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Generation Z Is a ‘Catalyst of Change’ in the Workplace, but They Are Doubtful About the Role of Business

New report from ACCA and IFAC explores the views of young professionals and students on finance and accounting

May 5, 2021 | English

The first digital native generation entering the workforce is being shaped by the unique world catastrophes they’ve lived through in their young lives, finds a global report from ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and IFAC (the International Federation of Accountants).

The views of 9,000 18 to 25-year-olds are published in Groundbreakers: Gen Z and the future of accountancy and reveal their primary concerns are around job security, well-being and mental health, offering a wakeup call to employers who need to show they care.

While survey respondents are broadly convinced that businesses have a positive impact on wider society (69%), they think there is significant room for improvement from business leaders. They see accountancy as an attractive career – providing long term prospects and portability with access to jobs that span internationally and across industries – but it’s also clear this generation questions business’ integrity.

They believe businesses continue to prioritize the maximization of returns to investors (66%) over taking care of customers (53%) and employees (47%). They are also less convinced that business leaders have integrity and do what they say (41%) and fewer of them believe businesses are currently pulling their weight in fighting climate change (39%).

ACCA and IFAC say the findings of this global research are very relevant for employers regardless of the sector, and that meeting this generation’s needs and addressing their concerns will be essential to thrive. For the accountancy profession specifically, its central purpose to create sustainable value for organizations while acting in the public interest places it in a unique position to harness this opportunity.

“This 18 – 25-year-old age group of Gen Z is smart, connected, ambitious yet realistic – but they have concerns about the future and how business operates,” said Helen Brand, chief executive of ACCA. “What we see from this research is young people at the outset of their accountancy careers keen to play their part in economic renewal. They’ll bring their talents and aspirations into the workplace and, through them, transform the future of accountancy for the modern world. Employers of all sizes need to be aware of this generation’s hopes and ambitions and the value they can bring.”

“Shaped by economic crises, the current climate emergency, and most recently the global pandemic, Generation Z is coming of age during a very difficult and challenging period in global history,” said Kevin Dancey, chief executive officer of IFAC. “Leaders of Professional Accountancy Organizations (PAOs), global network firms, and industry, not only have an opportunity to welcome this new generation of accountancy leaders into our organizations, but to actively learn from them. Although no one knows exactly what the future may hold, one thing is for certain: Generation Z accountancy professionals have a critical role to play in our future.”

Groundbreakers: Gen Z and the future of accountancy offers employers 10 ways to harness the potential of Gen Z:

  1. Tap into Gen Z’s digital mastery: Astute enterprises are seeing Gen Z as fantastic 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 organization.
  3. Use social to recruit and recognize 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 organizations 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 organization.
  5. Focus on well-being: Gen Z is concerned about their well-being, so employers need to support this.
  6. Align organization purpose with individual development needs: Organizations need to articulate what they stand for, their purpose and impact on wider society. Gen Z is keen to understand how the organization 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.

The full report can be downloaded here.