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In Through the Out Door

How to stem the tide of Millennials leaving your firm. By Sheryl Nance-Nash | Winter 2015

Winter In Out Door

If high turnover among your Millennial talent is causing you sleepless nights, tossing and turning, worrying about the future of your firm, then it’s time to listen up. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure of Millennial workers aged 25-34 in 2014 was only three years. That’s less than one-third of the tenure the Bureau reported for workers aged 55-64. Add to that the hefty direct and indirect costs of filling a vacant position—from advertising, recruiter fees, salary and benefits to training, lost productivity and integration into the workplace—and you see why it may be tough for some firm leaders to catch forty winks.

It goes without saying that today’s accounting firms need to strategize to win and keep not only the minds, but also the hearts of the next generation of leaders. While it’s tough appealing to a generation of employees that generally prizes meaningful work over salary, these six tips will help.

Tip #1: Opportunity is key

“Lack of career advancement—it’s one of the main reasons young professionals leave,” explains Kathy Gans, senior VP of financial professional recruiting and placement firm, Accounting Principals. “As the economy strengthens, more accounting professionals with public accounting experience are in demand in the private sector,” she says. So competition is fierce.

Showing a commitment to the ongoing development of star performers is vital. “Train your managers and hold them accountable to play a role as a career coach and mentor,” says Christine DiDonato, founder of career development resource Career Revolution. If you can’t afford to provide substantial internal professional development programs, then identify the top 20 percent and send them to customized outside programs. “This will show them you care and are investing in them,” she says.

Tip #2: Millennials want a voice

“Employees want to hear and be heard. If firm leaders don’t find ways to talk to their employees and listen to what they have to say, then the employee will shut down, and it’s only a matter of time before they look for new opportunities,” says Cheryl Burke, partner and COO at accounting firm DiCicco, Gulman & Company.

Feedback culture is a big deal at Atlanta-based accounting firm Porter Keadle Moore (PKM). Recently named among the “Best Places to Work for Millennials,” PKM provides counseling and mentoring to help advance its Millennials, and has set up “accountability teams” to offer young professionals discrete guidance. The firm pushes promising talent even further with its PEAK mentorship program, which offers young pros the opportunity to gain skills by working with different partners.

“A lot of the success of our Millennials is attributed to them viewing their role as a career and not a job,” says PKM Managing Partner Phil Moore.

Tip #3: Millennials want role models

Sandra Richtermeyer, Ph.D., CMA, CPA, IMA global board member, associate dean and professor of accountancy at Ohio’s Xavier University, explains that it’s important for young professionals to gain exposure to role models who fit their specific work-life goals and with whom they can relate. “They need role models they can selfidentify with,” she says.

These role models, in turn, need to show they’re invested in the Millennials they mentor, most significantly by providing professional development guidance outside of functional job skills.

“Today’s young professionals expect—and are motivated by— development that applies to the whole self,” says DiDonato. “Things like personal brand, playing to strengths and how to make better life decisions are top of mind for our Millennial population.”

Increasing minority representation within the upper echelons and committing to diversity and inclusion programming is absolutely vital in providing relatable role models—role models who will inspire the loyalty and develop the skills of a new generation of influential leaders.

Tip #4: Millennials value flexibility

“Flexibility is one of the things our staff consistently says it values most about working at our firm. We focus on results rather than a billable hour,” says Christie Bell, PKM director of human resources. “We’ve been very open and creative about working habits, particularly for our star performers. We even allowed one of our highperforming managers to work from Costa Rica for six months.”

“Allow younger employees to research new ways to get things done,” adds Anil Saxena, president of consulting firm Cube 214. “Give them the opportunity to present their business cases and gather feedback. Implement their smart ideas.”

With flexibility comes the need for the latest technology—something with which many firms have failed to keep pace.

“Technology has been a big driver of our ability to work remotely and at the hours that we feel most productive,” explains Dave Wakeman, principal of Wakeman Consulting Group in Washington, D.C. “If firms don’t have the tools that allow flexibility and permit the firm to be focused on outcomes, it’s going to remain tough for them to maintain their talented young accountants.”

Tip #5: Image counts

To put it plainly, it pays to look the part. PKM for one has made every effort to renovate its offices to appeal to the work styles and wants of younger generations.

“Our former space was very traditional, which didn’t reflect our culture. We now have an updated, ‘retro cool look’,” says Bell. “We opened up the space as much as possible to create a more collaborative environment. Our people enjoy working in teams, so we have more breakout areas to enable them to work together. We expanded the breakroom so there’s more room for socializing. The entire office is much lighter and brighter than before. Our culture is fun and flexible and we tried to display that through the design of the new space.”

Tip #6: Rewards speak loudly

Recognize hard work and give Millennials their props. “Spot bonuses, recognition in the monthly newsletter, postings on announcement boards, and celebrating accomplishments at happy-hour style parties are some of the ideas that work,” says Hayley Bounopane, human resources director at professional services company CBIZ, Inc.

That recognition boosts confidence, inspires greater commitment, and illustrates in no uncertain terms that the firm is a cheerleader for its staff and all its best efforts.

Top 10 Millennial Wish List

  1. Clarity. Clear definitions of expectations as well as goals are vital.
  2. Shout Outs. Recognition and praise—they’re priceless from Gen Y’s perspective.
  3. Talk. And lots of it. Millennials want to be well informed on goals and initiatives.
  4. Growth. Mentoring is key; delegate and coach your next team of leaders.\
  5. Authenticity. Millennials want to work for someone they can trust, and who always follows through on their commitments.
  6. Participation. Millennials want to be part of the solution; their ideas need to be heard, considered and nurtured.
  7. Respect. Millennials may have a lot to learn from you, but they also have a lot to teach you. Respect is a priority.
  8. Education. Skills development is a top priority for up-and-comers. Don’t disappoint them.
  9. Achievement. Take the time to analyze where individuals excel and align their successes with their career paths.
  10. Pride. Millennials want to believe in their work— and take pride in what they achieve.

    Source: Rick Conlow, co-founder, WCW Partners.