Age Diversity In Accounting Practices
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Abstract: The primary purpose of the study was to investigate, for the first time in the Cyprus-specific accounting environment, the similarities and differences related to generational work values and beliefs of individual accountants; members of the two prevailing generations, X and Y. Adopting a quantitative methodology, a survey was administered to a randomly selected sample of 400 individuals, qualified and trainee accountants, currently working in the country in accounting practices. Descriptive and inferential statistics were utilized to analyze the collected data and address the postulated research objective. Findings are of interest (a) to industry stakeholders who wish to enhance inter-generational understanding in their organizations and invest in innovative HRM practices able to meet the uniqueness of each generation, and (b) academic scholars who wish to further investigate the particular topic.
Keywords: Accountants, Generation Y and X, HRM implications, Cyprus
Paper Type: Research Paper
Today's accounting workforce is more diverse than ever with the symbiotic co-existence of three different generations; Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. Kupperschmidt (2000, p. 66) defines generation as “…a group of people or cohorts who share birth years and experiences as they move thought time together, influencing and being influenced by a variety of critical factors…such as shifts in society-wide attitudes; changes in social, economic, and public policy; and other major events”. This, multi-generational workforce, posses numerous challenges for accounting organizations who strive to achieve inter-generational comfort, thus avoiding conflict, an impediment to the effectiveness of even the most sophisticated organizations.
Today's organizations strive to understand generational work values and beliefs in an attempt to most effectively and efficiently utilise the knowledge, skills and abilities of their members. This study aims to investigate, for the first time in the Cyprus-specific accounting environment, the similarities and differences related to generational work values and beliefs of individual accountants; members of the two prevailing generations, X and Y. It is important to note that the authors decided to concentrate only on Generations Y and X, the two prevailing generations in today's accounting business environment, thus disregarding the Baby Boomers. For the purpose of this study, Generation Y includes individuals between 18 and 30 years of age, while Generation X, individuals between 31 and 50.
Although generational studies were a topic of discourse for eighty years (Hatchmann, 2008), there is still a disagreement on the exact dates for each commonly defined generation (Sutton and Narz, 2007; Chen and Choi, 2008). Despite this continued debate, there is agreement in the qualities each generation possesses. Although Eisner (2005), Gursoy et al. (2008), Armour (2007), and Hatchmann (2008) all agree on the general qualities of each generation, they disagree on the time frames of each generation. The demarcation between generational cohorts is done by year of birth. Whilst United States studies use approximately the same years of birth as demarcation, less consistency applies in European studies and this is because each European country has had a unique history (D'Amato and Herzfeldt, 2008). On the other hand Simon (2007) argues that birth years across Europe mirror those in North America. Generally the birth years of each cohort are as following
Baby Boomers – born between 1945 and 1959,
Generation X – born between 1960 and 1980, and
Generation Y (also known as Millenials, Generation Next, and the Internet Generation) –born after 1980.
Chen and Choi (2008) and McDonald (2008) note that there are several factors that are common to Generation Xers' history – economic downturn, including recession, high unemployment and increased governmental restraint, a contracting birth rate, and familial instability. These factors, Chen and Choi surmise have led to a generation that it is realistic, self-reliant, independent, and one that expects freedom. Unlike their predecessors who were devoted solely to their career, Generation X seeks a balance between their professional and personal lives. In addition, having experienced layoffs via their parents, Generation X is not as loyal to their employers as generations past. D'Amato and Herzfeldt's (2008) research are in agreement with Chen and Choi on the characteristics of Generation X
D'Amato and Herzfeldt's (2008) research, centers on the relationship between learning, organizational commitment, and talent retention and the various generations in the workforce. Studying 1,666 European managers, the researchers found that younger generations were less willing to stay at the same organization and had lower organizational commitment, when compared to previous generations. Even within a singular generation (Generation X) it was found that older Gen Xers' had more organizational commitment than their younger generational peers. However, their organizational commitment is far less than that of earlier generations. Younger generations are less willing to remain in the same organization, for extended periods of time, when compared to their older peers. D'Amato and Herzfedlt (2008) surmise that this results in lower organizational commitment.
