appeal. Survey respondents ranked working with a boss they can respect and learn from as the most important aspect of their work environment. “Working with people I enjoy” and having “work/life balance” rounded out the top three responses. These factors ranked ahead of having a short commute, working for a socially-responsible company, having a nice office space and working with the latest technology, in that order, suggesting that Gen Y values an appealing corporate culture and flexible workplace over creature comforts. While Gen Y has a reputation for being tethered to technology, they place a surprisingly high value on personal interactions with coworkers. Two-thirds of respondents cited in-person conversations with other professionals as their preferred communication method. Only one-in-five said they would rather communicate by e-mail.

The takeaway for firm managers: Make sure your workplace is structured to encourage plenty of the “face time” that Gen Y professionals enjoy. This could mean arranging work groups in open, connected seating areas that facilitate easy communication or creating more opportunities for employees to socialize during and after work. Pleasant break rooms or cafeterias, monthly staff lunches and opportunities for out-of-office gatherings can go a long way toward keeping this group engaged and productive.

Communication is everything. Generation Y is accustomed to direct, ongoing supervision and guidance from parents, teachers and other authority figures. They seek a similar relationship with their bosses, looking to them for almost constant feedback. In fact, 35 percent of those surveyed said they want to communicate with their boss several times a day. Once per day was sufficient for one-quarter of respondents, while only 10 percent would be content with weekly communication.

For accounting firms, this means that allowing Gen Y employees to interact with colleagues on work teams and providing them with a steady stream of performance-related feedback from managers and coworkers may be essential to keeping them productive and engaged.

Bring on the challenge. Because Gen Yers grew up with a high level of stimulation (TV, video games, the Internet and myriad extracurricular activities), they thrive on variety and change and will disengage quickly if they’re not challenged. Gen Y professionals are especially eager to stretch their skills and are likely to relish opportunities to develop new competencies. For example, they may prefer a series of short-term roles on several different engagements, as opposed to being assigned to a long-term project with one client. In addition, they’re likely to prefer rotational assignments that provide wide exposure to various clients, industries and business areas.

Career progression. Millennials want to make a contribution to their employers; in return, they want help achieving their career goals. The firms that are most likely to attract Gen Y are those that promote perks such as in-house training and mentoring programs, rotational opportunities, reimbursement for tuition and professional fees, and paid time-off for professional development activities, including pursuing certifications. Most important: Millennials want to feel that they’re learning and growing in their career and are motivated by opportunities to take ownership of projects and tasks, however small.

Balancing act. Employers can encourage longer tenures and greater loyalty if they offer perks and programs that support Gen Y’s desire for personal/professional balance. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of those surveyed said they are concerned about their ability to balance a career with personal obligations. To improve retention of younger workers, companies may need to rethink traditional career paths and timetables for advancement and offer options such as job sharing, telecommuting, compressed workweeks or flexible schedules as appropriate.

There is little doubt that Generation Y has its own unique preferences when it comes to work styles, professional expectations and career concerns. Creating a rewarding environment for these staff members will be particularly important in the coming years, as more boomers retire and firms look to new generations of workers to replace them. Moreover, many of the workplace features Millennials seek — such as professional development and advancement opportunities — should have wide appeal to accounting professionals from all demographic groups and experience levels.

For more insights into this group’s professional priorities and mindset, you can request a copy of the report, What Millennial Workers Want: How to Attract and Retain Gen Y Employees at www.rhi.com/GenY.

Accountemps is one of the world’s first and largest temporary staffing service specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The company has more than 360 offices in North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com.