What’s Wrong with the Kids?

Coping with the newest generation in finance requires tact, patience — and restraint.

WANTED: Candidate with undergraduate degree in finance/accounting. Long hours not required — come and go as you please. Spend as much time Web-surfing as you want. Work on the projects you like and refuse the rest. If you don’t feel like finishing a project, your manager will gladly take it. Excellent salary and benefits; on-the-job napping encouraged.

Far-fetched? While 30 years ago no one would have posted such a ludicrous help-wanted ad, these days finance managers say they have become all too familiar with exactly this kind of employee. Consultants have even coined a name for this new breed of entitled worker: they call them millennials.

Many senior finance executives are complaining loudly about the new generation. They say they must now spend a good deal of time devising strategies to keep younger finance staffers happy and on the job. William Kurtz, CFO of San Jose, California-based semiconductor maker Novellus Systems, says he has had to focus much more attention on developing the careers of new recruits. Even then, the company has found it tough to ward off a wave of defections triggered by a resurgence of start-ups in Silicon Valley.

Blame Fast Company, the business magazine that championed “The Brand Called You” and similar other anthems of the dot-com heyday. Although many younger workers revised their sense of entitlement when that boom went bust, the demand for accounting talent has enabled people with such skills to maintain an attitude normally associated with velvet-rope-jumping celebrities.

Or so say their elders. Finance chiefs grumble that millennials (and their slightly older peers, the Gen Xers) are a mercurial, selfish bunch. Melissa Morales, CFO at real estate developer The MC Cos., has spent the better part of the last two years trying to staff the start-up’s 15-person finance department. While granting that there are some gems in the bunch, she says few of the recent hires display the steady determination once associated with accountants. At the same time, she notes that many staff members require an excessive amount of praise. “You don’t need to be recognized for everything you do,” says Morales.

Despite those deficiencies, Morales seems most annoyed by the lack of loyalty exhibited by the millennials. “There’s no investment of time or commitment to the company,” she says. The finance chief notes she was particularly irked by one recent hire who spent all of 60 days on the job — then bolted to a rival. “This is not the way I was brought up,” laments Morales.

If You Want Loyalty, Get a Dog

Job-hopping goes against the grain of many old-school finance executives. Then again, it’s hard to blame workers in the world’s greatest free-market economy for attempting to benefit from that market.

“We’re such an affluent society that they just go where the money is because they want to be part of that affluence,” says Michael Peters, an associate professor of accounting and information systems at Villanova University. “They chase after the buck.”

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