The implications of the multi-generational office will cause a paradigm shift in the corporate world. But to understand what it means, and how it impacts corporations, we need to understand the demographic forces at work.
There are currently four major generations living today; the silent generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennial generation (sometimes referred to as Generation Y). Here’s a brief recap of those generations and their broad traits:
Currently, the workforce is mostly made up of the three at the moment largest generations (Baby boomers, Gen X and Millennials). This is a snapshot of the work force distribution today:
As you can see, the distribution is pretty even between the big three. However, the Millennial generation recently overtook Generation X as the largest working cohort about, and their share will continue to grow in the coming years, as baby boomers are retiring. By 2020 the Millennial generation is projected to make up more than 50% of the workforce.
To get a sense of the distribution in the population as a whole, we can look at these projections of US population by Pew Research. Understanding the cultural shift in demographics, how it will impact your business, and being able to adjust to these changes will play an instrumental role in being able to attract and retain talent for the years to come.
As baby boomers are leaving the workforce, and Generation Xers already employed, vacancies are going to be filled with the emergent generation, millennials. The sheer size of the boomer generation, one of the largest generations ever, as well as the fact that the jobs market now more or less is a global market, means that the competition for top talent is only going to increase for companies worldwide.
To properly support, attract and retain millennial workers, companies will have to provide workspaces and tools that align with their needs and preferences.
So how do these generations differ in their attitude to the workplace?
On one hand we have the baby boomers, who in a recent study ranked privacy – the accessibility to spaces that provide privacy from being overheard – as the most important feature in their workplace, and an engaging workplace as the least important aspect.
On the other hand, we have the millennial generation, destined to replace the boomers, who put great value on how well the overall office provides and engaging workplace, i.e how well the office facilitates feeling of belonging, ability to connect with others, appropriate imagery of the company, and welcoming environment. Moreover, millennials value flexibility: flexible hours, flexible assignments, flexible work arrangements – factors that are being taken into consideration when evaluating and eventually selecting employer.
Another significant feature of the younger generation is their attitude towards their career. They don’t expect to spend their entire professional life at the same company – quite the opposite. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median worker stays at his or her job for 4.4 years. Millennials are about to cut that number in half, reporting that they expect to stay less than three years at a job.
What all this tells us is that the shift from Boomers to Millennials is no trivial hand-over, as the two generations are radically different in their approach to work and their employers. The most important need of millennials (an engaging workplace) is also the least important need for the boomers – a generation that has shaped much of corporate culture during the 20th century.
So what are the implications for employers? A few years ago, professional services firm PwC got to experience the impacts of this generational shift first hand. What they first noticed was that new recruits of the millennial generation were leaving the firm in growing numbers. Additionally, a large portion appeared to lack interest in the traditional way of work and career paths.
What do we need to do in order to attract and retain top talents?
To answer that question, PwC conducted a large generational study with over 44,000 employees – the largest of its kind. Some of the take-aways presented in the study are:
Create a flexible work culture
The PwC study found that 15% of male employees and 21% of female employees would give up some of their pay and slow the pace of promotion in their careers in exchange for working fewer hours. To address these needs, companies may adopt policies that promote greater work/ life balance, such as providing employees greater flexibility in their work location or schedule without having to execute a more formal flexible work arrangement.
Build a sense of community
Emphasize teamwork, appreciation and support from supervisors, and give employees honest, real-time feedback, face-to-face.
Fully leverage technology
Accelerate the integration of technology into the workplace, enabling workers to harness technology in ways that give them more flexibility and increase efficiency. To Millennials this is an absolute must—they expect to have access to the best tools for collaboration and execution.
The young adults now entering the professional world is the most technologically savvy generation to ever have lived. Accelerating the integration of technology into the workplace enables workers to use tools that give them more flexibility and increase efficiency. To Millennials this is an absolute must—they expect to have access to the best tools for collaboration and execution. Offering a workplace where all generations feel welcome and can thrive will both assist in attracting and retaining employees in an increasingly intense competition for talent.