What Generation X Wants from the Workspace of the Future

Rachele Collins's picture

Due to their sheer volume in the workplace, we are constantly bombarded with information and analysis about what the Millennial generation (born in the early 1980’s to the late 1990’s) desires in terms of workplace expectations, office environment, norms, and culture. However, there are at least two other generations (Baby Boomers, born in the mid 1940’s to the mid 1960’s; and Generation X, born in the mid 1960’s to early 1980’s) in the workplace today that are largely ignored in terms of all of the attention and hype, but still nonetheless important. And as a member of Generation X, “the forgotten middle,” I would like to provide a voice for what it is that research shows Generation X desires from the workspace of the future.

Everybody Wants Work/Life Balance

An analysis of the over 1,000 survey responses to APQC’s “Workspace of the Future” research found some interesting observations about the workspace preferences of the members of the often overlooked Generation X:

  • (With regards to the physical work environment) Generation Xers (similar to Baby Boomers) are more likely to work from closed offices, and over half of Generation X survey responded said that there was no change needed in terms of the prevalence of walls and doors. However, almost three-fourths of Generation X respondents reported that more space for individual work and quiet reflection would boost their productivity.

  • (With regards to meetings, communication, and collaboration) Respondents from Generation X were more likely to report using face-to-face methods of communication and collaboration, but many said that better tools for virtual collaboration would make them more productive.

  • (With regards to access to work information and systems) Generation X (similar to Millennials) are more likely to want access to work documents and systems from mobile devices when outside the office.

  • (With regards to work/life balance) More so than Baby Boomers, Generation X survey respondents reported that they felt that more flexibility to work from a home office/alternate location and more flexibility to customize their working space or hours would make their workplace more productive.

So, what does all of this mean? Members of Generation X are literally straddling the line in terms of age between the more traditional Baby Boomers and the more tech-savvy Millennials, and trying to adopt the best of both worlds on a number of fronts. While more Generation X survey respondents have offices with doors, like Millennials they desire more space for peace and quiet at work. Although the open cubicle office environment has many perceived advantages (especially in terms of facilitating innovation and collaboration), the bottom line is that many members of Generation X have a lot going on in the larger realms of their lives (maybe caring for aging parents and school-age children at the same time), and therefore desire the peace and quiet to be able to think at work. In fact, the workspace for Generation X members may actually be a respite from the rest of their lives. Or, alternatively, many of them may have already fought an entire battle before even getting to work in the morning (getting kids to school, helping spouses get ready for work, etc.), and therefore are simply tired by 8 am and desire some level of order and calm. Organizations might think about ways to provide the members of this generation (and other generations) the opportunity, time, and permission for thoughtful work and quiet reflection, whether this be in terms of making available more physical space for quiet work, instituting or enforcing office policies regarding noise and norms, and/or permitting employees the time in the workday (either at the office or away from the office) to reflect and work in peace and quiet.

In terms of workplace tools and technologies, members of Generation X understand the value of traditional face-to-face meetings for getting things done, yet at the same time also desire to learn from their younger Millennial counterparts and get up to speed on the latest virtual collaboration, networking, and mobile tools. Organizations might want to consider reverse mentoring arrangements (whereby the younger generation of Millennials mentors the older Generation X), training for Generation X in the latest virtual collaboration and mobile tools and technologies, and regular forums and opportunities for the older generations to interact with and learn from the younger generation (and vice versa).

Finally, more so that the other two generations, members of Generation X have a strong need for flexibility in terms of both work location and hours. As anyone who has ever had a school age child/children and worked full time understands, it is, at times, difficult, to say the least. And some members of Generation X are also balancing caring for children along with caring for aging spouses or aging parents. While workplaces need to be consistent in policies regardless of age or generation, they should at minimum be sensitive to the many competing priorities in the lives of many Generation X employees. And, in this day and age, remote work is not only feasible, it also has many advantages for employees tring to balance so many competing priories in their lives beyond work, in terms of increased satisfaction and engagement as they try to successful manage their households along with work demands.

In conclusion, while the sheer number of Millennials in the workplace demands that we pay special attention to the needs, expectations, and preferences of this important generation, workplaces ought to not forget the preferences and needs of the other generations in their midst. Members of Generation X have much to contribute to the workplace, and still some years to go before retirement – don’t forget about them.

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