Paying People More Will Not Win the Talent War, Says PwC India Leader Adamantly Opposed to Paying People More

From the moment ‘Generation Y’ entered the workforce at the turn of the century, the business leaders, politicians, and academics who came before us have been suffering from endless anguish over our alleged lack of loyalty and our pesky desire to find fulfillment in life beyond work. Many of us watched our parents give their lives to work only to be rewarded in divorces and “company restructuring,” it’s no wonder we questioned whether pledging our lives to our employers would be worth it.

To make my point, I dug up this post on some weird Geocities fragment from 2001 outlining the outrageous demands of Millennials in the workplace. See if any of these look familiar:

Want to know how what they do fits into the big picture and need to understand how everything fits together—want to effect change and make an impactView their work as an expression of themselves; not as a definition of themselvesExceptional multi-taskers—need more than one activity happening at a timeSeek active versus passive involvementLess likely to seek managerial or team leadership positions that would compromise life outside of workSeek flexibility in work hours and dress codeSeek a relaxed work environment—bright colors, open seating, personal touchesExpect corporate social responsibility and will not work for, or purchase products from, organizations that are not socially responsibleSeek work in teamsSeek continuing learning and will take advantage of training made available to themWant everything instantly—everything nowEffort can be separated from reward—there is no such thing as pay for performanceFeeling of entitlementSeek to balance lifestyle and work, with more focus on lifestyle

The same article classifies Millennials as coddled brats who were handed everything we could ever want by our Boomer parents, and suggests that due to that we expect to be rewarded in the workplace just for showing up:

Generation Y’s Baby Boomer parents have nurtured and protected them, providing for their every emotional, educational and physical need and want. They have praised and rewarded their children for minimal effort and have increased the expectations of school and community in educating, entertaining and protecting their children. As a result, these young workers have high expectations of recognition and reward from others with minimal effort on their part.

But hey, we’re good with technology!

As we all know, this “Trophy Generation” profile has persisted in the 20 years since the above was published and the oldest among us (hi!) started working. The “lazy, entitled Millennial” trope is so deeply ingrained in our culture that even now with elderly Millennials turning 40 they’re still talking about how we’ve ruined everything. Hate to break it but things were already pretty broken by the time we took over. Now get off our lawn.

We may be more open-minded than our Boomer parents and less cynical than our Gen X uncles and siblings, but at the end of the day, we want the same things they do. Security. The chance to enjoy our lives. And yeah, maybe a little fulfillment in life if we can get it. Bonus if that fulfillment comes at least in part from the place where we spend 40 (er, 60 maybe for some of you) hours a week, but it’s not a necessity. You know what is? Paying off our student loans. Being able to afford a house. Maybe some health insurance if we’re feeling greedy.

People who aren’t us talking about what we want reminds me of that historical art meme about how complicated women are:

As the public accounting talent war rages on, we’ve talked a lot about the battleground on which this war will be won. The firms continue to cling to this idea that we — the approximately 25 – 40 year olds — care less about being fairly compensated for our work and more about whether or not the company uses paper straws in the cafeteria and sponsors a volunteer day once a year. NO ONE CARES. PAY US.

Case in point. Here’s a recent interview with PwC India Partner and Leader – People & Organization Chaitali Mukherjee in which she is quoted as saying: “The talent war will not be won on compensation. Compensation is going to be table stakes.”

OK. So what does she think will tip the scales in a company’s favor when it comes to the talent war? Purpose LOL.

Connect for purpose: At a time when building commitment and connecting has been the single biggest challenge between employees and employers, employers may need to go beyond the transactional facets of a role and demonstrate the organization’s purpose and what it means/ how it is relevant for employees. All things being comparable (if not equal) living organisational purpose is a differentiator that can hold the right talent in good stead.

We’re all adults here, right? OK, just making sure. LOOK, accounting isn’t brain surgery. And it isn’t humanitarian work. No one gets into accounting with aspirations of changing the world one Excel row at a time. The rest of the people who are leaving their employers in droves right now likely didn’t get into their line of work to change the world either. Despite what Boomers may think about our idealism, most of us are firmly grounded in the idea that work is a thing we do to exchange our time for money and not much more.

You’ll note her next piece of advice for employers again does not suggest they should pay more, but rather think about their own needs:

Hire for alignment (attitude, culture and purpose), Train for skills / capabilities for the future and deploy / provide experience for career growth: It’s impossible to hire a candidate hoping he or she could be later aligned to the organisational culture. Compromising at the time of hiring is the biggest peril. Again, while hiring, disproportionate focus is given to skills and capabilities. Required skills however, evolve. Organisations have to be mindful to hire talent that will have the right attitude and drive to evolve and re-skill/ upskill as required, align culturally and connect with the organisational purpose. These facets have to be ascertained at the time of hiring because these facets are difficult to inculcate in a person at a later stage.

Listen up, employers. You do not have the upper hand here. It is no longer your show. You don’t get to demand new hires be equal parts accountant, insomniac, and charismatic sociopath who also knows how to code. You’ll take what you can get and you’ll like it. I mean, that’s what we the unwashed workers have been told for the last 20 years, right? And they wonder why we aren’t loyal. Just look at what happened last year, firms were quick to make cuts when Covid hit only to turn around mere months later to announce record-breaking revenues.

Day after long-ass day we see threads on r/accounting asking “I got an offer from X and Y Big 4, how to decide?” And you’ll note there is NEVER a choice of the firm that pays significantly more versus significantly less. Instead it’s all nebulous concepts like “culture fit” and whether or not you thought the recruiter was hot. I guarantee you if, say, PwC threw a fat stack on the table for new hires there would be no question. Those threads would dry up overnight. PwC would have the first-round draft pick of every top accounting program in the country. Period. End of conversation.

Hmm. It’s almost as if the firms are colluding to keep compensation comparable across the board so none of them ends up with an advantage and instead can point to ping pong tables and lectures on environmental sustainability as the things that set them apart. Nahhhhh, that’s crazy talk.

Regardless, the obvious solution to the talent war exists. Rest assured leaders of the profession will do everything they can to avoid deploying it unless things get truly dire.

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