Generational Preferences: A Glimpse into the Future Office Sep07


Related Posts

Share This

Generational Preferences: A Glimpse into the Future Office

Knoll had done an excellent research on Gernerational Differences and how it affects future offices. In part one of their research, we like to share with you their findings.

Credits: Knoll

Generation Y as a Barometer of the Future Office

We live in an era in which office design is completely dominated by the worldview of the Baby Boomer generation. Their perspective is so dominant in the workplace that its influence has become invisible—like the air that surrounds us. However, by 2020 Generation Y will comprise over 50% of the workforce (Carlson, 2009; Meister and Willyerd, 2010), while the proportion of Baby Boomers will decline to 23%. To properly support, and attract and retain Generation Y workers, companies will have to provide workspaces and facility programs that align with their needs and preferences.

Four Generations at Work

For the first time in history, there are four generations at work at the same time—employees with experiences and viewpoints that span seven decades of American life (see timeline in Figure 1) (Strauss andHowe, 1992):

+ Silent Generation: born between 1929 and 1945
+ Baby Boomers: born between 1946 and 1964
+ Generation X: born between 1965 and 1978
+ Generation Y: born between 1979 and 1997

Recently, Knoll conducted research to gain empirical insights into these four generations at work, and in particular Generation Y. We
collected survey data from close to 15,500 employees representing four generations, in 40 countries, on their ratings of the importance of six workspace features and capabilities. The results from this research provide a glimpse into the needs of the future workforce. This paper provides insights into how office workspace will need to be designed and furnished to support, attract and retain the emerging Generation Y.

Key Findings: Work as an “Experience”
All four generations rate the office workspace as “important”—and they rate it about equally. However, each generation rates the importance of six key workspace features in a different order.

Generation Y rates the importance of having an “engaging workplace” highest, and “quality of meeting rooms” lowest. Conversely, Baby Boomers rate these two features almost opposite of how Generation Y rates them. These changing priorities will drive a fundamental shift in office design, away from merely supporting work function and process. Future workspace will need to provide a consistent, engaging, work “experience” that supports a wide choice of work styles and seamless flow of work, regardless of location.

Generational Insights
In this section, we explore the formative experiences and general characteristics of each generation to provide context for the research results that follow. In addition to these descriptions, Table 1 provides more background characteristics related to core values, family orientation, use of technology, and attitudes towards money and work.

The Silent Generation (born 1929 – 1945)
The Silents’ worldview is shaped by childhood memories of the Great Depression, the “New Deal,” relatives going off to World War II, and a sense of connection to the community through scrap drives, and other forms of volunteerism. As young adults, many older Silents served in the Korean War and formed part of the early push to the suburbs. This politically conservative cohort has lived through trying times and expects minimal pampering (see Table 1 for more characteristics).

Baby Boomers
Traditionals (born 1946 – 1954)
The worldview of Traditionals (including presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton) was shaped by the rise of feminism and the sexual revolution, drug use for recreation and as a political statement, the Cuban missile crisis, the assassinations of President John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement and a larger sense that society and government were “broken” and needed to be recreated. Traditional are generally described as experimental, free-spirited and social-cause oriented (for other characteristics see Table 1).

Generation Jones
(born 1955 – 1964)
The term “Generation Jones” refers to “Jonesing,” a general desire for material success (remember Madonna—the material girl?) and the notion of “keeping up with the Joneses.” As teenagers and young adults, Generation Jones (whose members include President Barack Obama) was shaped by MTV, Watergate, rampant inflation, recessions and oil price shocks. While their attitudes are touched by 1960s idealism, they are largely impatient with it and are more infl uenced by the pragmatism of the 1980s—a desire to “get ahead” (for other characteristics see Table 1).

