What 'Generation Y' wants in its workplaces

August 11, 2010

A new global study of the workplace preferences of Generation Y—18- to 25-year-olds in five countries across three continents—reveals that they want easy access to the office (preferably via hybrid vehicle), high-tech amenities, ample breakout rooms and cafés in the workplace, mobile work environments, and an office environment that serves as an extension of their private lives.

Oh, and yes, one other thing—96% of them want their employers to make sure the office is environmentally friendly, but please, not at the cost of it being uncool.

Those are the very broad findings of “Generation Y and the Workplace,” a study of 5,375 men and women in the U.S., the U.K., China, India, and Germany by Johnson Controls Global WorkPlace Solutions, furniture manufacturer Haworth, and UK-based design consultancy iDEA. The respondents, including 1,298 26- to 35-year olds and 396 36- to 45-year-olds—were chosen from five key industry sectors: engineering, IT, art and design, finance, and media/communications.

The chief author, Marie Puybaraud, PhD, director of global workplace innovation for Johnson Controls, says the study found three main threads:

1. Having a workplace really matters to this generation. “They see the workplace as a very important place, and they want to have a place to go to work,” says Puybaraud. While nearly four of five (79%) prefer to be “mobile” rather than “static” workers and 56% would prefer flexible work hours, they still want to have an office.

2. The workplace is a “social construction.” “They go to the office to work, collaborate, and socialize,” says Puybaraud. “The strong social connection at the workplace is definite.”

3. They want a diversity of space to work in. Gen Y workers want their own desks, but they also want access to a variety of meeting spaces—“collaborative spaces,” “team spaces,” and even (for a fourth of respondents) traditional conference rooms.

There is a gap in perception between what Gen Y workers would prefer from their employers and what they think companies actually offer, says Puybaraud. For example, two-thirds of U.S. respondents said they would prefer to have a flexible work environment, but they expect that only one in four employers would offer such working conditions.

The study also reveals regional differences among the 3,011 Gen Y respondents. For example, lumping all Gen Y responses together, the reasons for choosing a company are “opportunities for learning,” “quality of life,” and “work colleagues,” in that order. In the U.K., however, the order is work colleagues, learning opportunities, and quality of life.

In terms of “green” issues, respondents were asked to choose whether they would prefer an employer who was “environmentally compliant,” “environmentally friendly” (more than compliant), or “environmentally aware” (pushing well beyond compliance). Ninety-six percent said they wanted companies to go beyond regulatory compliance.

Puybaraud says employers need to consider the study's findings carefully if they hope to attract and retain Gen Y workers, whose numbers are in relatively short supply, given that the baby boomer generation is starting to retire, leaving a huge gap in the workforce. “The requirement for a collaborative environment is very clear, and that needs to be addressed by employers,” she says. “Very few have team-dedicated spaces. That's not the norm.”

The report acknowledges, however, that most employers will find it “near-on impossible” to deliver on all of Gen Y's demands, and that success will depend on finding compromises and “determining the essentials.”

Of course, at least in the U.S., the U.K., and Germany, until these national economies start improving and companies start hiring again, the findings of this report will be somewhat moot. —Robert Cassidy, Editor-in-Chief

For more on the study:http://www.johnsoncontrols.com/content/us/en/products/globalworkplacesolutions/gwi/projects_workplace_innovation/futures_workplace_innovation/future_generation_y_workplace_innovation.html.

         
 

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