Designing a multi-generational workplace? Here’s What You Need To Know

Why every generation of employee needs something different at work

Employees in America today are more age diverse than ever before. Many older generations, including baby boomers and traditionalists, are staying in the workforce past the typical age of retirement. Meanwhile, the 61 million members of Gen Z are preparing to look for employment in the coming years, and, by 2025, millennials will make up the majority of the workforce.

Photo courtesy of US Department of Labor

Planning spaces that accommodate the needs of a diverse group of employees can be challenging, which is why we created this guide detailing what each generation needs from their workspace. Here are the five generations of employees in the workforce today and how you can design spaces to meet their needs and wants.

Traditionalists (1922 – 1945)

Although the youngest members of this generation turn 76 this year, a few members are still in the workforce. None of them grew up with technology, or worked with it for most of their careers, so accommodations may be needed to help them adapt. Many of them remain in senior positions in law, accounting, healthcare, and architecture and engineering, and some have taken administrative roles to keep busy after retirement.

Although this generation may not be working for much longer, their experience growing up after the great depression and World Wars has made them a loyal, hardworking asset. By making changes at the office to meet their needs as they age, they’ll return the favor by staying loyal to your organization.

Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964)

Members of this generation are usually defined as goal-oriented and independent, qualities that have propelled them into upper management positions. They tend to thrive on familiarity and routine, meaning that the changes caused by an office redesign could be disruptive for them.

They grew up in an era when everyone got their own private office (or, at the very least, a private cubicle), but usually enjoy collaborative workspaces.

Infographic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Gen X (1965 – 1980)

This generation is a mix of folks who are comfortable with technology and folks who are not— they didn’t grow up with it like many millennials did, but they have also had time in the workforce to adapt and learn.

They value the opportunity to work independently (in fact, 41% describe themselves as entrepreneurs) but also appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with generations above and below them. Creating spaces like communal kitchens is a good way to draw them out and allow them to socialize on their own terms.

Generations X also appreciates the work-life balance lifestyle so consider offering telecommuting options for this group.

Gen Y/Millennials (1981 – 1996)

Generation Y is the first generation of “digital natives,” where most members of this generation grew up with a personal computer in their home. As a result, they embrace the use of new technology in the workplace, including features that allow them to work from anywhere like power adapters and wifi in outdoor spaces.

They expect a modern workplace, and are eco-conscious and appreciate biophilic design and sustainable features in the workplace, including opportunities to recycle and compost.

Gen Z (1997 – 2012)

For many designers, Generation Z (or post-millennials) is the most unknowable generation. According to the US Labor Department, they are expected to make up at least 25% of the US workforce by 2020. The youngest members are still relatively new to the workforce, and we’re watching as they demonstrate an increased need for work-life balance and workplace wellness. Incorporate elements like in-house gyms or rock climbing areas so they have options for physical activity throughout the day, and consider integrating objects like sit-stand desks and ergonomic furniture to show you care about this generation’s need to stay well while at work.

Furthermore, members of this generation don’t remember a time before the internet — they’re true digital natives, and feel most at home in a workspace with ample technology. They want to collaborate face-to-face as well as online, so consider using team communication software like Slack or Microsoft Teams.

In addition to wanting virtual workspaces, they also desire opportunities to work more independently and tend to shy away from open office concepts. Help them feel more at home by providing break out rooms and spaces for quiet reflection.

Here’s how to prepare for Gen Z which will compromise 25% of our workforce by 2020

We know how tricky it can be to accommodate the needs of a multigenerational workforce in a single, cohesive space. In our next post, we’ll share a few practical solutions you can use to create workspaces that are welcoming to employees of all ageWhat design changes have you made to meet the needs of several generations of workers at your organization? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.