• Career Center

    Accounting Firms Need to Change Their Approach to Managing Millennials, Or Else

    By | August 28, 2017

    With so many articles written about how to manage millennials, what’s wrong with millennials, etc., it’s easy to assume that there is something difficult about the millennial generation. Some say it’s the millennials’ fault for being so damn entitled and not showing respect for the “way things are done” while others say it is a problem with myopic management skills. I see something bigger happening.

    While firms tout how accommodating they are to millennials with their “work-life balance” and their “work hard, play hard” culture, there’s something important missing. Firms are focusing too much on a “fun culture” with their fully-stocked open bar and making the office “modern” with their colorful beanbags all the while they are drastically missing the point.

    Millennial tax staff are spending all of their time hand-keying numbers into a tax return and hand-writing on the tax processing sheet. Even if they are sitting in a fancy beanbag chair, do you know what the millennial tax staff are thinking? “A computer could be doing this. I should be worried. I should be doing something else.” And honestly, nothing kills employee engagement more than an employee thinking, “I should be doing something else.”

    Maybe you’ve noticed, but there’s a bit of a technology wave going on. And millennials are riding it. Hell, we grew up with it. We grew up with new technologies being built and expanded at a pace of change that can be difficult to grasp at times. So while firms spend their time and energy stocking their open bar and buying fancy beanbags, their best, brightest, and most creative employees are leaving.

    Enter the millennial management paradigm.

    This millennial management paradigm is the idea that most millennial employees (including the older millennials that are now becoming managers themselves) are still being shoved into a status quo box. A box filled with:

    All the while, firms say that their culture is progressive, modern, and innovative. It’s time to see the forest for the trees, people. It’s time for a millennial management paradigm shift.

    This millennial management paradigm shift involves a 3-part process:

    1. Adopting a culture of flexibility This bases billable hour compliance requirements on each employee’s goals and strengths to allow for more consulting, more business development, and more innovation overall.
    2. Focusing on leadership training that cultivates the skills needed to be successful outside of traditional compliance work.
    3. Creating a culture of “SPACE” for innovative employees to develop new initiatives and technological advances.

    If we stop stifling our best and brightest millennial minds through endless billable hours and compliance work, then we can start giving these minds the space to innovate and the space to create progress.

    Because here’s the thing. If we don’t start thinking about the change that needs to happen and allowing employees the resources to develop it, then the startup down the street will.

    Image: iStock/jgroup

    • HWSquared

      I am a Millenial (albeit towards one end of the year bracket, not in the middle).

      Pay me and then get out of my way. I’m only here because you pay me.

      If you want to incentivise me, find me things to do that are vaguely mentally stimulating (it’s accounting and audit, there’s not going to be a lot of that, I accept that) and then accept the fact that I am always going to prioritise my real life over what you want.

      I’m not here to ‘build my leadership skills’, and I’m definitely not going to use ‘SPACE’ to create and develop exciting new things for you. You don’t pay me for that. Anything I do create, I’m damn sure going to try and benefit from personally.

      • guest

        Just curious – why do you say that you’re not there to build your leadership skills? If you mean that you’re not going to master the art of bullshit, like telling someone how important work-life balance is while you draft an email about mandatory charge hours, I respect that.

        However, you can still absorb things like learning how to ask difficult questions, deliver a difficult message, smoothing ruffled feathers, etc. Those are all “leadership skills” you can learn, if only by listening when someone else is having those conversations (or reading the email, if you are cc’d). Yes, sometimes it’s a lesson in what NOT to do. When I was a newb, my partner sent a scathing email to my manager about my eval being late, and I was cc’d. The manager was really smooth, made sure the partner knew it wasn’t due to my delay, and just generally kept the partner’s bad mood from being my problem. Told me not to worry about it. I knew then exactly what kind of boss I’d want to grow up to be, and what I didn’t want to emulate.

        • HWSquared

          Because why do I want to be a ‘leader’?

          Having a manager that provides proper air cover, at the time it’s needed, for the right reason – like in your case above – isn’t ‘leadership’, it’s prioritising appropriately and acting like a rational human being. If you need to learn that sort of thing, you probably should be working in a different job to audit/accounting.

      • PwC Guy

        ^ This dude gets it. Another older Millennial here. Agree completely.

        We are here for one reason and one reason only. Money. Whether that means we want to make that money now, or we are working towards making more money later, we are here for the green. The only people that give two s***s about “the firm” are the partners, and that’s just because their money is tied up in it. Most of us know we will never make partner, and because of that we don’t want to give the firm any more time out of our lives than what is absolutely necessary. Also, why the hell should we care about our firm? We could jump ship to any other firm of comparable size and it would be the exact same life there.

