The future lies with our young professionals. To drill down on that, I convened a staff forum recently -- one staff person each from 17 different firms based in Chicago. (Thirteen firms were under $10 million in revenue and four firms were between $10 million and $25 million.)

There were 11 men and six women. Most of the participants ranged in age from 25 to 27, with roughly three years of experience with their firms.

I asked them myriad questions about their jobs, their firms, their partners and what's important to them. (For more, see this Generational Matrix.)

What do you like most about your job? The tremendous exposure to the business world.

What do you like least about your job? Unrealistic time and budget expectations of partners and the stress caused by their workload and client demands.

What do you think about the tax season? In the short term, it's tolerable, especially because it's the winter; it's only for a few months and they work less after April 15. For the long term, the majority said that the tax season will eventually drive them out of the profession.

Why did you choose the firm you work for? Most of the responses had to do with how much the staff liked the partners they interviewed with (the importance of which can never be overstated), and location (downtown versus suburban).

Very telling: No one cited ways that one firm might be different from another, such as mentoring, training, specialties of the firms, etc. Could it be that there aren't many differences between the firms?

What do you think of your firm's mentoring programs? Half had mentoring programs and they liked this very much. The staff want involvement in the match between mentor and mentee. Sometimes the mentor assigned to them was ineffective, which put them in an awkward situation.

Do you know what it takes to be a partner at your firm? A resounding "No." (I hope partners reading this will take note.)

Do women feel their long-term career and partner opportunities are the same as men? None of the females in our staff forum aspire to be a partner because they don't see this being compatible with raising a family. (See the next paragraph about the staff's perception of partner work hours.)

How many total work hours do you think your partners work? The group's average response was a staggering 3,219 hours. According to the Rosenberg MAP Survey, the actual figure is 2,450. Our staff group sees partners working when they leave the office and feel that they work nights and weekends throughout the year on client or firm-related activities.

How much money do your partners earn? The average staff response was $290,000, 28 percent below the actual amount, which is $382,000. Six of the participants guessed $250,000 or less.

How satisfied are you with your job? The average rating was 7.9, with 10 being the highest.

What's most important to staff? In order:

  1. Compensation
  2. Advancement opportunities
  3. Work-life balance; and,
  4. Having supervisors who are good bosses.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about your generation? They didn't seem to feel that the differences are that great, which contrasts greatly with the constant bitching and moaning that I hear from partners about today's young people.

What are some examples of flexibility that appeal to you? Flexibility of when they start work and when they stop work. Also, working from home is very desirable.

What is your preferred method of communication? On the one hand, staff understand the importance of face-to-face and are OK with it. On the other hand, they prefer e-mail because it gives a written record and allows the sender to think things out before they respond.

It's perfectly natural for all of us to wonder, "Why can't everyone be like me?" Partners often have these thoughts about young staff. But many of us know that in forging relationships with others, it's helpful to put yourself in that person's shoes and try to understand and respect their style and point of view.

Baby Boomer partners should ask themselves this question: "Do you really think that, when you were in your 20s and 30s, the partners you worked for didn't complain about 'today's young people?'" Of course they did. But they adapted, just as today's partners need to.

It's my hope that this article will help partners understand that today's young people aren't any worse than previous generations -- they're just different. And different just might be better.

Marc Rosenberg, CPA, is president of the Rosenberg Associates, a management consultant to CPA firms, and the author of the Monograph series. Reach him at (847) 251-7100 or marc@rosenbergassoc.com.

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