Generation X (born 1965 – 1978)
“Gen X” as it is commonly known, was originally referred to as the “Baby Bust” because of the steep drop in the birth rate following the Baby Boom (Stephey, 2008). Many Gen Xers were deeply affected by the lack of social and economic uncertainty in their childhoods caused by historically high divorce rates and mass downsizing by companies (Figure 1). While their fathers were being laid off, large numbers of women (their mothers) entered the workforce. Thus, these “latch key” kids learned to be independent at an early age (see Table 1).Early members of this generation faced a difficult job market and were unfairly labeled “slackers” when they gave up looking or took part-time jobs. Not surprisingly, this generation craves security and reports that compensation is the largest motivator at work, which puts them at odds with Boomers and Generation Y who value learning, volunteerism, and other intangibles over pay. The other generations sometimes have negative perceptions of Gen X—sometimes viewing them as cynical.


Generation Y (born 1979 – 1997)
The Internet and wide availability of portable computing and communications devices mark Generation Y (see Figure 1). The ability to shape technology to unique user needs has provided a high degree of personal and work flexibility and mobility for Generation Y—and has also fostered their expectation that the world should adapt to them.Generation Y is a larger cohort than even Baby Boomers, because its members are the offspring of that generation (Hewlett, Jackson, Sherbin, Shiller, Sosnovich, and Sumberg, 2009). They are close to their doting parents and families. This generation seeks connection to others (especially their peers), values group work and learning, and desires new experiences. Ironically, older Generation Y (children of Traditionals) have rejected their parents’ 1960s counterculture tactics of reinventing existing institutions. They are more involved with pragmatic, civic-minded consensus-building than protesting and tearing down—taking a constructive approach to creating change for greater good (see Table 1).

The Research

Four Generations Participated in this Study
Workers from all four generations participated in this study, which used a survey to collect information. As well, four job functions are represented: administrative, professional/technical, managerial, and executive. Of the job types in the survey population, about one-third are consultants for their organizations and the remaining two-thirds are office employees in various internal functions (such as finance, human resources, and legal).

Definition of Workspace Features
From our recent research and ongoing conversations with leading companies, we identified a set of six broad workspace capabilities and features central to the experience of today’s office worker (see Table 2). We asked employees to rate these features related to how important they are to supporting effective work.

In this section, we present what we learned about how the generations value the six workspace features. First we compared how each generation rates the overall importance of the workspace to their effectiveness (all features combined).

Second, we explored how each generation prioritizes the importance of the six individual workspace features.

Do generations value the overall importance of the workspace differently?

Figure 2 shows the average overall workspace importance score for each generation (based on a five-point scale where 1 = least important and 5 = highest importance). We created this overall importance score by averaging the individual feature rating scores for each respondent and then for each generation. The analysis showed no significant difference between the generations in how they rated the overall importance of workspace features (see Figure 2).

Do generations rank the importance of individual features differently?

This analysis shows that each generation rates the importance of individual workspace features in a different order (see Figure 3). In addition, Table 3 contains a summary of the most and least important workspace features by generation.

+ The Silent Generation (The “Silents”) Pehaps in line with their advancing age, the single most important feature to Silents is physical comfort (see grey bars, Figure 3, and Table 3). The Silents’ least important issue is acoustic privacy. The importance of the remaining issues is roughly equivalent.

+ Baby Boomers The two most important features to Boomers are acoustic privacy, followed by quality of meeting spaces (see blue bars, Figure 3, and Table 3). Their least important feature is an engaging workplace (see Figure 3). These results reflect the Baby Boomer work style which emphasizes face to face meetings combined with sensitivity to being overheard (which is sometimes used to justify a request for a private office). The remaining issues of security, comfort and casual interaction are significantly less important to Baby Boomers.

+ Generation X Like Generation Y, Generation X rates an engaging workplace as its most important issue (see Table 3). Not surprisingly safety and security at work is Generation X’s second most important workplace issue (see yellow bars, Figure 3, and Table 3) since their early lives were impacted by issues related to lack of physical, financial and emotional security (see Figure 1). They rate support for casual interaction as a close third in importance. Acoustic privacy is the least important issue for Generation X (Figure 3 and Table 3).

+ Generation Y Because technology has freed this generation’s members to choose where and when they will work, the degree to which
workspace provides an engaging experience is most important to its members (green bars, Figure 3, and Table 3). They rate security, comfort and casual interaction about equivalent in importance. They reserve their lowest ratings for quality of meeting spaces (see Figure 3 and Table 3).