A topic that often goes unnoticed among HR departments and executive teams is the challenge of providing an office space that meets the needs of employees who span across multiple generations. While many young start-ups often hire a workforce that reflects themselves, the need for a more diverse workplace is growing, and this includes hiring across multiple age ranges.
Right now, there are three significantly different generations in the workforce: Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials. Let's take a look at what office design and amenities each generation may require, and how you can implement some easy upgrades to your workplace layout and functionality to keep all your employees happy.
Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. The oldest of the 79 million Baby Boomers reached age 65 in 2011, and the youngest will arrive there by 2029. Because they heard often from their parents (the Traditionalist generation) about economic hardship, war, and right versus wrong ethics, this generation was instilled with a strong work ethic, desire to achieve with visible productivity, and clear goals and benefits. Baby Boomers are work-centric, goal-oriented, independent, and self-actualized. They thrive on security and team meetings that don't waste their time. This group can build and maintain an unwavering company backbone, and they love friendly competition to spur everyone on to a greater goal. But they don't like distractions or disconnection.
For the Boomers in your office, provide quiet offices and keep the music to a distraction-free and pleasant channel. Satisfy their competitive side with quarterly profit sharing, Employee of the Month awards, and team sports or outings. Boomers crave face to face time, so collaborative office spaces and modular work stations will suit them well. Don't introduce too much Slack or video conferencing--it starts to wear thin.
According to Time Magazine: "By 2019, Generation X -- that relatively small cohort born from 1965 to 1978 -- will have spent nearly two decades bumping up against a gray ceiling of boomers in senior decision-making jobs."
Generation X, also referred to as Gen Xers, are also hard workers like Boomers and have most likely spent a large part of their career focused on one industry or even in one company. They apply themselves to move up the ladder while (perhaps disdainfully) observing their Millennial counterparts job-hopping and "following their bliss."
Gen Xers appreciate nostalgia and remember the time before the Internet, so some offline work and unplugged meetings are appreciated and will stimulate creativity. However, they love and appreciate innovative technology, such as integrated hardware and data cables, invisible wiring, adjustable height desks, and spaces that contribute to their productivity. Give them comfortable furniture so they can be effective team leaders and move efficiently up the corporate ladder to get what they deserve.
Gen X also saw the rise of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, so recycled materials workstations, office greenery, recycling and compost efforts in employee lounges, as well as "Bike to Work" days will be appreciated by this group.
Generation Y, better known to the entire universe as Millennials, have ushered in sustainability as a required benefit in the new modern office. Fond of implementing water features, living walls, solar panels, and green tech and paperless offices, Millennials want their company office to not only benefit the individual but benefit the greater good.
They've been raised almost entirely in a world of technology, so learning new tech or embracing flexibility is easy for them. In fact, don't be surprised if many Millennials request to have a part-time minimalist commuter workspace so they can work virtually, or if they forgo their assigned cubicle to work on their Mac laptop in the employee lounge (closer to the coffee, of course).
Millennials basically relaunched the concept of the open office and their desire for light, minimal and fun spaces has been tarnished by the "ugh, ping pong tables?" think pieces in media. But Millennials can encourage work-centric Boomers to take breaks, give positive feedback to Gen Xer's leadership, and will happily tweet about their work experience to build the brand. They are team players who are introducing equity as a higher standard of equality. They'll love communal work tables, bright and bold offices, and conference rooms that break the mold.
While it may be nearly impossible to provide an age-neutral office, you can provide each employee with an age-neutral personal workspace and a limited to budget to personalize it as they see fit. We live in the age of flexible workstations and modular layouts as well as innovative office accessories. This could lead to stronger talent loyalty, fostering a personalized company culture, and a happier and more creative staff.