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ACCA / IFAC Research Highlights 10 Recommendations for Employers

As Generation Z (presently, 18-25 years of age) comes of age and joins the working world, ACCA and IFAC undertook research into the key issues facing this generation’s emerging professionals. Surveying 9,000 Gen Z respondents in late 2020, individuals were asked about their career aspirations, needs, worries, and perceptions of business and employers. Analysis of findings are presented in the joint ACCA / IFAC Groundbreakers: Gen Z and the Future of Accountancy report. This report offers recommendations for Gen Z as they navigate their careers and provides significant insight for employers seeking to hire, develop, and retain this generation of talent.

What Do the Results Tell Us?

Regardless of sector, survey findings offer important insight into meeting Gen Z needs and addressing their concerns – both essential to business success into the future. Survey results identified a number of key findings relevant to attracting, motivating, and engaging Gen Z employees.

It is important to remember that Gen Z grew up during the economic crisis, is presently living through the COVID19 pandemic, and will face the impacts of climate change. As such, it was not surprising to see job security and well-being rank as top concerns for Gen Z which was closely followed by the 3 Es: (1) global economy, (2) future of education, and (3) income inequality. Each of these are further aggravated by the pandemic. The broader concerns around climate change and inclusivity have not fallen entirely out of the chart though, with about a quarter of the respondents identifying them as key concerns. 

Although Gen Z is strongly influenced by the desire for job opportunities and security, they are being selective and focusing on job opportunities that build and enhance their capabilities so that they succeed in the workplace of today as well as tomorrow. The good news is that for the most part, employers are already meeting these expectations.

Personal well-being is very important to Gen Z employees. Over 48% of respondents identified work-life balance as a key attraction factor, yet of those already employed, only 33% are satisfied. While above the median, this suggests employers can still do more to prioritize mental health and well-being in order to attract and retain the best talent.

Remuneration, compensation, and benefits are key to employee retention. Gen Z is looking for fair pay and income equality. Gen Z is also an ambitious generation - with close to 60% expecting their next upward move to be within 2 years. As Gen Z is very comfortable with mobility (i.e., changing employers), despite concerns around job security, this generation will not hesitate to move on if their career expectations cannot be met by their current employer.

Being the most globally aware and most connected generation, it is not surprising that Gen Z desires opportunities for international engagement and exposure. For accounting firms within networks, and for multi-national Corporations, designing a structured exchange or secondment program may be an attractive option for new hires. Smaller and medium businesses may need to be creative in meeting these desires and reflect and consider more nuanced ways in which to provide such opportunities.

80% of Gen Z respondents noted that they are very comfortable with technology and are confident with picking up new technology as these become available. 79% are convinced that technology enables finance professionals to move away from the more routine number crunching tasks and towards higher value-adding work. Although this is positive, it is important to note that going forward, as technology continues to advance, Gen Z believe that many entry level roles will be eliminated. More than half of survey respondents were concerned about the impact of technology on their job opportunities in the future.

Gen Z, as a group, are broadly convinced (69% of respondents) that businesses have a positive impact on the wider society. However, the survey also suggests that they see room for improvement in a few areas. Roughly 50% of Gen Z respondents noted that they believe businesses emphasize profit maximization over taking care of customers and employees. Further, Gen Z are not convinced that business leaders have integrity and do what they say. Even fewer of them believe that businesses are currently pulling their weight in addressing the challenge of our time: climate change. Although alarming, this feedback presents an opportunity for employers to clearly and transparently demonstrate that they are mission-driven and focused on impact. Organizations which recognize and make this shift will be better able to attract the Gen Z talent crucial to their business’ sustained success.

On a more macro level, as the central purpose of the accountancy profession is to create sustainable value for organizations while acting in the public interest, the accountancy profession is suited to meet the desire of Gen Z employees to engage in mission-driven work. The key to this will be ensuring that the accountancy profession and employers are effectively communicating this message and raising awareness amongst students and recent graduates.

The same goes for any sector: find an authentic connection between your business and what Gen Z is looking for, be able to communicate that message on platforms relevant to them and take steps to intentionally build space for this next generation to flourish.

How Can Employers Position Themselves Successfully with Regards to Gen Z?

Building on the report findings, ACCA and IFAC have identified 10 ways employers may harness the potential of Gen Z in the workplace. Recommendations include:

  1. Tap into Gen Z’s digital mastery: Astute enterprises are seeing Gen Z as ambassadors and early adopters to encourage the rest of the business to digitally transform.
  2. Think “intrapreneurship”: Create a culture where young people can bring their entrepreneurial thinking and capabilities to fruition within the relative safety of an organisation.
  3. Use social to recruit and recognise the power of peers: Beyond social media, activities such as using Gen Z ‘brand ambassadors’ who are authentic and believable on university campuses to encourage peers to be interested in organisations can pay dividends.
  4. Be authentic and listen to Gen Z: Gen Z values authenticity and sees it as a key factor in making initial decisions about joining an organisation.
  5. Focus on well-being: Gen Z is concerned about their well-being, so employers need to support this by offering a balanced work-life.
  6. Align organisation purpose with individual development needs: Organisations need to articulate what they stand for, their purpose and impact on wider society. Gen Z is keen to understand how the organisation makes a difference and what their contribution could be to the vision of the enterprise.
  7. Create collaboration opportunities across the workforce: To help Gen Z progress, make them part of the bigger picture.
  8. Reward on outcomes not inputs: Employers need to focus on outcomes and the results achieved, rather than hours spent on a task.
  9. Give continual feedback: Create a culture of continual feedback and acknowledgement -this is essential in engaging Gen Z as they’ve grown up in a world of instant communication and rating opportunities through digital.
  10. Rethink learning: Make it short and visual to encourage Gen Z’s learning.

Interested in learning more?

Check out the recording of the ACCA / IFAC Webinar “Groundbreakers: Rethinking careers: Gen Z and the Future of Accountancy” which explores the aforementioned findings and recommendations in further depth and gives additional perspective for employers.

Gabriella Kusz MBA, MPP, CPA, CGMA

Gabriella Kusz was a principal, Strategic Initiatives, at IFAC where she supported accountancy’s leadership and innovation in the digital era.

Prior to joining IFAC, Gabriella worked with the World Bank Group Governance Global Practice where she was responsible for leading the Corporate Governance and Financial Reporting workstream for the Middle East and North Africa region.

Gabriella is a licensed US CPA (Virginia) and CGMA and holds AICPA Certificates in IFRS as well as the Global Reporting Initiative Certificate in Sustainability Reporting Standards. She holds a master’s in International policy and development from Georgetown University and an MBA and bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of Dayton.