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What to Consider When Accommodating Multiple Generations in the Workplace

The ability to adapt to different work styles and personalities isn’t something only HR professionals need to worry about, it’s become a bigger topic for corporate real estate (CRE) leaders as well.

Jo-Ann Mann, Serraview

By Jo-Anne Mann

The ability to adapt to different work styles and personalities isn’t something only HR professionals need to worry about, it’s become a bigger topic for corporate real estate (CRE) leaders as well. The way people work, collaborate, and react to new technology all affect workplace productivity, workplace design and office space utilization.

In today’s modern world, there’s a chance that a company could have five generations in the workplace all at once. They’re categorized as Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. They vary in age ranges, habits, and ideals—all of which can affect the working environment.

As you might guess, this raises a few challenges due to older traditions meshing (and sometimes conflicting) with newer platforms and processes. For example, the advent of AI-based technology and other technical advances simply weren’t around during the Traditionalist, Baby Boomer, and in many cases, Gen X generations. One of the best ways CRE leaders can maximize space utilization while speaking to the general needs of each group is to understand varying work styles and learn how to adapt to each.

Understanding the Work Styles of Different Generations

As of 2018, millennials (born: 1981-1996) make up more than one-third of the U.S. workforce. Gen-Xers (born: 1965-1980) are right behind at 33%, followed by Baby Boomers (born: 1946-1964) at 25%, Gen Z (born: 1997 or later) at 5%, and Traditionalists (born: 1945 or earlier) at 2%. Each group is generalized by certain traits that affect how they interact with others in the workplace. While employees are individuals, it’s important for CRE and HR to know these traits and how often they actually do or do not apply to each group.

For example, an in-depth report conducted by CBRE broke down common stereotypes of the millennial audience. It challenged the notion that those born between 1981 and 1996 expect to be always digitally connected, blurring work/life distinctions. It also determined they are collaborative workers both in terms of workplace and working style. 

However, research from the CBRE study also showed only one-third of millennials expressed interest in a collaborative working environment or open-plan offices. They are more endeared to activity-based work setups that provide flexibility. Conversely, Baby Boomer employees are 50% more likely to want a private office than a millennial.

It’s likely those from the Baby Boomer generation have more managerial experience and are higher on the employee hierarchy based on years of experience alone. Their role may require more process-driven focus and less ongoing collaboration. Which begs the question: does age really matter? The answer is: yes and no.

Age can be indicative of years in the workforce and specific industry. It also speaks to the cultural norms a person is used to. A person who grew up in the age of the Internet may have a greater chance of adapting to technology than someone who never used a smartphone as a teen or young adult. But when handling different generations in the workplace, it seems working styles have more to do with industry expectations, work culture habits, and workspace preferences than how old someone is.

Learn how to attract top talent by catering to what matters most to millennials.

Industry Expectations

Banking institutions are generally more traditional in their cubicle and private office setups than tech companies who often embrace open space concepts. Yet these days, the titans of Finance, with their vast global campuses, are honing in on their workplace environments as key tools in the race for talent. While many institutions are stuck in the days of cubicle farms, others are now joining the cream of Silicon Valley on the leading edge of Activity Based workplaces, and flexible environments.

Work Culture Habits

During the age of Baby Boomers, multitasking was less of a priority. With the later generations growing up with mobile devices, they are used to working on multiple systems and applications at once. It’s not uncommon for a Millennial or Gen Z employee to be working on a laptop and simultaneously responding to communication on his or her smartphone.

However, each group can still identify with the need for balance between multitasking and quiet focus. Anyone who has been in back-to-back meetings understands that while collaborative interaction is taking place, actual, task-oriented jobs are likely not being completed. Each person, regardless of generation, must embody several different working styles per day depending on the role and task at-hand.

Generational Workspace Preferences

CRE leaders focus on how to save on cost while still making the majority of employees happy. To achieve this, the questions become more employee-centric and less based on the categorized preferences of different generations. For example: 

  • How much do job roles play a part in space planning? Do certain departments need to be seated together for easier communication? Who has private offices and are they all fully utilized?
  • Does remote working make more sense for certain generations than others? Or, is this more personality-based?
  • Is a fully open-space concept the way of the modern world or do activity-based seating environments make more sense?

One way to start to break down what kind of environment works best is to survey employees and welcome specific feedback. To complement that data, enable office space utilization software that can tell you how much of your current space is being used and how. For example, if data shows a lack of collaboration among employees, decide if more space should be allocated for smaller, informal meetings. Additionally, identify if there are enough spaces that speak to employee needs, especially the majority millennial audience, like break areas and quiet spots.

It’s safe to say that with the possibility of five generations in the workplace at any given time, there’s a multitude of things to consider. By identifying work style expectations, habits, and preferences, it can begin to shed light on how to design and optimize the workplace to meet the evolving needs of employees.

To learn more about creating a smart workplace strategy that accommodates changing business needs and retains top talent, download our guide on Best Practices for the Modern Workplace Environment.

Best Practices For The Modern Workplace

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