D'Amato and Herzfeldt (2008) found other differences between early and late Generation Xers'. The youngest Generation X members demonstrated a stronger learning orientation, in addition to their lower organizational commitment, when compared to older Gen Xers', as well as older generations, such as Baby Boomers. This learning orientation was found to be in direct relation to the individual's organizational commitment, and thus their likelihood of remaining with the same organization. For Late Boomers and Early Xers', it mediated the relationship between specific leadership development intentions and intention to stay.
Eisner (2005) surmises that Xers' are children of workaholics (the Baby Boomers) and were raised as latchkey kids. Agreeing with Chen and Choi (2008) regarding Gen X's self-reliance and independence, they refuse to become the workaholics their parents were. Smola and Sutton (2005) concur, that Generation X, as a whole, strives to find work-life balance, instead of sacrificing their personal life, as their parents had. They embrace change, but are distrustful of corporations. Although they can work in teams, Generation X's solitary nature has meant they are a generation that is less dependent on networking, but instead often pursue career advancement through ads and recruitment. They are the pioneers of the free-agent workforce. They value education and skill acquisition (REF). According to Jurkiewicz and Brown (1998), Generation X values learning new things more so than any previous generation. Gursoy, et al. (2008) point out several other important Generation X qualities, specifically in comparison with their Baby Boomer counterparts.
Where Baby Boomers have a respect for both authority and hierarchy, according to Gursoy et al. (2008), Xers' have more of a tendency to rebel against authority. Baby Boomers live to work, according to the researchers, yet Generation Xers' work to live, demonstrating a distinct difference in where the commitment of these two generations lie, as also found by Eisner (2005) and Smola and Sutton (2005). Baby Boomers not only are more patient regarding earning promotions and rewards, but they are also very loyal to their organization. In contrast, Generation X members are more prone to desiring immediate gratification for their work through recognition, titles, promotions, praise, and pay increases. Their loyalty to the organization is far less than Baby Boomers, as they value their life outside of work far more, and as such will not make the same level of sacrifices for their company. Hatchman (2008) further investigated these qualitative aspects of Generation Xers'.
Hatchman (2008) found that for Generation X, family was a very significant cornerstone in their lives. This is in direct contrast to the more work-centric lives of their Baby Boomer parents. Out of the three countries the author researchers, all three demonstrated that building authentic relationships with family, friends and co-workers were important to the Xers', again a contrast to just a generation earlier. Generation X was also affected by significant historical changes that affected their cultural identities. These changes didn't just take place in their own countries, as in previous generations, but with the increased globalization of the world, historic events globally affected their identity. This finding is similar to Smola and Sutton's (2002) finding that work values are affected by generational experiences. Sudheimer (2009) agrees that work values are more affected by generational experiences and that these experiences forged certain value sets for the generation. In addition, Generation X is more affected by media and advertising than previous generations, which is part of this generational experience.
Armour (2007) discusses Generation Y, the approximately 70 million individuals, in the United States, who were born after 1980. The Millennial Generation believes in collective action, with optimism of the future, and trust in centralized authority. They like teamwork, showing a strong will to get things done with a great spirit, according to Gursoy et al. (2008). As these workers begin to enter the workforce, Armour (2007) notes that they are considerably different from workers of generations past. Citing Kaplan, an associate managerial science professor at Long Island University-Brooklyn in New York, Armour (2007) notes that this generation is not likely to respond to the traditional management form of command-and-control. Instead, as they've grown up questioning their parents, they will likely to also question those in charge at work as well.
Armour (2007) continues to note that this generation thrives on challenges and needs change to continue to motivate them. A repetitious, stagnant environment is not conducive to Generation Y's success. Yet, this generation prefers to work within a specified structure, with clearly given directions. They have high expectations of their employers, and as a result of their generation growing up in a fast food, high speed Internet, minute rice world look for rapid promotion and development opportunities. This is a very goal oriented generation. Baron et al. (2007) agree.
