Gen Z fights back against the tyranny of expense reclaimby
Young office workers are actively avoiding activities that involve spending their own cash in a work capacity, citing long reimbursement times and a cost-of-living squeeze. Will this be enough to end the scourge of expense reimbursement?
There are many rites of passage young employees have to endure upon their induction to office life. Grappling with the IT system, being cornered by the UFO-obsessed security guard, attempting to join in while teammates twice your age converse about bands you’ve never heard of – all part of the process when adapting to the 9-to-5, and generally quickly forgotten.
But for whatever reason, the inaugural office event that still stays with me is my first tangle with expenses. Call me naive, but to this day I’ve never quite shaken the memory of my first manager breezily sending me out for supplies with a simple: “Just use your own money and the company will pay you back next month.”
I’m sorry, what? Is this a test? Does everyone do this?
Dastardly reimbursement processes
If boosting the cashflow of a large and profitable corporate didn’t exactly float my boat, then the reimbursement process took this to a whole new level.
Expense processes and systems I’ve worked with over the years have included a paper form available from the FD (who never seemed to have a spare copy), a pan-dimensional spreadsheet containing text only comprehensible to the controller who’d left 10 years previously to return to his home planet, and an app that trapped users in an inescapable death loop until they gave up.
So far, so corporate feudalist. But there are signs that the next generation is fighting back against the tyranny of expense reclaim. A poll has found that, astonishingly, given the eyewatering rise in food, energy and rent costs, young workers would much rather use a corporate card, thanks.
Rising from their smashed avocado and soybean latte breakfasts, the youth (1,200 British office workers aged between 16 and 34) have proclaimed they’d rather not run down their bank accounts or hit their credit limits to boost the bottom line of their firm, and actively avoid activities that involve spending their own cash in a work capacity.
Some 55% of employees aged 16–34 would use a corporate card if given the choice, compared to 41% of those over 55, while 94% of young employees cite long reimbursement times, the risk of being slapped with late fees by bank or credit-card providers, and a preference for not mixing personal and business spend as the key reasons for wanting a corporate card.
Petty cash and corporate cards
Brought to my inbox by expense management company Emburse, the survey contains plenty of the usual “they would say that wouldn’t they” that accompanies such research, including the ability of corporate cards to prevent fraud and limit spending to set amounts.
However, in a refreshingly honest twist, the accompanying press release also revealed that just 6% of employees at mid-size and larger companies are required to use corporate cards.
It feels to me that young employees are stuck between a generation that grew up with the petty cash tin and the world of a corporate card (or whatever comes next that gets traction in the business world). While businesses may complain about the cost of any potential solution, those same firms who are perceived to not trust their employees may find themselves stung with extra recruiting costs instead.
Regardless of what comes next, my inner 18-year-old is fully behind the efforts of the younger generation to put an end to the long-running scourge that is expense reclamation.
3 March 2023: This column was amended to add a link to the survey mentioned