Is there really a difference in the working styles of Millennials and Generation X versus Boomers? No matter where I go, it seems this is still one of the most discussed and debated topics for anyone working in the accounting profession.
To get some sense of what’s going on, I decided to put this to the test by sitting down and having a conversation with two professionals who are influenced, and work with, members of all generations. Representing the “older” generation or the boomers is Stan Mork, president of the Information Technology Alliance (ITA). His counterpart is Donny Shimamoto, CPA, CITP, CGMA, founder and managing director of InterpriseTechknowlogies LLC, who participates in the discussion from a “younger” generation perspective as a Gen-Xer.
Kim Hogan: Thanks for sitting down with me guys. What are some key differences in the working styles between younger and older generations of accountants?
Stan Mork: I’ve come across this a lot in my work, Kim. First, I think younger accountants and consultants value their personal time more than the older generation does. I feel the older generation is more apt to decide to “take one for the team” and do something work related that caused a personal hardship, such as missing a family event. I’m not saying that this is a positive quality of the older generation, but I think younger workers are more willing to set some boundaries between their work and personal life.
I also believe the younger generation works much better in a paperless environment, while the older generation still likes to see and read paper. If I’m trying to critically review a report or an article, for example, I still need to print it and mark it up. In this case, the younger generation is much better doing everything on a work station/screen/tablet.
The younger generation communicates a lot more using electronic means. While many of the older generation will still pick up the phone, I think the younger generation worker feels more comfortable with just emailing or texting. I do see a potential future danger in this, because I still believe that personal relationships and communication are important, and fear that some of this will be lost in future business relationships due to relying on electronic communications.
Donny Shimamoto: Stan, I think the biggest differences are in our expectation of how others interact with us and the level of authority. While the older generation expects deference from the younger generation, the younger generation was raised to respect and value everyone. As a result, when the older generation doesn’t automatically treat them as equals, the younger generation is bewildered.
The younger generation has been raised in a very team-oriented and participation-rewarding environment, compared to the older generations who are more focused on individual contribution and achievement-rewarding. This doesn’t mean the older generations don’t recognize the value of teamwork; instead, they are more about individual contribution to achieve the team goals, rather than the collective effort to achieve the team goals.
Kim: An important component in today’s firm or business is to break through the noise to get others to see your view and consider your position on various matters. How would you motivate the other generations to see your view?
Donny: I’ve found the key to communicating with older generations is to first hear them out and acknowledge their view, and then ask them leading questions to help them start to see how the younger-generation view may provide some value or a differing insight. This maintains the respect and authority the older generation needs, while allowing the younger generation to insert their ideas without being combative.
Stan: I think that for both generations, we have to get people to stop talking and start listening. I’m as guilty as the next person because I don’t listen well enough. When someone has a different point of view, I think it’s critical to be able to hear the rationale of the other side and try to reach some level of compromise. As a 30-year consultant, that’s what we do with our clients; however, we don’t always do this well in our own work environments.
Having said that, I don’t think you can have that conversation via email, and more and more of these discussions are being held via a three-page email string that goes back and forth and never ends. We need to create environments where we sit down and talk about areas where we disagree, and in some cases, teach our workers on how to work through solving issues when people have varying viewpoints.
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