Boomers & Millennials in the Workplace

Roala Baba

The workplace is undergoing some major generational changes, which are manifesting themselves both in office design and culture. These changes we’re seeing are happening as the Baby Boomer generation nears retirement and the number of Millennials in the workforce grows.

Driving Force

Unfortunately, it can be a bit of an unpleasant shock to Boomers. While there are currently four distinct generations of employees working in offices around the world today, Baby Boomers have been the driving force in office culture and design for decades.

For most of their careers, Baby Boomers have been working in office environments designed to cater to their preferences and workstyles, but the modern office is now beginning to shift due to the growing number of Millennial employees. This can pose a challenge to business owners who are struggling to balance the competing interests of these two groups of employees.

Balance Competing Interests

The U.S Census Bureau predicted that in 2015, Millennials would overtake Baby Boomers as the largest generational cohort in the workplace, and today, experts predict that by 2020, Millennials will make up more than 50% of the entire workforce.

As these predictions turn into reality and Millennials become the new driving force in office culture, we’re seeing a dramatic shift in how businesses design and run their offices.

While there are three primary generations in the workforce today, (Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials) the two most significant, and different, when it comes to their philosophical views on the workplace are the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. The philosophical differences between generations are quite substantial, impacting the things and qualities that employees seek out and value in an office environment. 

These distinctive sets of values seem to hold true across the generation despite differences in location or job. One example is the concept of work/life balance. Millennials see work as an integrated part of life, not a separate activity that needs balance with the rest of life. This is why socializing, fulfilling work, and freedom are important to them.

The philosophical differences between generations are quite substantial, impacting the things and qualities that employees seek out and value in an office environment.

When it comes to Baby Boomers, the most important qualities they look for in a workplace are quiet, privacy, and high quality meeting rooms. Lowest on their list of priorities is having an “engaging work place”. Millennials, on the other hand, ranked these qualities exactly the opposite.

Millennials by far value an engaging work place most when it comes to choosing a workplace, while having luxurious meeting spaces was at the bottom of their priorities. For both Baby Boomers and Millennials, work places that provided socializing, comfortable workspaces, and physical security were in the middle of their lists.

As business owners learn more about the rising Millennial generation and what they value in a work environment, the office is beginning to adapt to accommodate them.

Efficient Environments

The office is also changing as businesses learn more about how to use space more efficiently in general, and begin to understand more about what contributes to a healthy, productive work environment. In the past, Baby Boomers’ desire for private and quiet workspaces shaped the workplace into the cubicles and closed offices that we’re familiar with today.

Millennials, however, don’t value quiet and privacy as highly, and in today’s office we are instead starting to see open office layouts that create an engaging environment for employees, allowing workers to move, socialize, and collaborate freely.

These changes can be particularly hard for Boomers, who also see private offices as a symbol of status and hard work that they’ve earned. While ultimately Baby Boomers will have to adapt to these changes, there are ways to help ease the transition.

Consider Key Differences

In open layout offices, employees’ individual workspaces are designed to allow workers to transition easily from solo, heads-down work, to brainstorming and working in teams. Workstations in open layouts may lack the privacy and isolation of cubicles or private offices that Boomers are used to, but can still provide a personal workspace that allows employees to feel a little more “at home.”

The most effective open office layouts go a step further and allow employees to choose the environment that they work best in. Open office layouts can be busy and noisy. Millennials can often draw energy and inspiration from the bustle around them. It is important to supplement the open office with spaces where Millennials and Baby Boomers alike can go to work more quietly, take calls, or have private meetings.

The most effective open office layouts go a step further and allow employees to choose the environment that they work best in. 

Baby Boomers tend to value formal meetings and formal meeting spaces as important tools to organize, communicate, and get work accomplished. Millennials on the other hand, prefer short casual sessions to strategize and brainstorm, and tend to use technology to facilitate quick communication and coordinating.

This is leading to more laid-back, informal meeting places in offices, and often these areas have another purpose, such as acting as a café or break area. In addition to these more open meeting spaces, it’s a good idea to have smaller conference or huddle rooms to allow for more private meetings when needed.

Millennial Misconception

In addition to office design, there are some big differences in the experiences that Millennials and Baby Boomers want from their workplace. Millennials have often been criticized as being self-centered and needy in what they demand from a workplace, in comparison to older generations.

But the truth is that many of their desires are practical. Millennials saw their Boomer parents working long hours, and sacrificing time with their families for their careers. The young adults in this generations realize that work will often bleed over into their personal lives, and as a result Millennials value a holistic work environment that allows them to better integrate their work and their personal lives.

They value an office that allows them to socialize, feel at home, and supports their health as well as their professional growth. While Baby Boomer’s struggled in the past to keep a firm line between work and home, Millennials instead look for flexible hours.

Build on Common Ground

 But while there are big differences, there are also many similarities between these two generations. Both want to work for business’s whose mission they believe in, and for managers who show good leadership and inspire creativity. Both generations look for financial security, and want to move ahead in life.

There is a lot of common ground to be built on, and mentorships between Baby Boomers and Millennials can be a great way to bridge the generational gap. While Boomers may be slower to adapt to changes in the office and new technologies, they have valuable experience to pass down to their younger co-workers.

Millennials may be more tech-savvy, but they’re eager for support and feedback every step of the way, and want positive reinforcement. Establishing Mentorship programs in your office can help to create an office culture that integrates both generations, and allows them to learn from each other’s strengths.