Within the next five years, Millennials and Gen Z-ers will make up most of the workforce.
The accountancy industry has long been dominated by the older generations but now, as Baby Boomers flood into retirement, it’s increasingly clear that Gen X-ers can’t fill the sheer volume of roles or the knowledge gap left behind on their own.
Instead, Millennials, now in their late thirties are stepping up and assuming leadership positions along with the oldest of Gen Z who are leaving college and entering the workplace for the first time.
The generational difference
With pre-pandemic pent up demand, stimulus-induced growth and organisations aggressively re positioning themselves to thrive in todays ‘new normal’, it is unsurprising that CFOs are concerned about the availability of talent in the coming years. And the traditional unappealing stereotype of a career in finance is not helping to attract younger generations either.
So, if the Millennial generation is already the largest in the UK workplace, where are they choosing to work if not in the finance and accountancy profession and why are we failing to attract them?
Over the last decade, a number of emerging professions such as machine learning, computer engineering, tech, statistical analysis and data science have offered alternative career paths for numerate and innovative talent. The number of graduates now willing to even consider a role in finance is at an all-time low.
And as for those Millennials already working in finance and accountancy, are reported to be currently looking for new opportunities. After entering the profession during uncertain economic times as a “safe bet” career, they now are unwilling to accept a poor work-life balance or a transactional role, with the pandemic only exacerbating this unwillingness to compromise further.
The transition we are now experiencing is laying bare the intergenerational frictions and preferences between the work-hard, play-hard generation of Gen X-ers, the Millennials who value different priorities in life and the digital native Gen Z-ers who want to make a difference in the world and crave social purpose.
As these generational transitions play through, businesses and functional leaders need to be ahead of the curve, creating engaging work environments to successfully attract and retain talent in an increasingly competitive market.
Historically, a role in finance has boasted many benefits such as high earning potential, the ability for further studies and job security. And so far, finance professionals have accepted that long hours, challenging but often tedious work and a transactional relationship with a role are all fair-trade offs.
But this will not be the same with the new generations, who hold financial rewards as important, but not at the cost of wellness and work-life balance, personal and professional development, autonomy and most importantly, purpose and feeling connected to the values of the business in which they work.
For the Baby Boomers who have gone before, the simple idea of a company focusing on producing services and products in return for generating a profit made sense. But for Millennials, and even more so Gen Z, the values of the organisation are an essential component to choosing and thriving in a role. Ethics, diversity and inclusion, flexibility, continuous opportunity for learning and wellbeing programmes are all now hygiene factors to attract and retain the essential talent required for successful companies.
For innovative start-ups and more established organisations with younger workforces, the challenges of recruitment and retention of the up-and-coming generations have already been addressed. For more established businesses yet to make the transition, the exercise is not so simple. Because at the heart of making the shift is clarity of an organisation’s purpose and the supporting culture. No amount of increasing financial rewards, company policies or lip service will work as an alternative.
Organisations must go back to basics to deeply understand and communicate their purpose if they are to continually build an emotional connection with their workers. And then designing the organisational structure to empower colleagues to make decisions to adapt and deliver that purpose at pace – all whilst appreciating colleagues as individuals with personal lives, hopes and desires, physical and mental health issues and embracing diversity.
The role of the finance function is changing
If the generational shifts were not enough, the role of a finance function is also changing. Transitioning from rear to forward-looking, internally to externally facing and transactional to strategic. Agile data and agile technology are critical enablers for this to happen. But most importantly, so is an agile culture – formed through nurturing agile skill sets and mindsets.
The good news is that these functional trends also appeal to the newer digital native generations. The influx of finance technology provides an opportunity to automate repetitive tasks whilst data and analytics support the ability of finance to create forward looking scenarios and insight to drive business performance and minimise risk.
There is a direct correlation between high performing businesses and high performing finance functions – and now has never been a more critical time for finance leaders to make the shifts required to successfully support organisations in this never normal world.
The days of the stereotypical accountant sitting behind a desk building spreadsheets to report on historical performance are gone.
Working in finance has never been a more exciting proposition for those wanting to make a real difference within an organisation. However, the finance teams of the future look different to those of the past. And those traditional stereotypes of accountants and finance teams do us a disservice when we look to attract the talent needed for the future.
Perhaps now is the right time for a rebrand?
As a former CFO of ASOS, Helen is a digital, retail and transformational change expert with more than 25 years in the business. With deep knowledge of the retail sector, Helen has the power to disrupt at pace through digital technology, agility and innovation. Her unique, disruptive approach to transforming businesses is a game changer for organisations in today’s never normal world.