Generation Y not only question authority, but the status quo as well. They are a generation that values diversity, equality and tolerance, according to Baron et al. (2007) and McDonald (2008). They expect to receive fair compensation and managers who empower them to excel in their careers. Independent and self-reliant, Generation Y thrives on challenges. They are also the generation that is most likely to work best in teams. Baron et al. (2007) found that the hospitality industry is particularly attractive to Generation Y, due to the perceived career opportunities and ever-changing and interesting experiences. However, the perceived poor pay and unsociable hours were shown to be a drawback for this generation. Although deemed “Millennials”, Chen and Choi (2008) echo many of the same sentiments.
In addition, Chen and Choi (2008) and Eisner (2005) note that it is Generation Y that has grown up with concepts such as outsourcing, globalization and foreign investment. They are the most connected generation, with e-mail, instant messages, and texting a part of their common history. They are the most self-centered generation. Chen and Choi (2008) cite research in which one-third of Baby Boomers cheated during high school, nearly three-fourths of Generation Y had cheated, clearly showing an imbalance in the two generations ideas of ethical behavior. The researchers found 15 work values for Generation Y: achievement, aesthetic, altruism, creativity, economic return, independence, intellectual stimulation, management, prestige, security, supervisory relationship, surrounding, variety, and way of life.
Eisner (2005), in comparison, compared Generation Y with other generations based on: values, socialization, events, style, assets, and quality. It was found that this generation valued self-development and were goal-oriented, concurring with findings from Armour (2007) and Chen and Choi (2008). Eisner (2005) further surmises that Generation Y has personality characteristics, such as thriving on change, that make them easier to manage than their slightly older Generation X peers.
There were also four dimensions of work value structure that was shared by the hospitality workforce they interviewed that showed differences in generations when it came to: comfort and security, professional growth, personal growth, and work environment. Echoing Armour's (2007) findings, Chen and Choi (2008) found that Generation Y was not as tied to the need for comfort and security as older generations, as they are far more adaptive. They, however, expect much more rapid professional and personal growth opportunities, again confirming Armour. Their work environment also needs to be continually challenging, beyond that needed to maintain the attention and focus of older generations, just as Armour surmised. Dries et al. (2008) studied organizational commitment in relation to generations.
Generation Y, according to Dries et al. (2008), has both similarities and disparities with other generations in regards to organizational commitment. This lack of organizational commitment negatively affects the ethics involved in dealing with the organization, when compared to other generations. As Generation Y does not value their relationship with the organization as much as previous generations, their ethics are looser, in this regard. All of the generations the researchers studied, including Generation Y, had career aspirations that included achieving organizational security. However, it was found that Generation Y was more likely to forego the traditional, single-employer career of only two generations earlier. This reduced commitment to their organization, despite a desire for organizational security, results in Generation Y being less flexible when it comes to meeting the needs of the organization, when they do not fall in line with what the individual wants or expects. As mentioned earlier, this is a generation with a sense of entitlement from the moment they enter an organization. If they are not receiving the recognition, rewards, respect, support, or career advancement opportunities they feel are due them, their lack of organizational commitment often results in simply moving on to the next organization in hopes of obtaining the appreciation they feel they deserve there.
Even though most of the participants in Dries et al. (2008) study had 'traditional' careers, Generation Y participants had a greater discrepancy between their desired careers and their actual careers at the time. Interestingly, the researchers found that there were no significant differences when comparing the Silent Generation and Generation Y when using overall satisfaction as a primary criterion used to evaluate whether or not other people were successful in their careers. However, these two generations both scored significantly higher than other generations when investigating the importance attached to organizational security. Yet, it was found that Generation Y members were more likely to have multiple employers, despite a desire for stability and security. In addition, according to Bell and Narz (2007), not only will Generation Y have multiple employers, over the course of their career, but their career progression will involve flexible work arrangements, with change being the only constant.
Raines (2002) notes that although Generation Y members may have multiple employers throughout their careers, which they still expect the leaders of these organizations to act with honesty and integrity. Raines also confirms the findings of several other authors. He notes that the primary focus of Generation Y workers is career growth, personal and professional development, and progression down a desired career path. As others have noted (Eisner, 2005; Armour, 2007) this generation expects their ideas to be met with respect, even when they are new to the workplace. However, they are not willing to give up their personal activities for their professional lives, even more so than the personal life focused Generation X.
