I recently had a conversation with a Boomer, as she talked about how the physical environment at her job had changed. She plans to work to age 66 to receive full retirement benefits. She has, like most Boomers, been “corralled” within in a cubicle. In a cubicle setting, there’s a level of privacy and a sense of one’s own space. The newer hires want open spaces, sofas and movable electronics so they can plug in anywhere, and ear buds to keep the peripheral noise at bay, and storage cubbies (like lockers) for personal items. She heard a comment from management that the “cubes were for the old fogies.” She in turn, thought to herself that the spaces the younger staff prefers, would not allow her to focus because of distractions. The management comment was not a positive one for her and made her feel that she was not a valued employee, though she had been there for over 20 years. So how do companies blend the different needs of generations in the workforce?
Listening to the needs of employees is paramount in maintaining morale and a good work environment. For example, some employees want some level of flexibility in time and work schedule. Creating guidelines that will allow employees to do their best work – whenever they work – is a step in creating higher morale. Many Boomers are primary caregivers for aging family members, and may need some flexibility in taking a parent to the doctor. As for the younger generations, many are not typically nine to five, punch-a-time-clock kind of workers. They come to work to create their social environment, and through that environment, they connect, create, and do their work. Being placed in a small cube would feel confining and degrading. They like to see, to be seen, and to be a part of their surroundings. Many Boomers can adapt to most environments, though they tend to need a sense of place, a home base, where they can go and totally focus on the task at hand.
As for the physical layout of space, many businesses are working to accommodate both styles of office/workers. Social areas with comfortable seating might include space for coffee and healthy snacks. Areas located farther away from the social area can become the quieter office area where those that need to focus can do their jobs well, with less distractions. Cubicles have come a long way in size and shape, as well as views (glass panels) and various heights, colors, and materials. Most office furniture manufacturers offer flexibility and ease in changing panels and work surfaces to accommodate changing needs. Understanding to how people work, their needs in furniture and furnishings to do their best job, and to stay engaged in their work, with comfort and ease, is a huge step in creating a great work environment.
Also, based on the comment by management, I would also recommend inter-generational communication training to both management and personnel to gain sensitivity as to proven workplace vernacular and etiquette.