Let’s keep ‘em happy.
The Millennial generation, that is. I certainly acknowledge that there is a large group of young workers busily working their way up the corporate ladder. This year, Millennials (born circa 1980-2000, also known as Gen-Y) are projected to surpass the outsized Baby Boom generation as the nation’s largest living generation, according to the population projections released by the U.S. Census Bureau in December of 2014.
This group which is now between ages 18 to 34 numbers 75.3 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Boomers (ages 51 to 69). Maybe you should go long on Red Bull.
There have been entire libraries worth of articles, books and panels convened to cover the needs wants and yearnings of this generation. All the architects, and workplace prognosticators are talking about how to design office space that will keep this generation happily productive and engaged. I’m sure it’s good for business, because a lot of middle aged executives are trying to figure out how to create just the right environment for today’s cherub faced, energetic and frenetic team members.
But are they really all the same?
While each generation has common characteristics that give it a specific character, I began to wonder about the many well-meaning experts waiving the M word around like a sword at industry meetings and in every article remotely having to do with real estate (here’s an example).
“Millenials want ‘we space instead of me space.’ Millenials feel the need to collaborate. Milennials don’t want to be told, but instead consulted. Millennials require lots of recognition.” All of a sudden we are surrounded by experts on catering to the inner desires of this group. Heck, even the White House is getting in on the action of telling us what this newest addition to America’s workforce needs. Thank you, sir.
Are we homogenizing an entire generation into one meme? Is it really possible that we can generalize the needs and wants of 75 million people so easily?
After all, we are lumping into the cookie dough different races, regions and religions not to mention gender differences. I bet not every Millenial likes Taylor Swift or uses Snapchat.
The other issue is the relative youth of this generific group. Before our very eyes, they are growing up, getting married, having kids and <gulp> becoming adults. Remember your youth? I bet you never thought you’d be like your parents – absolutely no way, you rebel you.
The Kids are Alright but Not All Just Alike
Here’s an idea: why don’t we design and operate office space based on the company and its desired culture. Remember what your mom told you about being all things to all people?
I had lunch with uber successful CRE tech entrepreneur Patrick Braswell this week and we discussed this very topic. Patrick, who has an unusual perspective of having both been a tenant rep broker and a tech CEO agreed that focusing first on your own company’s version of successful culture is the starting point. “Some Millenials are introverts and some are extroverts, for example” he said. “You can’t take one formula to this cake bake.”
The days of designing office space to save money are largely over. While office landlords are really cashing in on the upswing in the economy, the largest single cost on most income statements is talent. Attracting and retaining your key employees is now critical. The wolf is at the door; believe me, your competitors would love to swipe as many of your gifted team as they can.
Um, Maybe You Just Ask?
I do think that there are some very intriguing and creative design strategies coming out of this focus on America’s largest generation. I am happy to see work and workplaces become fun again after the mean and scary years of 2008-2011. By show of hands, can we all agree?
I’d just implore you to use a little common sense when the office experts show up with fancy charts and pictures about the new “in” thing. Take your emerging leaders to lunch and simply ask them what is on their minds. Involve them in the process of design as you move forward with new office space. You still make the decision, but involving the very people you are trying to energize carries some risk and likely outsized rewards.
Most of all, select smart designs that are true to your company and its desired culture. Design with integrity that is true to your leadership vision and the uniqueness of your business environment will be the true winner.
And that will make everyone happy, including your mom. By the way, I don’t think you are anything like your parents either.