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to thrive with five?

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05 August 2019 Herpreet Kaur Grewal

This month, we investigate what is physically needed to make a workplace fit for all five generations.

What is physically needed to make a workplace fit for all five generations? Is it an issue of accessibility, flexibility or having interchangeable or integrated solutions? And what are you currently doing to meet this challenge?

Different traits distinguish one generation from another. For instance, Generation Y or millennials (born 1979 to 1999) are choosing to consume less dairy produce than their parents and grandparents, and more ‘mylk’ alternatives like almond, oat and soya milk. In the office this generation puts a premium on wellbeing but also has an eye on greater corporate social responsibility.

Generation Z (born 2000 onwards) are tech-savvy and they want stability, career advancements, benefits and ample compensation. Older workers, known as the traditionalists (born before 1945), place importance on a strong work ethic and respect authority. Baby boomers (1948 to 1963) have a rebellious streak and value equal opportunities and Generation X (1964 to 1978) value freedom and responsibility at work. All five generations are occupying a single workplace – and this will become more widespread.

Older workers will make up a large part of the workforce and are likely to have particular needs because of factors such as increased life expectancy. Added to this is the phasing out of UK’s default retirement age and the raising of the state pension age in coming years – meaning that many people will either need or want to keep working. Younger workers may demand more flexibility including breakout areas to work or sit-stand desks.

We asked you how this is affecting your workplace planning. What steps are you taking to integrate the needs of five generations in your organisation?

Workers as consumers

The fixation with different generations of workers seems to be both wrong-headed and overstated. In fact, the workplace is an increasingly diverse place and needs to support everyone in being their best. As opposed to focusing solely on the generations within an organisation, there are many sub ‘segments’ within a workplace population to consider including nationality, gender, sexuality, neurodiversity or ‘multi-ability’ (sight, hearing, colour, autism, etc), personality, lifestyle, as well as age and work preferences. We need to create workplaces and working arrangements that not only tolerate difference but positively embrace them.

In a world where we need to treat workplace users as ‘consumers’ … it’s important for workplace and FMs to fully understand the populations for whom they are providing work environments. I’d start by getting to understand the segments that are in your population and then try to craft services and experiences to delight each and every one of them.

Andrew Mawson, MD of AWA

Lead by example

Spaces should reflect a wide array of working styles and methods, and a space will only work if it truly encompasses and reflects the ethos and needs of the employees. Employers need to create harmonious environments by implementing change management, being clear with their objectives and goals, and keeping clear and open dialogue between staff and employer. Business leaders need to be seen to be doing whatever they attempt to implement, and be involved in the communicative culture of a workplace, leading by example. Changes within the workplace happen if everyone is on board; and what better way to kick-start it than by keeping each and every person affected engaged, and seeing their own managers practising what they preach? A successful workplace will support you and give you purpose – whatever your age.

Angela Love, director at Active Workplace Solutions 

Wired to connect

Many consultancies are focusing on differences between the generations, but we think it is important to focus on similarities too. Although there is a move towards more agile working and the rise of the digital nomad, we know that human beings across all generations are wired to connect. We want to understand how best to allow all generations to do this in a way that suits their job role, personality type and changing needs – to design spaces and provide opportunities for effective reflection, connection and sharing of experience and knowledge. Businesses are realising that there is a strong connection between worker engagement and productivity. They are becoming more people-centric as they seek a way to gain a competitive edge and attract, retain and leverage the best from talent across all generations. Our goal is to gain insight into what affects that workplace experience – culturally, psychologically and environmentally. Although we can use the overall research and design spaces with efficient lighting, access to nature, and chances to move and connect, we still need to understand the needs of our workforce and design for them so that buildings can adapt to their needs and not the other way around.

Alex Morris, Mitie, head of workplace wellbeing & behaviour change psychologist, wellbeing strategy

‘Can-do’ attitudes

Simply having ‘Great People that deliver Great Service to achieve Great Results’ for our customers is what binds our diverse workforce together, from young apprentices to specialists in their 50th year with us.

Yes, there can be generational conflict; that’s only natural. But the key to supporting a diverse workforce with the right ‘can-do’ attitude is a culture centred upon wellness, success and balance. Intergenerational values such as ‘winning through teamwork’ and ‘sharing success’ also play a role in building a strong team with a passion for quality.

Young people are far more in tune with their mental health than other generations. Employers must be able to support and guide them, so mental health awareness/wellness training is crucial.

Millennials, and more so Generation Zs, now judge a book by its cover – expecting to see, hear and feel a vibrant workplace setting and culture. Keen to work and play hard, they notice everything in the design of modern workspaces and breakout areas. As digital natives, they’re attuned to the latest technological solutions and company perks; our new workforce makes a snap judgement the moment they arrive. That said, an attractive cover is not enough. To retain a talented workforce, a company’s culture must uphold their values.

Steve McGregor, Group MD at DMA Group

Flexibility is key

The answer to supporting five generations in the workplace is flexibility. Flexibility in where to work – different locations inside a building and externally at client sites, at home, at a regional hub close to home or a third space such as a co-working hub. Flexibility in when to work – the old 9-5 is dead and today’s workplaces need to support the morning lark as well as the night owl. Flexibility in how to work – whether that be in short, intense bursts in a quiet space, or for long spells of collaboration in a project area. And flexibility in who to work with – with five generations working alongside one another there is much millennials can learn from the baby boomers and vice-versa. Workplaces must support this cross-pollination of ideas. That flexibility must extend to how offices are leased. Ever more organisations are moving away from the long office lease, instead opting for ‘no lease’, where providers offer flexibility to expand and contract at short notice. That flexibility is essential if we are to be agile enough to support today’s five generations – and future generations – to have their best day at work.

Kurt Mroncz, MD of Offices iQ, a flexible and serviced offices broker

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