Can’t We All Just Get Along? Accounting For The Generation Gap

The generation gap has been a hot button topic for managers and new hires alike since Gen Y hit the ground running in the early 2000s and began infiltrating the workplace. As the Internet, social media, text messaging, and other Gen Y staples became standards by which the Millennials communicate amongst themselves, so too did the generations that came before find themselves adopting technologies they may not have necessarily embraced at first glance. In the age of Facebook and Gchat, can’t we all just get along?

The issue is an important one not just for accounting firms but for all levels of industry. Gen Y is jam-packed with talented, tech-savvy individuals raised on Reaganomics and Nintendo. How can these individuals best offer their particular skills to the workplace without ruffling too many feathers along the way?

It starts with an understanding from both sides that some differences may never be reconciled. Don’t get offended, Gen Y (the author is at the very beginning of the pack, age-wise, and lead the Internet revolution as early as freshman year in high school – back in my day we had to wait 5 full minutes for the modem to boot up, you know), but ours is a unique generation. Even years before we entered the workforce, recruiters, managers, and partners were warned that we were special. And I don’t mean that in an entirely good way.

Of course, much of the worry was about nothing. Gen Y is no less capable than its predecessors, just a little more noticeable when it comes to demanding a workplace which allows room for adjustment. had some great comments on the gap, showing that the transparency Gen Y craves will surely take some getting used to. “The generation gap between many CFOs and new accounting and finance pros often seems unbridgeable. On one side are executives in their late 30s to their 50s raised on notions of company loyalty. Many also have a deeply rooted sense of hierarchy dictating that underlings must keep a respectful distance from their bosses,” said the magazine in a November 2007 article called Today’s Accounting Crop: The Kids are Alright.

According to Boomer Mag, the key to getting along lies in “[c]ommunication and managing of expectations,” says Jennifer Grasz, spokesperson for the online job site CareerBuilder. “Be approachable. X and Y workers expect to have access to decision makers, she says. “Give them the tools and let them go with it.

The key for both sides is to realize that some factors may never change. The gap only appears wider with more insistance that either side must give in to the whims of the other. We must realize that we’re in this together – and with a financial crisis in full swing, we might be having to share the workplace for longer than either side expected.

While Gen Y has been dubbed the “me” mogals-in-waiting, and has a reputation of being tech-obsessed, casual, and full of expectations that corporate culture will adopt to the instantaneous nature of the world we grew up in, we are also more than aware of the pecking order, despite any actions which may seem to demonstrate the opposite.

Instead of the endless back-and-forth, let’s look at some of the realities of getting along in the workplace. From a Robert Half and Yahoo’s HotJobs, here’s a quick snapshot of what the Millennials are looking for:

Opportunities that allow some “outside of the box” thinking This can be especially tough for the accounting industry, since much of it is based on the structure of the industry itself. The best solution? Giving Millennials a challenge and setting them up with talented mentors to guide them (or reign them in when appropriate). Millennials want to know they’re appreciated and busy work just won’t do it.

Transparency and communication from higher-ups This can be especially hard in an industry that is built on the food chain mentality of partners down to managers down to senior staff down to staff down to new hires. Millennials want to keep the lines of communication open. Surprisingly, satisfying this need in Gen Y workers can be as simple as allowing an open door policy or feedback on performance outside of yearly reviews.

Help with the work/life balance – whether you like it or not The feature of the new generation is that Gen Yers are unlikely to get stuck in a routine just for the heck of it. This means adapting to their needs and offering flexibility when appropriate. It is incorrect to say that Gen Y expects Fridays off, extended lunch breaks, and 4 weeks of paid vacation a year. But they do expect more flexibility than previous generations, and will likely reward management with better performance and loyalty when these needs are met. To be certain, there is a middle ground when it comes to this balance.

Rewards for “good behavior” An oft-identified feature of the Millennials is our tendency to demand rewards and acknowledgement for a job well done. It’s an unfortunate consequence of the time period in which we grew up, but knowing this can make the difference between success and failure in dealing with this particular generation. No one is saying managers should give Gen Yers a gold star every time they format an Excel chart correctly, but some praise is certainly in order for exceptional work, even if this goes against the company mantra.

As for the Gen Yers, what should you be doing to better adapt to the workplace? First and foremost, take advantage of the wealth of information and knowledge that is all around you. Professors, managers, supervisors, and even older colleagues have been there, done that. You’d be wise to pick their brains now and then – you might learn a thing or two.

Secondly, just because you showed up doesn’t mean you earned anything. We were hand-fed a belief growing up that by virtue of our very existence we deserve respect. While this is true to some extent, Gen Yers need to be conscious of the corporate culture. Things will certainly change in the years ahead but that doesn’t mean that the way of the corporation will shift completely to adjust to this belief. Respect on a corporate level is earned by achievements and performance.

As New Accountant magazine said in a recent article on the subject, “Generational warfare or coexistence: it’s your choice!”

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