Study Debunks Myths About Generations’ Workplace Preferences

Does your office really need to change much to become more appealing to the fast-growing millennial workforce? Perhaps not. A new study suggests that the generational divide in workplace preferences could be something of a myth.

Age is not as much of a factor as previously thought when it comes to preferences in the workplace, according to a new study by commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE Group, Inc.

Variety, choice, access, and transparency—attributes typically associated with what millennials want—are indeed important, but not only for millennials.

The survey of more than 5,500 office workers found that there is little difference among the three working generations—millennials, members of generation X, and baby boomers—in how they want their workplaces to look, feel, and function. Still, assumptions about millennial preferences are driving many decisions about the workplace environment.

“The results of this study clearly suggest that variety, choice, access, and transparency—attributes typically associated with what millennials want—are indeed important, but not only for millennials,” Georgia Collins, CBRE’s senior managing director for workplace strategy, said in a statement. “Our study actually found that most of these attributes are equally important to generation Xers and baby boomers.”

With 86 million millennials on pace to make up a majority of the American workforce by 2020, study after study (after study) has been conducted in an attempt to understand what they’re looking for in their employers, as association members, and as event attendees. But CBRE suggests that the generational divide is more perception than reality.

Some key findings:

  • When asked how they prefer to work, 86 percent of millennials said they’d like to work independently more often, compared to 91 percent of Gen X and baby boomers.
  • More informal, collaborative work was preferred by 51 percent of millennials, 49 percent of baby boomers, and 42 percent of gen Xers.
  • The widest gap in generational preferences related to formal meetings and email communication. Millennials said they prefer more meetings and email (54 percent and 33 percent, respectively), while far fewer gen Xers (34 percent, 27 percent) and baby boomers (27 percent, 18 percent) were on board with that.

Also counter to the conventional wisdom is that 48 percent of baby boomers said they would prefer to connect through a workplace social media network, compared to just 30 percent of millennials.

“These findings suggest that instead of putting too much focus on designing the workplace around the millennials, companies would yield better results by designing a well-balanced office that will accommodate the varied needs of different job functions and different preferences of individuals, independent of their age cohort,” said Collins.


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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