Is the next generation lazy or are Baby Boomers just workaholics? When firms dish out the bad news to their new hires that they’ll have to work 70 hours a week during tax season, some of them flat out refuse. I’ve been told that story by many a Baby Boomer shocked by the my-way-or-the-highway mentality the younger generation seems to posses. Arrogant. Disrespectful. Lazy. These are just some of the adjectives thrown out there that are actually appropriate to print. Some of them have just given up, declaring it’s useless to attempt to change their nonconforming behavior. While that may please the generation in question, it’s sure to cause resentment among the seasoned veterans who have suffered through endless hours at the office and believe the newbies should pay their dues. This may be a case where instead of trying to beat them into submission, the entire firm could join them in enjoying some level of work-life balance. I’m not pitching 40-hour workweeks during busy season. But hiring temporary workers to reduce some of the administrative work can cost less than paying overtime and can help reduce the level of lost productivity that occurs when spending too many hours staring at a sea of numbers. Time away—even a few hours—is important throughout the year, not only during tax season. About four years ago, Grant Thornton began trying to reduce the amount of overtime incurred by its staff in an effort to boost employee morale and changed the mindset of partners so they would see the company as a great place to work, according to CEO Ed Nusbaum. Giving employees time to do things that are important to them during the year will encourage them to put in the extra time when needed. What’s important can vary from a parent wanting to leave early to attend his son’s Little League game or an engaged couple needing to work off hours to plan their wedding—excuses that Nusbaum says were frowned upon in the past. Grant Thornton also does an excellent job hiring the next generation of CPAs. About a year ago, I wrote a column applauding the firm’s efforts to enter colleges and go after fresh talent, www.webcpa.com/article.cfm. When Nusbaum visited our offices last week, I had to know the next step: how do you keep them around? The kind of flexibility mentioned above is what he says works. But the firm also has a leadership counsel that advises executives on how to handle work-life balance and other issues that if not appropriately addressed could send fresh grads running. One of their requests was to have a few hours every Wednesday or every other Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. to study for the CPA exam as a team. As a result of granting them this small luxury, the number of Grant Thornton employees taking—and passing—the exam increased. Perhaps more importantly, these junior employees feel they are getting heard, which several studies have demonstrated is among the top reasons young accountants remain loyal to their employers. In a time where firms are starving for qualified candidates, a few hours of flexibility seem worth a few years of loyalty.
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