Millennials in the multi-generational office 

Understanding the attitudes and behavioural habits of our tech generation is vital for businesses. Organisations need to be able to adjust their office environments in order to comply with the demands and expectations they have.

It's important that businesses attract and retain these digital natives, but not at the expense of the other generations who will be sharing the workplace with them. Office design and layout can play an important role in helping businesses to ensure they're appealing to all types of employees, regardless of age. 

Five Generations at Work

We live in a time when up to five generations can be sharing one workplace.

With the pace of work increasing and technology advancing almost daily, businesses need to understand the dynamics that are going to be at play.

Back in 2008, HR Services Group Penna and CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) researched how this interaction could work in their Survey Report, ‘Gen Up’.

Over 5,500 employers and employees across six Western European countries, including the UK, were surveyed and classified into the following groups:

Traditionalists - Born before 1945

  • They are dedicated conformists who respect hierarchy and put duty before pleasure.
  • Stable and reliant, they are usually quite resistant to change. Work to them is an obligation and duty.

Baby Boomers - Born between 1946 and 1964

  • They are optimistic and team orientated, seeking personal wellbeing.
  • They can sometimes be too process driven and like their own space to process information. Work is an adventure that gets them closer to personal gain.

Gen X’ers - Born between 1965 and 1978

  • They are techno-literate, creatively independent and entrepreneurial.
  • Impatient and sceptical, they can be quick to criticise and lack assertiveness. For them, work is a challenge to be achieved, but not at the cost of their social life.

Millennials (Gen Y) - Born between 1979 and 1995

    • They are confident optimists with a tenaciously heroic spirit.
    • Easily bored, they need structure and supervision. Serial job hoppers, work isn’t everything for them but they want to integrate it with their social life so that they can feel fulfilled by both.

Generation Z-  Born between 1995 and 2009

    • This is the first group to have had Internet technology readily available at a very young age, so they’re extremely tech savvy.
    • Growing up in a shaky economic background has nurtured a distinctly entrepreneurial spirit.

It’s worth pointing out that these are broad descriptions and there are bound to be some people who don’t conform to these specific labels.

You’re just as likely to meet a Traditionalist who has embraced social media, or a technophobic Millennial.

However, you’re probably already thinking of people that you know who match these descriptions.

Attracting and retaining Millennials

This research is now almost a decade old, but it still holds true today.

More recent reports highlight the differing training needs of the generations (the CIPD's Tapping into Talent report) and the workplace expectations that Millennials have (PwC's NextGen study).

This has a knock-on effect in terms of creating workspaces that appeal to a range of different working groups. Many large organisations are seeking new and improved ways to attract Millennials to the workplace. 

However, the goal isn’t to simply attract Millennials, as businesses will run the risk of alienating other generations. The focus should be on creating a space that appeals to all ages.

With case studies from the likes of B&Q, McDonalds and Google, the CIPD's GenUp survey highlights 10 top tips to help implement changes.

In relation to office design, it’s important to recognise the particular strengths that each individual possesses and also identify areas of commonality between the generations. These can be used as the starting point to create a truly multi-generational office space.

Designing a workplace across the generations

Sheffield Hallam University’s paper on Office Design for the Multi-Generational Knowledge Workforce looked at how you can design a workplace that performs for all ages.

The purpose of the research was to evaluate the impact the workplace can have on knowledge working for a multi-generational workforce and show how a range of workplace settings could enhance multi-generational interaction.

Focusing on a group of 63 people, covering three generations they introduced a number of flexible working environments to decipher;

  • An open plan ‘team based area’
  • A smaller quiet room where phone calls were prohibited
  • A hot desking area for people passing through, or overspill from the main area
  • An informal atrium for internal meetings and bookable meeting rooms for more formal meetings

The study concluded that, when it came to areas for concentration, all three generations used the team-based area, but Baby Boomers preferred the quiet room. When it came to meetings, there was a definite preference for Millennials to meet in the less formal atrium, whereas Gen Xers and Baby Boomers preferred the more traditional meeting room.

Steelcase also recommended open plan spaces to include enclosed areas for the purpose of concentration and private meetings. Their Knowledge Paper, ‘A War of Talents’, suggests:

‘the sharing of ideas offers the most obvious solution to the multi-generational office and staff should have a number of options to help them collaborate easily.’

With careful planning, Millennials who don’t want to be fastened to their desks can have informal spaces to lounge in, while Traditionalists can have access to rooms where they can shut themselves away from the hustle and bustle.

How to give each generation a little of what they like

Quiet Rooms

When your staff need a bit of privacy or want to have a more formal meeting, the good old room with a door will always be necessary.

While this offers a more conventional meeting place, you can still be creative. Add some inspiration by theming each room with a specific look and style, or perhaps paint the walls with whiteboard paint and let staff express their ideas freely for all to see and comment on as this will encourage collaboration amongst all generations.

Open Zones

Create spaces that offer a chance for all generations to get together for informal brainstorming.

A scattering of comfy chairs and even bean bags will encourage spontaneous meetings. A designated break-out area will offer a space for people to relax when things are getting a bit too hectic.

In completely open offices you can add small pockets of calm with noise-dampening screens creating pods for private meetings.

Hot Desks

If you want to encourage movement around the office, a specific cluster of hot desks gives people the opportunity to get away from their over-familiar desk and also offers visitors to your office somewhere to work from.

Most staff will want their own desk space, but wireless technology means that you don’t have to stay static in the workplace.

Without a doubt, there are many opportunities and challenges when managing a multi-generational workplace, but reflecting this in the design of your office will be a key factor for not only retaining the best staff but also attracting the best talent for the future.

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