An Accounting Giant on Keeping Millennial Employees Happy

“In the old days it was like: If you leave, you’re dead to us. I don’t think you can operate that way today.”

How EY Keeps Millennial Workers Happy

The following is a condensed and edited interview with Mark Weinberger, CEO, EY.

 
Many CEOs say one of the most important jobs they have is managing the company’s talent. What’s your thought on that?
I’m passionate about this. We have almost a quarter of a million people, and we’re in 150 countries. Seventy-five percent of our people are millennials, and the median age of an employee at EY—believe it or not—is 29 years old.
 
Wow, that’s young.
People think of us as old, stodgy accountants. But we’re a relatively young organization. In the last couple of years we hired 60,000 to 65,000 people a year. So we’re probably one of the biggest hirers there is, and we have to appeal to this new generation.

 
How?
Purpose has become incredibly important to them. What we learned is that young people want to do good as well as do well. They really do want to come to work thinking that they’re going to do something that matters. So our purpose is “EY, building a better working world”—I wear a shirt that says that right on it. And this has to be authentic and has to be built into the business, not just your charity work or your corporate social responsibility work.
 
How do you do that?
Well, every audit we do helps bring trust and confidence to the capital markets. So if we’re not doing our job, the capital markets aren’t working. That’s what we talk to our people about.
 
What else do millennial workers want?
They want to be engaged. They still care about compensation. But the single biggest factor for them in wanting to be somewhere is flexibility. It’s not pensions, it’s not health care, it’s not things we would have thought of. And they tell us time and time again they will go somewhere else if they don’t feel they have a flexible work lifestyle.
 
Flexibility means not just the traditional flex work arrangements. It also means just the flexibility to go ahead and be able to go to your kid’s soccer games or care for an elderly parent and not have to be clocking in over a certain period of time. And it means also being able to work from different locations with mobility and not having to be in an office 24/7.
 
So we’ve changed. We have more flexibility about teleworking and things like that. But, as importantly, I built our strategy around this concept of high-performing teams. If we don’t have a high-performing team, you can’t flexibly serve an audit or an M&A deal or a major tax transaction, where you have to be on call 24/7.
 
So there are limits to how flexible work can be?
Well, there are limits. But if you have a team that respects flexibility and you’re very transparent about when you’re available and when you’re not, all of a sudden you can meet the needs of the client. That’s unlike in the past, where everyone had to be there, or where it was one or two people and not a team who was responsible. And so this teaming is a crucial element of providing the flexibility for the millennials—and, I think, of the future of success in all businesses.
 
Has the fact that you’ve worked other places helped you connect better with your young workers?
I’ve changed our value proposition. In the old days it was: “You come. You stay with us. You work with us. You get a pension.” Today we know our people are not likely to stay with us for their careers. They’re going to have five, six, seven jobs throughout their careers.
 
And so we want them to come and be trained here, get the EY seal of approval, so to speak, coming through our training and development programs and experiences. And wherever they go, they’re part of the extended EY family. We have 850,000 alumni around the world.
 
That’s a very different way of thinking, compared to the days when companies thought the best employee was the one who stayed 30, 35 years.
That employee is gone. Millennials, they’re going to move around; they’re going to experience different things. Why am I a believer about this and impassioned about it? Because I’m living proof—I left EY three times [including to become assistant secretary of the Treasury in 2001].
 
We have what we call boomerangs: people who go, get experience in industry, and then decide they want to come back. In the old days it was like: If you leave, you’re dead to us. I don’t think you can operate that way today.
 
You’ve got to make people want to stay with you because of the experiences you give them, the training, the development, and how their personal brands improve. If you can keep them, great. If you can’t, then hopefully they’re a great representative of you, an ambassador of you out in their new jobs.
 
Which makes it easier for you to bring in new people in the future?
And work.
 
And new work assignments from your alumni as well?
Yes. So that’s really an enlightenment from realizing the millennials are going to do this anyway and feeding into it, as opposed to trying to stop them from leaving.

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