The primary purpose of the study was to explore, for the first time in the Cyprus-specific business-accounting environment, the similarities and differences related to generational work values and beliefs of individual accountants; members of the two prevailing generations, X and Y. Given the low percentage of Baby boomers working in accounting practices it was decided not to survey them and concentrate only on Generations X and Y. Adapting a heuristic research approach, and after reviewing the relevant literature, focused research objectives, reflecting the study's primary purpose, were formulated:
RO #1: Identify whether a generational gap exist among Accountants, members of Generations Y and X, in specific occupational values and beliefs;
RO #2: Explore how each generation perceives the other in regards to the specific work-related values and attitudes.
Reflecting on the issues revealed by the literature review, a quantitative questionnaire, separated into three sections was developed. The first section with the utilization of 25 statements measured general work values and beliefs, the second the respondents' perception towards 20 occupational related issues, and the third gathered demographic and other background information that would help the researchers analyze further the results. It is important to note that in this paper only the results of the first and third sections are presented.
The research population included qualified and training accountants working in accounting practices in Cyprus. A simple random sample of 400 questionnaires was administered to individuals working in 26 accounting firms currently operating in the country. Due to the typical low response rate of accounting related studies in Cyprus, a mixed method, which included post mail followed by a telephone reminder and face to face individual distribution, was utilized in order to increase the response rate.
Participation in the survey was voluntary and participants were assured of confidentiality. Prior to administration, the questionnaires were pilot-tested for reliability with the utilization of the test re-test method and for validity with a panel of experts; both academic scholars and industry professionals. Descriptive and inferential statistics, namely frequencies and independent sample t-tests were utilized to analyze the collected data and address the postulated research objectives.
The questionnaires were administered to a total of 400 individuals currently working as accountants and trainee accountants in Cyprus. One hundred and sixty-five (165) questionnaires were completed and returned to the researchers. Of those, six were incomplete, thus, excluded from the study, reducing the number of usable surveys to 159 (Response Rate = 39.75 %). The research team acknowledges the valuable assistance of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Cyprus for endorsing the study, and thus achieving a higher response rate. The following Table 1 exhibits the demographic profile of the respondents according to the variables of gender, age and level of employment in the industry.
Table 1: Demographic Profile of the Respondents (n=159)
18 – 30 (Generation Y)
31 – 50 (Generation X)
Level of Employment
Affiliate / Graduate Accountant / Trainee
Note*: Some demographic questions were not answered by all participants, thus, the variation in the actual frequency number.
The primary objective of this research was to explore the differences between the two generations on 25 statements that describe specific work values and beliefs. The 25 statements, exhibited in Table 2, describe work values related with:
opportunities for career progression,
equality and favoritism,
loyalty towards the organization,
work relationships and teamwork,
recognition and change innovation.
When comparing the responses according to the generation's variable, differences were revealed in eight statements.
The first statement where a statistically significant difference was found to occur focused on ethics. Generation Y participants were found to disagree less with the statement “In today's business environment, the end justifies the means.” This increased level of acceptance of this statement, when compared to Generation X participants, demonstrates a considerably different ethical perspective of these younger workers. It becomes clear that Generation Y workers are more willing to do whatever it takes, to get the job done, rather than worry about the ethical implications of their actions.
Moreover, there were two other questions that centered on ethics, in which Generation X and Generation Y differed greatly in their answers. In particular, Generation Y respondents disagreed less with the statement “There is nothing wrong with doing a poor job, at work, if a person can get away with it.” This increased tolerance for this ethical positioning, when compared to Generation X respondents also shows a difference in ethical perspectives between the two generations.
This difference in ethical perspective is once again confirmed with the finding that Generation Y agreed more with the statement, “It is very difficult to act ethically in an unethical environment”, when compared to their Generation X peers. These three questions, which explore the ethical positioning of the respondents, shed light on a key difference in the two generations. This ‘do what it takes', but ‘don't get caught', and ‘why not when everyone else is doing it' attitude of Generation Y may simply be due to their lack of real life and workplace experience. However, it also may be a disturbing societal trend that will last a generation. Follow up research is indicated to see if this trend towards looser ethics continues for Generation Y. In addition, additional research could determine if this trend is specific to the Cyprus-specific accounting industry.
