Adapt Your Office for a Multi-Generational Workforce

Profound changes in the composition of the labor force are under way and will continue through the next 10 to 15 years and beyond. These changes affect business practices and policies, organizational structure, relationship dynamics, as well as the workplace environment. Baby boomers, who have been the largest segment of the labor pool for nearly 40 years, begin to retire in 2008. Phasing in as another very large group will be Generation Y. As these demographic changes are under way, we work in an environment that is shared by four generations: the traditionals, baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y.

Each generation has its characteristic values and ideals, preferences and styles, based on its collective experience during formative years and as its members entered the workforce. While it would be inaccurate and unfair to generalize and stereotype, there are certain shared tendencies among individuals in each generational group.

The traditionals. Born between 1930 and 1946, they were influenced by the Depression and World War II and are characterized by discipline, thrift, conformity and adherence to rules. Traditionals often hold positions of authority. The workplace familiar to them would be highly structured, hierarchical, organized according to the organizational chart.

The baby boomers. Born between 1946 and 1964, boomers represent huge numbers in the workforce, experienced a "Golden Age" of industrial production and improved standard of living, and later, tumultuous social change. Boomers value individuality and creativity, and they seek fulfillment through work. They have had a great deal of influence through their numbers and have experienced a shift in opportunities and organizational structure. Boomers adapted to the "cubicle," with personal space being well defined and separate from areas of congregation.

Generation X’ers. Born between 1965 and 1979, they are fewer in number. Being the first day-care generation, they learned self-sufficiency, developed concern over social issues and entered the workforce during an economic downturn. Pragmatic and adaptable, they tend to be skeptical. They enjoy flexibility in working hours, in dress and in the environment.

Generation Y’s. This group, born between 1977 and 1995, is characterized by high ambition, high expectation, sense of social responsibility and independence. They are informal, teamwork oriented, enjoy freedom and flexible hours. They are highly consumer oriented, ethnically and racially diverse. Style and image of the work place are important.

The challenge of maintaining a work environment that supports the needs of so many work styles and age groups is not a small one. Traditionals and baby boomers alike will remain on the job beyond what was once considered "retirement age," due to both a longer life span and labor demand. We need to balance conflicting needs for tradition and order, privacy and comfort, collaboration and flexibility.

Two keywords to serve as guides would be adaptive and universal.


  • Consider that occupants and functions of workspaces will change frequently and repeatedly.
  • Plan offices to allow shared use and shared function.
  • Consider providing a "community center" in your workplace where all groups can congregate and share information and ideas.
  • Provide both collaborative and private work spaces.
  • Plan lighting and acoustic environments that are adjustable.
  • Devote careful attention to workstation ergonomics as technology becomes pervasive and workers age.
  • Plan workstations to accommodate more than one person, to support training and mentoring.
  • Consider furniture solutions that are portable and adjustable, adapting to multiple tasks and styles and physical needs.
  • Consider individual work spaces that can be either expanded or contracted.

Armed with an awareness of the characteristics of these groups and thoughtful application of some of these broad concepts, your experience through the changing times can be a rewarding one.

By Gary Parish, Emmons Business Interiors

Copyrighted material, article supplied for website use only with the permission of Marketplace Magazine


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