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Top Talent Turn Offs

Six outmoded work practices driving away your best Millennial recruits. By Bridget McCrea | Fall 2016

Turn Offs


Millennials aren’t the most loyal bunch. At least that’s what The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016 tells us, where a whopping 44 percent of Millennials state they’re thinking about leaving you in the next two years. Obviously, some CPA firms have a lot to learn in a very short time.

As the nation’s largest living generation, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that Millennials (ages 19-35 presently) are on track to make up 75 percent of the working population by 2030. This presents both opportunities and challenges for CPA firms.

First though, the hard truth: A half-baked approach to welcoming Millennial talent just won’t cut it, especially when competition for the best recruits is tougher than ever, and their expectations are higher than ever.

“This remarkable absence of allegiance represents a serious challenge to any business employing a large number of Millennials, especially those in markets—like the U.S.—where Millennials now represent the largest segment of the workforce,” the Deloitte survey points out. But there’s a silver lining: Because most young professionals choose organizations that share their personal values, it’s not too late to overcome this “loyalty challenge,” Deloitte notes.

“We’re in an employees’ market right now, and top recruits have a lot of job options to choose from,” says Cara Silletto, a workforce expert with Louisville, Ken.-based Crescendo Strategies. “CPA firms are doing particularly well and are able to scoop up good talent from one another, pay those employees more, and treat them as they want to be treated.”

As for firms taking an antiquated approach to hiring, retention and work practices…well, reconsider your strategy. You might be clinging to some of the Millennial generation’s biggest turn offs. Here are six of the top ones.

1. Structured overtime

When Silletto works with CPA firms, one of her first pieces of advice is to abolish structured overtime, especially during tax season—you know, when a 40-hour workweek just isn’t enough.

Instead of implementing mandatory Saturday hours, for example, companies should consider allowing workers to extend their weekdays to accommodate the larger workload. “As long as the billable hours expectation is met, why does it matter when the work gets done?” Silletto challenges.

“This doesn’t mean you can’t expect overtime,” she adds, “but it does give your valued employees the flexibility to be able to meet their work goals and deadlines in their own way. This can be a tremendous differentiator for gaining top talent over other firms.”
2. Cookie-cutter hiring & development

Taking the “my way or the highway” approach to employee development doesn’t go very far these days. In fact, it only serves to drive most of your top talent away, says Howard Blumstein, CPA, BDO’s Chicago Assurance managing partner. Whether it means taking a new approach to resume and skills reviews, offering opportunities that enhance work-life balance, or developing positive, nurturing leaders, the CPA firm that takes a flexible approach will come out the winner in today’s hiring market.

“It’s about openness and positivity versus just creating a structured, rigid management approach,” says Blumstein. For example, instead of turning away a potential recruit (or one who is ready for a promotion) because he or she is missing a critical skill, Blumstein’s team looks at the positive side of the equation and finds ways to help that person fill in those gaps.

“We focus more on their strengths versus just their weaknesses,” he says, “and strive to place people in positions where their strengths can be leveraged.”

3. Mandatory office hours

“Twenty years ago CPAs had to be onsite to work, but today they can work from anywhere,” thanks to technology infrastructures that support employee flexibility, Silletto explains. And contrary to traditional thinking, visibility in the office doesn’t always mean greater productivity.

That said, you need to “set clear expectations,” she advises, “and let your employees do their jobs wherever, whenever they are most productive.” That’s where you inspire loyalty in your most sought-after talent.

4. Old-school micromanagement

“Top professionals are self-directed and take pride in their capabilities,” says Mari Anne Snow, a learning and development executive with Sophaya in Boston. “Old-style command-and-control management is seen as disrespectful and condescending,” she explains. “Over time, it kills morale.”

Instead of micromanaging employees, Snow urges CPA firm leaders to make those individuals part of the strategy discussion.

“Don’t just relegate them strictly to transactional accounting,” she says. “Realize that smart people can see the meaning behind the numbers, and that they are interested in helping business leaders with their analysis.”

5. One-way communication

According to Deloitte’s survey, open communication, inclusiveness and attention to Millennials’ ambitions all help to foster loyalty. And having a strong sense of purpose beyond financial success is another key driver.

During a Millennial’s ideal workweek, for example, Deloitte says there would be “significantly more time” devoted to the discussion of new ideas and ways of working, on coaching and mentoring, and the development of their leadership skills.

“You learn a lot when you listen to your employees, and that’s one thing we are really focused on here at BDO,” says Blumstein. “We’re constantly talking to team members, getting a gauge on what motivates them, and figuring out what interests them the most.”

This, in turn, helps employees of all ages feel as though they have a real “voice” in important matters. “No one wants to be told, ‘this is the way it is, and how we’ve done it for years,’” Blumstein points out. “This is a completely different era, and one that requires CPA firms to talk to and listen to their new and prospective employees in a way that they may not have ever done in the past.”

6. No transparency

Put simply, today’s top talent wants to know where its company stands, what it stands for, what types of operational strategies it’s using, and what policies they’ve instituted (and why).

“Expect to answer a lot of questions, and be ready for what they might throw at you,” Silletto advises. Consider, for example, how knowledgeable your younger recruits may be about recent financial scandals and the resulting transparency rules/laws.

“It’s really no wonder that employees want more transparency in general, let alone within the financial sector,” says Silletto. “Answer with responses like, ‘That’s how it’s always been done around here’ and you’ll wind up losing a lot of good prospects.”