Findings also revealed differences among the respondents in the attributed level of loyalty towards their organization. When responding to the statement, “I would accept a 10% pay-cut if my organization faced financial trouble”, Generation Y respondents agree less with this statement. This indicates that Generation X is more loyal to their employer, even when times are tough and financial sacrifices are needed. For Generation Y, this question would indicate that money is a significant motivating factor. Moreover, when asked to respond to the statement, “I feel proud working for this company” Generation Y respondents also agree significantly less compared to their Generation X colleagues. Once again, this demonstrates Generation X's increased loyalty towards their organization.
Table 2: Overall Work Values and Beliefs (n=159)
Independent Sample T-test
DF (t); p
In today's business environment the end justify the means:
151 (2.292); .023
It is very important for me to have good relationships with my co-workers:
156 (-.839); .403
I value the developmental and career progression opportunities offered by my employer:
157 (-.992); .323
Work should not interfere with a person's family life:
157 (1.216); .226
I would accept a 10% pay-cut if my organization faced financial trouble:
154 (-4.303); .000
The company accurately measures my performance:
156 (-.366); .715
Working hard makes one a better person:
157 (-.918); .360
I would consider an employer's policy on climate change and the environment in deciding whether or not to work for them:
155 (-1.001); .318
It is important to be able to create something new at work:
156 (-1.159); .248
At work, I find it important to be part of the team:
156 (-1.570); .118
I will be loyal to the organization I work for, as long as I can fulfil my own personal goals:
157 (-.995); .321
There is nothing wrong with doing a poor job at work if a person can get away with it:
157 (3.893); .000
Professional success is a matter of “how much you know”:
157 (2.954); .004
I feel proud working for this company:
157 (-4.520); .000
In my job, it is important that I gain new knowledge, skills, and abilities:
157 (-1.290); .199
Professional success is mainly a matter of “who you know”:
156 (2.267); .025
It is very difficult to act ethically in an unethical environment:
155 (2.908); .004
My employer treats all employees equally:
156 (-1.797); .074
The monetary rewards I receive from my employer match my actual contribution:
157 (-2.353); .020
I enjoy helping others at work:
156 (-.835); .405
I prefer working in a well organized and structured environment:
157 (-1.182); .239
My employer fully utilizes my talents:
157 (-1.953); .053
In my job, I enjoy “making change happen”:
156 (-1.727); .086
My job obstructs me from concentrating on my family/personal life:
157 (.437); .663
I am patient with regard to my career advancement and progression:
157 (-.199); .842
Note: 1= Strongly Disagree, 5= for Strongly Agree 3= neither Agree nor Disagree / Neutral.
Independent Sample t-test: Equal Variance Assumed; Significant Difference p<.05
Differences were also found in questions concerning fairness, favoritism and discrimination. Findings revealed that Generation Y respondents agree more with the statements, “Professional success is a matter of ‘how much you know'” and “Professional success is a matter of ‘who you know'”. According to these responses, Generation Y is of the mindset that it is both “who” an individual knows and “what” they know that determines their success. Generation X was more inclined to believe neither was true. It is suggested that more research needs to be conducted to determine what factors Generation X does believe are critical to professional success, to determine if these beliefs are also held by Generation Y.
When focusing on teamwork, differences between the two generations were also brought to light. Generation Y was significantly less likely to agree with the statement, “At work, I find it important to be part of the team.” This concurs with findings from the previously cited literature review regarding Generation Y's tendency to be more independent than Generation X workers (Eisner, 2005; Gursoy et al., 2008; Armour, 2007; Hatchmann, 2008). The implications for this finding are significant, as organizations today are often structured based on varying levels of teamwork, from taskforce teams to cross-functional teams, teamwork has been key towards improved efficiencies and efficacies. Should Generation Y hold with their current dislike for teamwork, this could mean a paradigm shift in organizational structure, culture, processes, and procedures.