        You want our loyalty? Earn it. You want us to be more motivated? Pay us more and let us work less. We will have happier personal lives, and that will carry over into more productivity at work. Studies repeatedly show this, and yet the firms don’t change because the people at the top don’t care enough to make any meaningful changes. Much easier to just give it lip service and go back to making your money off the backs of the expendable people below you.

        One last hint: We don’t want “flexible” hours, we want LESS hours. You want to work yourself into an early grave, be my guest. You want me to work crazy hours, be sleep deprived and miserable, just so you can make some BS unrealistic budget? Go f*** yourself.

    • The Horniest Partner

      I started public accounting in mid 90s. I have seen a dramatic change during my career. I started and the founding partners were old Korean war vets who ruled with iron fists. They worked until they were 70-ish. Had strict hours to be in the office, had to sign in when arrived, sign out and in for lunch, sign out at end of day. Wear full business suits all the time even if at a jeans wearing client. Had to wear your suit jacket if you walked out of the office, even if it was 100 degrees out.
      My next firm’s (my current firm) managing partner worked 80+ hours a week, 7-days a week. He went to all the networking in the evenings and client fund raiser events on the weekends. Another senior partner was similar. Put firm first, family and personal life second. Both didn’t have young kids. Although not expected to do the same, staff (non-partners) were constantly asked to do these types of networking and client events. I had young kids. It was tough working a lot of hours, then going to a client gala on Saturday night, paying for sitters, etc.
      Today, we have very flexible hours. We have jeans day. It is pulling teeth to get our staff and others to do firm stuff outside of regular work hours.

    • Debit_cash

      Y’all want millenials to be more motivated, while the lazy partners leave the office by 4pm, and the staff works 60+ hour weeks (with no over time pay)? And y’all still want us to attend firm “networking events” to show how motivated we are? GTFOH.

      This is hypocrisy at its finest.

      I have a better idea: get the experience that you need, then open up your own firm and compete directly with the lazy partners. Take the food right out of their children’s mouth.

      • Adam Hill

        This is passive aggressive at its finest.

        • Debit_cash

          Yet another “debit_cash” groupy. Welcome!

          • Adam Hill

            It’s groupie, dumb ass. I’m off this awesome train!

    • PwC Guy

      This article started well, and the linked articles were good, but this fell apart at the end. Sorry lady, you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid too, you just drank the Millennial Kool-Aid. Not every Millennial wants that fluffy crap. Here’s an older Millennial’s take on those suggestions:

      1. Screw your flexibility, we want to work less hours. I don’t care how flexible you are, 60 hours is 60 hours, whether you squeeze that in after evening yoga or before the kids get up on Saturday. We want to work 40 hours max. You want us to work more? Pay us more. Overtime exists for a reason.

      2. Screw your leadership training. If you stay in public past senior you’ll get that whether you like it or not. We are here for the money, whether that is now or later. Want us to stay? Pay us more than the other firms and companies will.

      3. LMAO. Space. Innovation. That’s cute. Most of us don’t have the slightest desire to “innovate” something in auditing or tax. We are here every day to put in our required time so we can get paid and go back to enjoying life rather than making money for someone else. No amount of innovation makes up for being paid 30%-40% under market.

      What we really want, and are willing to work harder for, is more money and more free time. There is no incentive to work hard in public accounting right now, because if you finish your work early you are just handed more work. Fix that, and boost our pay, and I bet you would see a dramatic overnight jump in productivity.

    • Biff Tannen

      Public accounting exists under a masquerade of importance and a facade of dignity and purpose. Strip it away. It all comes down to a simple equation: where can I make money and not have to work 80 hours per week? Flexibility is meaningless and unsatisfying when it still involves sacrificing the better part of your life to work.

      • Debit_cash


    • Point and Clique

      “Adopting a culture of flexibility This bases billable hour compliance requirements on each employee’s goals and strengths to allow for more consulting, more business development, and more innovation overall.”

      Aaaand, there go our benefits. Anytime you institute piece-work, stable benefits go out of the window and you become part of the shitty part-time economy, a la zero-hour contracts in the UK.

      “Focusing on leadership training that cultivates the skills needed to be successful outside of traditional compliance work.”

      Too many chiefs, not enough indians.

      “Creating a culture of “SPACE” for innovative employees to develop new initiatives and technological advances.”

      Why, so the partner can inherit the windfall from our efficiencies? How about allow minor equity buy-ins or something else so that the net benefit of automation isn’t just getting more thankless work?

      • HWSquared

        Exactly. On the freeloading note – fourteen hour day yesterday with 20 minutes in the middle for lunch, and the occasional break when I was on hold or a conference call… Today, most of the team is in different offices, and I intend to be out the door about 3pm.