Millennials aren’t interested in separating their work lives and their personal lives. Why shouldn’t they be themselves at work just like they are at home? As a fairly young business owner myself (Sometimes I think more like a millennial; sometimes, more like a Gen Xer), I understand that.
My online bookkeeping company employs eleven people. 10 are millennials. What they want from a job and what they want from their employer aren’t the same as previous generations. That’s worked out great for me because the things they value - authenticity, technology, flexibility - are the same things my clients (mostly millennial entrepreneurs) value.
Of course, everyone from the age of 18 to 35 can’t be boiled down to a few defining characteristics, but I’ve structured my company in a way that works for me and for my young employees.
The key for my millennial employees is flexibility. Many companies create dynamic workspaces with lots of amenities, but I knew that I wanted to be entirely digitally-based. My employees work where they want and how they want--with some parameters--and that’s very attractive to younger employees. They don’t need to be in commuting distance of the office. They can work from home and organize their schedules in a way that works for them.
We have both full and part-time employees, but I’ve found that most millennials--including my employees-- aren’t interested in working more than 40 hours a week, and most of my staff is part-time by choice. They’re willing to work fewer hours for more flexibility and less compensation so that they can enjoy life now. They’re not all that interested in building wealth for some unknown future. They want a job that allows them to participate in their community and their family life today.
We work with a lot of millennial entrepreneurs and see a changing understanding about the line between personal and private. For instance, our clients don’t care if your kids are in the background of a video call. We know we’re hiring people who are at home watching their kids. As long as they’re not distracting, there’s no problem.
We’re not just a bunch of robots who work in a call center. We actually have personalities, and they come out in our clients’ interactions with us. Our clients really appreciate that, so I cultivate it as part of our work lives.
Since our employees are remote, we have biweekly calls. On those, I try to have a component that’s personal - share something that you’re participating in or an insight that you’re learning, a victory, whether it’s personal or work-related so that we can get to know each other and create a company culture even if we’re not in the same room.
Authenticity is a also big part of building trust, which fits within the value systems of millennials and also helps us provide better service. I am authentic as a leader, and that helps my employees be authentic as well. I’m honest about my weaknesses and my failures, and because of that, my employees own up to mistakes pretty quickly - both to me and to the clients. Everyone makes mistakes, so it’s the honesty that I appreciate. Our clients are refreshed that they have a service that’s willing to say hey, we made a mistake and here’s how we’re going to resolve it. And we don’t try to make excuses around those mistakes.
Though there are definitely some retro flip phone folks out there, for the most part, millennials enjoy using the most up-to-date technology, and they expect to in the workplace. We’re not asking millennials to use old email or old desktop-based systems that would slow them down. They can use relevant software programs--just like they do in their personal lives.
Even five years ago, this type of work couldn’t be done remotely because the technology wasn’t there. But technology has gotten to a place where we can do that, and it continues to improve. We check in digitally on a day-to-day basis with Slack. We have a biweekly staff call on Google Hangout, and I do a quarterly check-in with each employee, which can also be a video call. Technology is a component of everything we do.
Mission and Brand
I was working as a freelance CFO when I started Reconciled It. I could’ve started Michael Ly Consulting - a business tied to me - but I didn’t want to run just a traditional consulting business. I wanted to create something bigger, and that appeals to millennials.
Most millennials value contributing to a broader cause or mission instead of just going to the office everyday to make the owner rich. The work they do is meaningful, and they know that it is because they see how it impacts the clients that they work with. Bookkeeping is a big pain point for entrepreneurs, so my employees’ clients are ecstatic with what they’ve done. They can see immediate results.
Everyone wants to see the results of their hard work, but this seems especially true for millennials. Bookkeeping is especially good for that: you analyze someone’s books, and there’s an end point. There’s a cycle for what’s expected - every month, every quarter, every year. Our employees feel very accomplished when they get to that point and their work is done.
Freedom and Autonomy
I find that most people respond positively to great opportunity. So I give the chance to represent Reconciled It pretty early on. That’s a big risk for me and the company, but we take that risk seriously, and our employees appreciate it and are up to that challenge.
Because all of our bookkeepers work directly with their clients, they get to structure their own relationships and celebrate their own successes. I give them some direction, but I don’t hold them back, and they respect that.
There’s a benefit for me too, of course. I get a more dedicated, efficient workforce, where everything doesn’t have to pass through me as a central filter before getting to the client.
I enjoy working with millennials, in part because it’s such a great time for them to be starting out in this field. In every generation, there are people who enjoy numbers and enjoy analytical work, and it’s a career with a lot of longevity. There is always a need for accountants and bookkeepers. And, particularly right now, not enough millennials are getting into it. Baby boomer CPAs and partners at CPA firms are retiring, and there’s only a small group of Gen Xers that went into accounting, so they have to replace the baby boomers at the partner level. But there aren’t enough of them, so they’re supplementing with high level millennials. It’s a great time to be in the profession if you’re a competent, bright millennial.
At the end of the day, I want employees who value the work they do and, in turn, feel valued by the company and their clients. I think that’s what every generation wants. Now it’s the millennials’ turn.