Managing Generation Z at your accounting firm

Accountant & Bookkeeper Guides

4 min read

If you’re just getting used to Generation Y (or millennials) you may be surprised to hear that Generation Z is already on its way – and there are some important differences.

The generation breakdown

According to a Pew Research Center study, millennials have the largest headcount in the US workforce. At 53.5 million, they lead Gen Xers on 52.7 million and baby boomers on 44 million.  

Generation Z is already arriving.  By some estimates, they’ll represent 20 percent of the workforce by 2020. They could start filling graduate positions soon. If you want to develop them as leaders in your firm, here are some things you should know about managing Generation Z.

Gen Z are:

  • Digital natives: The internet was already commonplace when they were born around the turn of the century. Smart cars, cloud technology and the internet of things don’t seem revolutionary to them.

  • Mobile natives: They grew up with smartphones. Even the oldest Gen Zers were younger than 10 when the iPhone debuted. In short, computers have always been mobile devices.

  • Recession-wary: The recent global financial crisis (GFC) was the most significant period of economic fear since the 1920s – and Generation Z grew up in it. The recession may have affected their families directly, so they’re typically more risk-averse and cost-conscious.

They’ll use technology extensively to solve problems. Those managing Generation Z will be expected to provide the latest tools. You should also be mindful of their attitude to finances and security when putting together job offers or mapping out career paths.

Gen Z want responsibility, fast

A Robert Half survey of 800 Gen Zers found they’re hungry for professional responsibility. A third expect to be in management roles within five years of graduating. Another quarter expect to be well on their way.

With such upwardly mobile recruits about to pour into your office, consider how you’ll manage expectations. Make sure they can see a way to progress within your firm, even if it’s on a slightly slower timeline.

They’re ready to work hard

When managing Generation Z, be sensitive to how the global financial crisis has shaped their views of work and money. Their parents went through a lot of financial uncertainty and may have experienced redundancy or unemployment.

Perhaps as a result, Generation Z believe they’ll have to work harder than previous generations to achieve and maintain successful careers. They’ll likely have a strong work ethic and a serious attitude.

Just make sure you reward hard work and show care for their careers. Provide constructive feedback and offer them plenty of opportunity for personal and professional development.

A generation of entrepreneurs

Generation Zers have grown up in an increasingly gig-based and cloud-sourced economy. Many of them have parents who earned part of their income from contracting jobs.

This has led many from Generation Z to crave self-employment. A survey by Millennial Branding found they’re much more inclined toward starting a business than their Generation Y peers. If they carry that ambition throughout their careers, they’ll set up their own practices or pursue partnership at existing firms. With the right training and support, they’ll be good candidates for leadership positions.

This same independence and entrepreneurial spirit will influence their attitude as employees, where they’ll want freedom in their roles. Managing Generation Z employees will be a delicate balancing act.  You’ll need to give direction without being seen to micromanage.

Internet natives who prefer personal communication

Generation Z has never lived in a world without texting, the internet or video conferencing. Despite that, they value face-to-face communication more than their Generation Y predecessors. They also think effective communication is the most important trait in a leader.

Generation Z worry about stress

More than half of Generation Z survey respondents say they worry about workplace stress. They’re also more preoccupied by the relationship they might have with their future bosses than millennials. These anxieties may fade as they acclimatise to the professional environment. However, it’s worth considering these values during your recruitment process. You might also want to make sure the people who will be managing Generation Z employees are sensitive to these concerns.

A soft skills challenge

Generation Z has strong listening skills and the ability to empathise when in person-to-person conversation. However the Society for Human Resource Management says they’re less adept at other soft skills, such as written communications. This could be due to the abbreviations that are prevalent in social media and text.

Early advice for managing Generation Z in your firm

It’s still very early to be drawing conclusions about Generation Z. Even so, the research has produced some practical recommendations to help you prepare for their arrival in the workplace.

Most findings suggest Generation Z will be eager workers who want to learn, grow, and take on responsibility – and they want their managers to guide them through that process. The effective manager will be on who cultivates an honest relationship with mentoring at its core.