Going through some old magazines, I pulled out one that had an intriguing article that I hadn’t written about, but seems very appropriate going into 2008. The magazine, Icon, the magazine of the American Society of Interior Designers, focuses on the creative direction of designers, looking at trends and innovations in American design. In the January/ February 2007 issue, there was a solid article on redefining the workplace based on generational work habits and preferences. Creatives always tend to be ahead of the trend, because they invent and reinvent by picking up on change — or a need to change or progress, which inspires their creativity.
I haven’t been able to source a link to the article ” Workplaces That Span Generations” by Michael Berens, but there were some creative observations that translate directly to the changing face of the workforce. Were these observations ahead of trend? Yes. Is the workforce slowly, slowly shifting in a way that recognizes these trends? Barely. But starting. Here is what Berens, director of research and knowledge resources for ASID, observed:
From Bureau of Labor statistics, the workforce is working longer and the age spread between younger and older workers is growing from 30 – 35 years to upwards of 40 years. In the next ten years the 55 plus age group of workers will increase by 50% whereas only by 5 – 10% in the younger age categories.
What are the age cohorts or demographics? Traditionals (my mom — born and raised around the World Wars — 1900 – 1945), Baby Boomers (me — born between 1946 and 1964), Generation X (Gen X – my younger cousins — born 1965 – 1980) and the Millenials (also called Generation Y or Gen Y, born 1981 – 1999…my daughter was born in 2000, but I consider her a millenial.) Each of these demographics enjoys very specific types of work values and styles of work. In a nutshell, the traditional is the typical “company” worker, who responds to power of position. Boomer is competitive (we know that) and values performance and symbols of recognition. Gen X distrusts institutional structure and heavily values work/life balance. Gen Y is “wired” but accessible. Wants to make a difference doing “value” work, expects good technology and likes to socialize.
The new direction in design is to create work space that respects these values and the drivers that push each group. So, for example, a private office wasn’t as important to a younger worker as overall office design. Gen Y’ers find their privacy behind iPods and earbuds, but still crave interaction and direction. Traditionals and Boomers value office space. So the most creative designers are showing employees that they are valued by creating flexibility in the workplace design that reflects the flexibility that workers are looking for. Community area is increasingly important for interaction and workplace design looks for ways to integrate younger and older workers, who benefit from the best that each demographic has to offer. Some examples include wired breakrooms (think corporate Starbucks) where workers can work, meet and socialize with their laptops. Ergonomics (and privacy) are important for older workers, so ergonomic design is a choice — including things like adjustable workstations, keyboards, lighting and surfaces…think good chairs, larger monitors and ways to address hand and neck problems.
Designers have recognized that they can do their best by bringing the generations together. Now it is up to employers to catch up and do their best, by proactively seeking out the 50 plus employee.