I’ve worked in and around the Accounting profession for more years than I care to remember. With my headhunting hat on I usually work at the Partner and Director level, across both big and small accounting firms. Amongst other topics of conversation, the subject of “those darn Gen Y staff” comes up on a regular basis. To remove any confusion – Gen Y refers (at least in my mind) to those people born between 1980 to 2000.
I’m sure you’ve heard the usual traits attached to Gen Y: self-absorbed, sense of entitlement, lack of loyalty, poor worth ethic and more. You get the idea.
The other day, in preparation for this post, I spoke with two Gen Y professionals, both employed in accounting firms. Both were women (I was hoping to speak to a bloke , but was up against a deadline!). Let’s call these women Hannah & Emma – not their real names so as to protect the innocent. Hannah works for a Big 4 firm employing a few thousand staff in Australia; Emma works in a suburban firm with ten staff.
I asked both Hannah & Emma two questions:
- What is the most important thing(s) in your work life?
- What is the smallest change that your employer can make that would have the biggest impact on you?
Space constraints prevent me from sharing everything I learned in my conversations with Hannah & Emma so here is a quick summary of their views.
Most important things:
- Learning from others in the workplace (More is caught than what is taught).
- Investment in their development (They welcome technical/work course but would appreciate input into their personal development. This will more often than not have a positive impact on their work anyway e.g. like learning a language).
- Having the respect of their bosses, peers, staff & clients (Recognition is important but they want to earn the praise, not just be given it).
Small change with the biggest impact:
- Interestingly both Hannah & Emma’s responses here centered on food.
- Hannah would love her firm to provide a cafeteria that provided meals at a heavily subsidised rate or at zero cost. This would make her working life so much easier and would more likely than not result in her being more productive at work.
- Emma likes the idea of a monthly lunch where the firm got together over a meal and shared ideas, war stories and had the opportunity to get to know each other better.
Hmmm … interestingly the above comments don’t really line up with the Gen Y stereotype do they? Believe me when I say this, I’ve met scores of Baby Boomers and Gen Xer’s who are more self-absorbed, have a deeper sense of entitlement, lack loyalty and have a poor worth ethic. Funnily enough, the older ones have been doing it a whole lot longer than the Gen Yer’s so these “bad traits” are much more ingrained.
The bottom line here is simply this: ignore the generational labels and focus on the person. If you want the best from them ask them how to do it.
The answer might just surprise you!