VIEWPOINT

THE CENTENNIAL WORKFORCE

THE CENTENNIALS: WORKFORCE OF THE FUTURE

NIGEL HEE

ATTRACTING AND ENGAGING A NEW GENERATION

We started with Baby Boomers, then moved to Generation X. Next up was Generation Y and the Millennials. Now, we have a new generation of young people forging their own path.

There is no formal definition for when this new generation actually began, but the Pew Research Center defines the beginning of this post-Millennial generation as starting in 1997 to 2012. This means that many of them are poised to join the workforce very soon.

There are also no official labels for this generation, but two commonly used terms are “Generation Z” and “Centennials”. Compared to all other previous generations, Centennials are on track to become the most diverse and well-educated generation. For employers looking to groom the next batch of leaders, including accountancy and finance professionals, understanding, attracting and engaging the Centennials is going to require a radical shift in approach.

DEFINING CENTENNIALS

It is by no means easy to define any generation, much less one that is on the rise. Nonetheless, Centennials have some unique characteristics that stand in stark contrast to all previous generations: they have a strong entrepreneurial streak and are self-starters, they attach a greater meaning to their work and they are digital natives.

Entrepreneurial

For Centennials, the notion of success has been influenced by legendary, iconic entrepreneurs and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google) and Elon Musk (Tesla) are just a few notable ones. Their successes in transforming the ways we socialise, buy things, get information and travel have fundamentally changed our lives. More importantly, their efforts are living proof that anyone with a dream, coupled with grit and a desire to innovate, can revolutionise the world. It is no wonder entrepreneurial Centennials are stepping forward to try to realise their aspirations in startup ventures.

Seek meaning

Success for Centennials has a very different definition. Monetary rewards used to be the main motivation for working. However, Centennials also seek a connection to a greater calling to derive meaning from their work. They will research potential employers to better understand their reputation and internal culture, and look for things like a strong brand image, brand values that they perceive to be ethical, and an engaging and open work environment. From this perspective, Centennials are not just the stereotypical office worker of yore but individuals who want to be an integral part of the big – and bigger – picture.

Digitally savvy

This desire to be cognisant of the big picture can partly be attributed to Centennials being the first true digital natives. Though Millennials saw the introduction of the Internet, the rise of smartphones and social media, the Centennials grew up surrounded by widespread mobile network, Internet search engines and the ability to connect with anyone, anywhere and at any time. Information about anything and everything is available at the drop of a hat, and this connectivity and accessibility has been nothing but a boon for Centennials. The large amount of information available to them has encouraged them to see the Internet as the first source of information, even if it is about potential career options. As a case in point, in a survey by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) of about 3,400 Centennials, 74% of the respondents said they get information about potential career options from the Internet.

SO HOW DO WE ENGAGE THE CENTENNIAL?

Any coherent strategy to attract and retain Centennial accountancy professionals should contain the following elements:

  • A coherent social media narrative: A consistent social media messaging creates the appropriate platform for companies to promote themselves to the Centennials as they surf the Internet as part of their daily routines.
  • A strong human element in the workplace: An open work environment is not just about the physical space but being involved in the decision-making process.
  • Broad training and development paths: Foster the entrepreneurial spirit in Centennials by offering extensive opportunities for personal development.
  • Meaningful work-life balance: A clear boundary between “work” and “after work” needs to be established so that Centennials have the freedom to pursue their personal interests.

Ensure a consistent social media narrative

Centennials are voracious consumers and users of multiple social media platforms. Notable platforms that have whetted their appetite include Instagram, Twitter and more recently, TikTok. Some 46% of Centennials surveyed by IFAC said social media was their channel of choice for information.

For companies that focus on providing accountancy-related services, this phenomenon presents itself as a particularly thorny issue. Social media is often (rightfully) perceived to be a minefield that, on first glance, does not seem to have a place in accountancy and financial services. However, social media is often the first place that the Centennials turn to for first-hand information about a company. They may search for and browse the official social media accounts of the company, its current employees and/or its LinkedIn page to construct their personal perspective. This means that these companies need to have a strategy that has a consistent social media narrative across all points of contact. Centennials who seek out these accounts are already naturally curious about the company. A consistent message will provide meaningful insights for them and thus set the company in a positive light.

Emphasise the human element

Despite their preference for forming their own opinions, Centennials still seek a strong human element in the workplace. Informal polls show that 72% of Centennials prefer a face-to-face conversation at work but may also find it difficult to distinguish whether a face-to-face conversation is more appropriate than an email or text exchange.

For the workplace, this may require a fundamental re-examination of whether current hierarchies remain appropriate in light of the workforce that will be entering the market. Because Centennials crave collaboration and being close to the action, it may in fact be a great idea to include Centennials as much and as often as possible when decisions need to be made. One way is to have a leader for each smaller unit of the hierarchy. This allows Centennials to be closer to the decision-maker and provides them with opportunities to contribute and learn from the decision-making process.

Broader training and development paths

Centennials, as strong self-starters, gravitate towards learning but also tend to seek out new things that are not necessarily related to their professional work. A broad range of training and development courses and initiatives that provides sufficient background and knowledge for Centennials to explore different job roles and career paths should be made available to them. Another method may be for companies to create mentorship programmes to signal to Centennials that they are also investing in their personal growth.

Firms that focus on providing accountancy-related services may be well-placed to offer diverse training and development paths. With the advent of fintech and the ongoing disruption of traditional accountancy practices by new technologies, 75% of Centennials surveyed by IFAC think that technology will make accountancy-related jobs more interesting or more accountancy-related jobs will be created, compared to only 33% who think that technology will instead cause a decline in the number of accountancy-related jobs. The onus is now on companies to offer broad training and development paths to attract and retain Centennials interested in a career in accountancy.

Ensure meaningful work-life balance

For Centennials, work-life balance is not just about being able to work remotely or having a foosball table in the company premises. Rather, it encapsulates a holistic attitude towards work by employees and supervisors. Loosely conceived, it tends to mean a harmonious fit between the demands of professional and personal life. The IFAC survey revealed that 71% of Centennials felt that work-life balance is an important factor in deciding on a career, and 63% felt that professional accountancy offered that.

However, in practice, apart from technology enabling remote working, the company may also need to create meaningful and targeted family-friendly policies. These policies include, but are not limited to, flexible working hours, job-sharing, compressed work weeks and the freedom to control their own schedules.

For companies focused on providing accountancy-related services, remote working may be anathema as client information is confidential, while billable hours may be difficult to track while working remotely. Furthermore, there remains a strong sense of security and familiarity in having employees in the office. As such, work-life balance is not just about enacting these policies but also about employers changing their expectations.

ENACT CHANGES

Attracting and engaging Centennials will require a concerted and deliberate effort, targeting their unique characteristics. Companies need to start the process of adapting to this new wave of the workforce, particularly in their hiring and retention processes. The next Centennial accountancy professional is out there. You just need to get them to knock on your door.


Nigel Hee is Manager, Insights & Publications, ISCA.