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Designing Multi-Generational Work Areas

Generational Differences

By understanding what makes each generation “tick,” we can learn how to target our workplaces to bring out employee strengths, while downplaying weaknesses. For practical purposes, the generations are easy to identify, with many of the same influences and characteristics. However, we must be careful of stereotypes because overlaps do exist.

Traditionalists – born before 1945

Although many organizations still have a few traditionalists on staff, most have retired. This group, of course, is the one who experienced World War II and the Depression. A more conservative group, they tend to exhibit a work ethic that is based on the way they were raised and the experiences they had. They tend to exemplify faith in American institutions,loyalty, willingness to conform and the importance of hardwork.

Baby Boomers – born 1946-1964

This generation has really“come of age” in the marketplace. Most organizations today have large numbers of Boomers, with many reaching retirement age… and working beyond. They are called Boomers because the first wave of births came precisely nine months after the end of WWII and continued on through 1964. Baby Boomers are strongly associated with the sixties – with all the turbulence and freedom connected to that time.

Generation X – born 1965-1977

A Canadian writer, Douglas Coupland, felt that terms for his generation were somewhat judgmental so he dubbed the group “Generation X” in his novel of the same name. As children of the first Baby Boomers, they grew up in a different world from previous generations. Many experienced divorce,working moms and a “latchkey” existence, which encouraged independence, resilience and adaptability. This generation prefers to work without others looking over their shoulders, yet enjoys immediate and ongoing feedback. They also work well with many cultures and desire “fun” in the workplace, along with a pragmatic approach to completing their jobs. Many saw their parents face job insecurity and entered the workplace themselves in the 80s when the economy was suffering. Where a Baby Boomer may complain about dissatisfaction, he/she expectsit as part of the job, whereas a Gen Xer will seek other employment and a better offer.

Millennials – born 1978-1999

For the first time in history, this generation has work skills that previous generations have not mastered. Also called Generation Next or Generation Y, they are known for their technological sophistication. In fact, Millennials  are expected to change their world and workplace even more than their Baby Boomer parents have. This group is also known for their confidence, dedication to equality and global perspective. Having grown up surrounded by electronics and technology, they take it for granted. Thanks to increased travel opportunities, computers and the Internet, Millennials tend to be more worldly as well. They are more team oriented and concerned with being respected for what they know,rather than their age and/or experience.

Although we’ve grown accustomed to different age groups within the marketplace, today’s up-and-comers have created a new dynamic entirely. What has been typical for generations – older, more experienced employees telling their younger co-workers how to perform their jobs – has been turned upside down. The mentor relationship has become more than a student-teacher relationship. Today’s younger employees appreciate the knowledge and experience of their older co-workers, and the older employees appreciate the enthusiasm and world perspective their younger co-workers bring to the workplace.

Millennials, born between 1978 and 1999, are the first generation born to technology.  They have been raised with the Internet, instant messaging and email. While other generations have learned to adapt the way they worked to how things were already being done, Millennials are changing their workplaces to accommodate the way they work. In fact, experts believe Millennials will affect the workplace in more ways than their Baby Boomer parents.

Encouraging Synergy

When it comes to different generations, society does more than reference a gap. In an attempt to bridge these differences, we’ve assigned names and personalities with common characteristics to understand not only why these groups are the way they are and what influences them, but also how we might more effectively relate to one another.

According to Claire Raines, who wrote Connecting Generations: The Sourcebook, the different age groups create a diversity which “can cause stress, discomfort, conflict, and frustration. In addition, they can become a source for creativity and productivity.” By providing a work environment that is comfortable for all the ages, we aid in their synergy, thereby utilizing the divergent perspectives to create a sum that is greater than its parts. 

Evolving Design

The workplace is evolving – private offices, long a symbol of status, are either disappearing in favor of more open workstations or are being re-created to accommodate technology and collaboration. Informal meeting spaces, lounges and breakout areas are becoming more common. These areas provide collaboration space and encourage the teamwork Millennials thrive on. The traditional conference room and training room are also getting a makeover. Many are high-tech presentation rooms with the ability to divide into smaller areas. Wireless environments not only upgrade technology, but create a work environment expected by the Millennial who doesn’t want to be “tied” to a desk. The traditional breakroom – with its tables, chairs and vending machines – is being turned into a café. Other open areas are being used by employees not only for eating lunch, but for meeting customers and brainstorming with co-workers as well. Many of the current changes taking place encourage employee creativity and provide a workplace that enhances the experiences and strengths of all employees.

Creating Millennial Workplaces

When considering the best ways to utilize workspace to accommodate the generations, employers need to address each one’s requirements – from those who aspire to a corner office and need a space to call their own, to younger generations who want homelike, comfortable, open spaces.

A recent workplace survey by Steelcase indicated more of these characteristics: Millennials are three times more likely to work off site or while traveling, compared to their co-workers. Formal meeting places are less important to them, and they are less distracted by noise. In fact, Millennials have learned to thrive in noisy, busy atmospheres. They want more flexibility, technology and “cool” spaces, and – when it comes to face-to-face work – they want collaboration. With a preference toward cafés  and lounges, Millennials enjoy a variety of workspaces, including:

  • Fun, open, collaborative spaces
  • Informal lounge areas
  • Flexible, fluid space and workstations
  • Personalized workstation designs
  • Highly visible virtual displays
  • High-tech environments (wireless, plug ’n play)

Overall, Millennials expect less job definition and more freedom to work as a team; they change jobs and careers more frequently than their predecessors; and they want a high-tech workplace that is fun, relaxed and non-traditional. Simply put, today’s workplaces must incorporate the technology and homelike spaces Millennials have come to know and appreciate.

For more information on creating a workplace that is accommodating to all the generations, browse our site.

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