You’ve heard it time and time again: millennials have a lack of respect for authority, a miniscule work ethic, and want everything ASAP. Baby boomers, on the other hand, are set in their ways, dislike modern technology, and only care about making money.
Getting into the heads of young CPAs is challenging, but can also be a hurdle to work with baby boomers and even gen-Xers. Take basic communications, for example. Millennials thrive online because they’ve been online their entire lives with the Internet, social media, and lately, more and more mobile applications. On the other hand, older generations of accountants may not be as active on social media, yet have the history, experience, and knowledge of the profession that can be invaluable.
A recent Pew Research Survey, “How Millennial Are You?,” measures where you fall on the millennial barometer. The survey is very short and should open your eyes to the trends of your age group compared to others. Anyone can take the survey; it might even be fun to post this link on your intranet or give it to some older members of your firm or organization.
The bottom line is that all generations must be willing to work together. Here are some tips to help guide you in this process.
Do Your Research. Step one is to read up on the different generations and the traits of each so you will know how others think, feel, and value the most. The labels of the categories vary from study to study, but, currently, there are six generations:
- Born 2000/2001-Present: New Silent Generation or Generation Z
- Born 1980-2000: Millennials or Generation Y
- Born 1965-1979: Generation X
- Born 1946-1964: Baby Boomers
- Born 1925-1945: Silent Generation
- Born 1900-1924: G.I. Generation
Over the years, there has been quite a bit of information published on the traits of all the different generations. A simple Internet search should render some results. For example, here is a very comprehensive chart listing influencers, work ethic, experience, and much more.
Volunteer for Projects and Engagements. Your plate may be full, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make more room on it to help tackle something else. Boomers will love the fact that you stepped up, raised your hand, and volunteered to work on a project or engagement without being asked to do so. This shows two things. First, it shows you are a team player. Second, it helps upper management recognize your energy and ambition. As a millennial, if the “job” matters more than the “money,” this one’s a no brainer.
Learn All You Can. Boomers who are close to retirement aren’t going to be around forever, so it would behoove you to meet with them to learn as much as you can before they leave. Unless your firm or company has a plan to share their intellectual capital, try to approach them with a gentle hand. If they have been with the firm for years, anyone close to retirement doesn’t want to reminded they are at a golden age. Tell them why you want to meet: to hear their war stories, and learn what you can about the history of the firm and what made it tick over time. This is a great time to think about the qualities of their generation and how you can adapt your own beliefs to help make the company even more successful.
It’s OK to be Un-Millennial. Just because you’re a certain age doesn’t mean your personality is the same as every other person who is the same age. You’re young and in your prime years to build your career, but you also have to pay the bills. It’s perfectly natural, then, to care about how much money you make.
CPAs across different generations may look, act and react differently, but that’s no reason to avoid conflict. If you’re a millennial, step up to work with those who are older than you. Show them the kind of value you can add and always be willing to learn from them and ask questions. It’s a two-way street.