In regards to recognition, Generation Y is less likely to feel as if they are currently receiving the recognition they deserve. Generation X was more inclined to agree with the statement, “The monetary rewards I received from my employer match my actual contribution.” This, again, corroborates previously cited literature on Generation Y's sense of entitlement (Eisner, 2005; Gursoy et al., 2008; Armour, 2007; Hatchmann, 2008). Generation Y, when compared to any other generation, has taken a position that they are entitled to certain rewards and levels of respect, and that they will then work for it after they've already been given it. This may, as with ethics, may simply have to do with their young age and lack of life and work experience, and therefore it may be minimized with time. However, it may be a cultural trait that was engrained into a generation who grew up in an instant-gratification society.
Reflective Discussion – Industry Implications
This study explored the similarities and differences related to generational work values and beliefs of individual accountants working in Cyprus; members of the two prevailing generations, X and Y. Of the 25 occupational issues investigated, there were 8 statements that were found to elicit significantly different responses, between Generation Y and Generation X respondents.
Ethics was the concept explored in the first statement that showed significantly statistical differences between the two generations, indicating Generation Y is more likely to conduct themselves in ethically questionable ways, if it was required of them to complete a job. In addition, this generation was more inclined to do a poor job, if they felt they could get away with it. Generation Y also indicated that they found it more difficult to act ethically in an unethical environment, again reconfirming the previous findings that this younger generation was on less solid ethical footing than Generation X. This could be troublesome for the accounting industry – an industry that has recently been plagued with numerous scandals. Loyalty too was a concept that showed significant differences between Generation X and Generation Y.
Although corporate loyalty, according to past literature, is lessened in Generation X when compared to their parents and grandparents, Generation Y is significantly less loyal than Generation X. Generation Y is far less likely to take a pay-cut, if their organization was in financial trouble. They also were less likely to feel pride in the company for which they worked. The accounting industry will need to be prepared for this lack of loyalty, prepared for an increase in employee turnover, even more so than the decreased retention of employees seen with Generation X.
Accounting stakeholders should give special emphasis to the newest generation of accountants, members of the Y Generation, since numerous studies (see for example, Shaw and Fairhurst, 2008; Partridge and Hallam, 2006), including the one presented in this paper, suggest that the expectations of this generation are very different from the earlier generations, thus posing atypical challenges to today's business operators. By identifying work-related generational similarities and differences and the nature of conflicts those can results, accounting firms could gain a better understanding of a) how to effectively manage today's multigenerational workforce, and b) how to design and implement cost-efficient human resources programs able to meet the specific needs of their multi-generational workforce.
Future generations will continue to be different and organizations who adapt fastest will have a significant advantage in attracting and retaining the highest quality employees. The success of any organization, private or public, lays on the knowledge, skills and abilities of their members occupying all levels of the organization's hierarchy. Each generation that enters the workforce brings with it its own unique perspectives and values about work and the work environment; thus posing unique human resources management challenges. Findings of the proposed activity are expected to enrich the human resources literature and assist in creating new and innovative practices in managing today's multigenerational workforce. Accounting industry stakeholders could gain valuable insights as to the occupational work values and beliefs of each generation, thus adapting their human resources practices accordingly in order to develop a positive working environment that serves each generation's ‘uniqueness'.
Conclusion – Suggestions for Future Studies - Limitations
Although the studies carried out in the United States and Europe vary as to the years each generation cohort begins and ends the characteristic of the employees falling in each Generation do not vary. Interestingly accountants working in accounting practices in Cyprus appear to have similar characteristics and work values as their counterparts belonging to the same generational cohort (Eisner, 2005; Gursoy et al., 2008; Armour, 2007; Hatchmann, 2008). It is evident that accounting practices will need to devote more time and resources into making their freshly qualified accountants career seekers, loyal to their worker and provide them in return more work – life balance environment.
Future studies should further explore generational similarities and differences and investigate whether gaps are caused by valid differences among the generations or by errors of attribution and perception. Finally, it is important to note that the small sample size of the interviewees (n=159) and the homogeneity of the sample, all accountants, limits the generalizability of the findings to other business environments. Nevertheless, insights derived from this paper are of value to academic scholars who wish to further explore generational similarities and differences in their distinct business environment.
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