Five Myths About the Generation Gap and the Workplace

In the last several blog posts, I’ve explored various aspects about the future and how these trends may affect the workplace. One key variable in the future workplace is demographic differences, or how generational differences will impact workplace design. I suspect we all assume various truisms about the major generations. For example, Baby Boomers (those born between 1946-1964) are viewed as traditionalists and thus, more conservative in their preferences and tastes. At the other end of the scale are the Millenials, born between 1981-1996.  Here we assume a workforce that demands flexibility, choice, high-tech, and urban environments.

In researching this question I came across a study which seems to refute several myths about the generational workplace preferences. In 2014, CBRE Global Research and Consulting conducted a survey of more than 5,500 professionals. Of the respondents,  22% were from the millennial generation closely mirroring U.S adult population estimates.

Myth #1:  Millennials differ greatly from earlier generations in their views of the workplace.

Reality: “As it turns out, the survey found that there was not more than a 10% difference between how the millennials responded versus how others responded to the 250 questions posed.”

Myth #2:  Millennials are more collaborative than their older peer groups.

Reality:  The CBRE report little difference between generations on how they spent their time. In fact, the data suggested that “company culture is  likely a better predictor of how time is spent in the workplace, as opposed to generational differences.”

Myth #3:  Millennials want more informal and socially based communications.

Reality: the Millennials said “they would like more time connecting via email and more time in formal meetings.” This apparently illustrates “the desire to have increased visibility into organizational decision making and a more established seat at the table”

Myth #4:  Millennials want to live and work in the urban core.

Reality: “In fact, less than half of millennials live in the urban core. CBRE reports that a bigger factor is commute time. So long as the workplace is within 45 minutes of an employee’s home, both suburban and urban locations will meet employees’ needs irrespective of their generational identity.

Myth #5:  Millennials demand a more diversified work environment.

Reality: The report makes a case that all employees despite generational identity demand more flexibility and choice in the work environment including private spaces to think and concentrate.

Bottom Line: “Don’t necessarily design the workplace around millennials. Design a well-balanced  office that can accommodate all generations of workers-one that provides a healthy mixture of collaborative, focus areas, and an environment that promotes employee socialization.”

Reference: CBRE Global Research and Consulting, November 2014, “Designing the Office of the Future.”