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The rate of unemployment has hit a 50-year low and the war for talent rages on in almost every industry, including accounting.

Raising wages and adding benefits are some of the more traditional ways to attract and retain top talent, but candidates and employees also expect companies to embrace the cultural changes brought about by a new era of work. While there’s no doubt the future of work is still evolving, employers need to adapt to the changes that have already taken hold in workplaces around the country, changes that can make or break recruitment and retention efforts.

Adapting to a multigenerational workforce

Shifting generations is one of the factors playing a role in shaping the future of work. A new Paychex research report shows that millennials are the largest generation in the workforce (currently at 39.5 percent). Generation X is the next largest generational segment of the workforce (30.5 percent), followed by baby boomers (21.6 percent), and then Generation Z (7.1 percent), who are gaining ground rapidly as they graduate college. With four generations currently participating in the workforce, accounting firms should assess which policies are meeting the needs of current generations and how they can adapt to meet the needs of future accountants. According to workers, as a result of generational shifts, their employers have made changes such as:

  • Switching to a more casual dress code (24 percent);
  • Offering more flexible scheduling options (20 percent);
  • Upgrading to more flexible/collaborative/open-concept workspaces (15 percent); and
  • Allowing employees to work remotely (14 percent).

Creating a culture of flexibility

Flexibility is the dominating characteristic of the future of work. Traditional eight-hour days and five-day work weeks with 10 days of paid time off are no longer the norm. Currently, only 51 percent of employees have a flexible schedule option (a compressed work week, unique hours based on personal circumstance, or total flexibility, as long as job responsibilities are met) while 49 percent have a set schedule; but when asked what their ideal work schedule looks like, 73 percent of employees would prefer some form of flexible scheduling. Flexible scheduling can be a difficult perk to implement for accountants, based on client needs and accessibility, but the trend is scalable. Firms can start by offering summer Fridays or floating holidays that employees can take as needed throughout the year.

The expectation of convenience extends to the area of HR and the tools companies use to share information with employees. Today the proportion of employees using a desktop computer exclusively to manage HR tasks has dropped to 51 percent (from 74 percent five years ago), and the percentage of employees using both desktop and mobile solutions has jumped to 43 percent (from 14 percent). If accounting firms want to hire and retain top talent, they must address the mobile-centric preferences of millennial and Generation Z workers.

The impact of AI

Artificial intelligence and automation are also making waves in the workforce. Nearly one-third of employees (31 percent) say an aspect of their job that was once done manually is now done through AI or machine automation. The trend is expected to continue: 33 percent of Generation Z, 32 percent of millennials, 29 percent of Generation X, and 20 percent of baby boomers think that manual aspects of their current job will be done though AI or machine automation in the next five years.

Not every aspect of the future of work is feasible for every company, or every accounting firm for that matter, but employers must at least try to recognize and meet the needs of the evolving workforce or risk losing quality employees to companies that will. Work closely with your HR team to better understand the needs of your workforce from both the technology and culture perspectives, and then create a plan to implement the necessary changes at a pace that works for your business, keeping your employees in the loop as your firm evolves into the future of work.

The report cited in this article is based on payroll and HR data of a subset of Paychex small business clients with 1 to 49 employees and survey responses from more than 500 U.S. workers. The full report can be downloaded at paychex.com/future-work.

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