Managing millennials: talent retention

Millennials do not tend to stay in the same job for longer than two years before searching for new opportunities, Phil Chambers CEO and co-founder at Peakon, considers what accountany firms need to do to manage and hold on to their millennials

It is a familiar story in accountancy: graduates arrive, receive training, and leave. It is understandable that many firms resent this, especially as education and accreditation is not cheap. Rather than accept this as an inevitable expense, we - as leaders - need to understand how to properly manage millennial restlessness and ambition.

It is a bold statement to make, but the structure of the accountancy career path almost seems intentionally designed to be incompatible with the younger generation. What worked in the past for the Baby Boomers, just doesn’t cut it with the younger members of the workforce.

Previous generations placed more value in extrinsic rewards, such as a high salary, the status of their job title, and a good pension. They saw merit in a vertical career ladder at a single company. If you worked hard and paid your dues, then you could be confident that it would be recognised and rewarded. The career path was exactly that- a predefined journey that was laid out before you; you knew exactly where you would be in five, 10 or 15 years. And for Boomers, it worked.

For millennials, however, it doesn’t. As a generation, they are naturally entrepreneurial - they relish the opportunity to be self-directed and cut their own path. To them, an overly-structured career ladder is a limitation. Furthermore, these young people are used to living in an environment of extreme technological change. It’s not a rational choice to plan a career ten years into the future when it’s so tough to predict how the job market will evolve.

The accountancy blueprint can cause issues from the very start, while new graduates are working towards their qualifications. During the recruitment process, candidates are often promised rotation and the opportunity to turn their hand to different areas of the business. In reality, they were recruited to fill a specific gap within a team and rotation was never really an option. For the millennial, this not only creates a personal sense of frustration and stagnation, but also leads to a distrust of their employer.

After completing their qualifications, the same issue remains unresolved. The primary concern for many newly qualified accountants is that they will continue to do exactly the same work that they did while training, albeit for a little more money. Even at this stage, it can be difficult for them to transfer departments and gain more varied experience. More often than not, their position is allocated to them by the firm with little consultation, and as a result, the young, ambitious accountant feels like they have no control over their own destiny.

In an attempt to wrestle back control, the millennial will start to consider their options and seek new challenges elsewhere. Besides, the average tenure for millennials across all industries is two years - it is unsurprising that those in accountancy will want change after working towards accreditation for three. When the employee inevitably leaves, they will be labelled disloyal, though in fact, the situation was entirely the firm’s making all along. Had their employer made a conscious effort to provide them with variety and stimulation, the employee would likely have stayed.

Leadership management

So how do we, as leaders, not only appease these millennial urges, but properly harness and direct this ambition? After all, the willingness to learn and be self-directed is a hugely beneficial trait.

The first step is the most obvious and also the most important: communicate. We need to understand the goals and concerns of our teams, as well as we understand our own. Despite being fundamental to our duty as managers, it is something we only invest time and resources into at predefined points in the calendar year.

For millennials, traditional employee engagements initiatives such as annual surveys and six-month performance reviews are considered archaic. As a generation that has been raised on social media, they see no reason why they can’t discuss their progress with their manager on a continuous basis.

The second step is to take their concerns seriously and follow-up on the issues raised. In the case of millennials desiring greater variety in their role, accountancy firms can offer initiatives such as secondments into industry, or for larger practices, transfers to offices abroad. While it may be frustrating to find yourself one team member short for a period of time, your employees will return energised and enriched with new knowledge and ideas. This diversity of experience is not just important for the personal development of the individual, but valuable to the team and firm as a whole.

It is no surprise that Google continually tops the polls as the one company that millennials want to work at above all others; the tech giant is famed for its fun, relaxed, employee-centric approach. While accountancy firms may not see Google as a competitor for business, they should view them as a competitor for talent. A company is only as good as its people - you need to make sure you can recruit and retain the best.

About the author

Phil Chambers is co-founder and CEO at Peakon, a leading provider of HR analytics software. 

Phil Chambers |Co-founder and CEO, Peakon

Phil is co-founder and CEO at Peakon, a leading provider of HR analytics software. He is passionate about using data to create meani...

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