While flexibility at work and work/life balance remain important for young staff in CPA firms, advancement opportunities and compensation rank higher on a list of what they want out of their job. They also want their partners to communicate better about what success means.

Marc Rosenberg, of The Rosenberg Associates in Wilmette, Ill., routinely holds focus groups of young CPAs to get a better understanding of what motivates them and what they're looking for in their careers and from theprofession.

He shared two stories that came out of his most recent gathering of new accountants: "One thing I always do is ask them what they think the partners at their firms earn," he explained. "At the last focus group, their collective responses were $175,000 to $225,000. The actual number is $350,000. After this session was over, one of the young men returned to his firm and immediately marched into the managing partner's office and said, 'I just found out how much money you guys earn. What do I have to do to become a partner?'

"Another question I ask is, 'How many hours a year do you think the partners work?' The response of the focus group was 2,900. The reality: 2,350. Sure, the partners work harder than the staff, but there's a big difference," Rosenberg said. "Moral of the stories: Partners do a terrible job at communicating with staff regarding what it means to be a partner, how one advances to partner, and the rewards and obligations staff can expect once they become partner."

Rosenberg is hired by partners of accounting firms to conduct an upward evaluation of their staff through a customized online survey. Each person within the firm evaluates each person for whom they have worked. This is done anonymously and Rosenberg said that partners have to be "courageous" to do this because they are often surprised at the results.

CORRECTING MISCONCEPTIONS

He said that many partners feel that younger staff don't want to work or aren't as committed to the firm. This is a misconception, however, according to Rosenberg, as his research shows that younger staff actually want to be kept busy and engaged.

"They don't want to work 2,800 hours - and if they feel they have stopped learning or that their firm has stopped growing, they will leave," he said.

"They want to learn, they are not slackers or goof-offs," Rosenberg continued, pointing out that most accounting firm partners are not trained to be great bosses. "They want to make a career out of it. Today, partners need to do a much better job at helping young people understand how they can become successful. Staff people have this idea that partners work all the time. Staff people want to have good work to do and they want to know, 'If I do this, how does this help me move up?'"

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