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Lost in Generations

18 May 2016

There’s been a lot of debate over the past decade on the number of generations and their effect on the workplace.

Why does all of this matter?

Let’s start our journey by understanding where we are fall in this generation classification!

Traditionalists: born 1930 to 1944 (Age 71-86)
Baby Boomers: born 1945 to 1965 (Age 51-71)
Generation X: born 1966 to 1980 (Age 36-51)
Generation Y: born 1981 to 1995 (Age 21-35)
Generation Z: born 1996 and after (Age 20 & below)
Age calculated as of 2016

Global Data Indicates people are living longer and with the possibility of having five generations work in the same workspace, it can cause quite a dilemma on what design strategy needs to be adopted to enhance productivity.

Considering a mixed strategy we need to gather some data on each generation's consideration of basic need. Referring back to Maslow’s pyramid in our Wellness Blog - If the basic needs aren’t met, we can’t sow the seeds for innovation which every company strives for. Let’s get started:

Generation Z: born 1996 and after.

Practically born with a mobile phone strapped to their ear and a laptop in their cradle, these guys are totally comfortable with digital technology. Excellent multi-taskers – they’ve had to juggle school, soccer training, dance class, computer games and other social interests, all whilst sending text messages – they are impatient and require instant gratification as they have always had all the information they need at their fingertips via the Internet
Set to occupy roughly 10 per cent of the workforce by 2020

Millennials, aka Generation Y: born 1981 to 1995.

The typical Gen Y is smart, creative, productive and achievement-oriented. They seek personal growth, meaningful careers, and mentors or supervisors to encourage and facilitate their professional development.

They have been constantly surrounded by choice and therefore don’t tend to stay in one job for very long. They require constant stimulation and the opportunity to develop their skills – if they don’t get it, they will walk out the door and find another company quicker than you can say ‘Gen Y’.

According to demographer Bernard Salt, the financial sector was seeing a 25 per cent turnover of Gen Y staff each year. However, the global financial crisis has forced them to stay put in their jobs a little longer.

With their ‘what’s in it for me?’ attitude, Gen Y focuses on entitlements, rewards, promotions and development, which has often led to ‘gen Y bashing’ over recent years. Other generations see them as arrogant, selfish, lazy and unethical. However, provided with rewards, access to training and inspiring leadership, this generation will thrive and be the one to take business through to the future.

Generation X: born 1965 to 1976.

Gen X occupies a massive 60 per cent of the current workforce. They possess an entrepreneurial spirit, a do-it-yourself attitude and, in contrast to the generations before them, embrace change in the workplace. They are career-oriented but place a strong emphasis on family time and strive for a good work–life balance. They enjoy freedom and autonomy – they work to live rather than live to work, which is often frowned upon as slack and difficult to manage by the Boomers, who prefer to do the long hours. A flexible workplace is a must for a Gen X-er and they value constructive feedback – which both need to be taken into consideration when managing Gen X.

Gen X-ers are seen to be in the best position in the job market at the moment as they are set to step up to the plate and fill the leadership roles when the boomers retire. Where boomers have the experience, Gen X-ers also have the qualifications to go with it. Brought up in an era of technological and social change, Gen-X is tech-savvy and open to change. They possess a different work ethic to the boomers – Gen X thrives on diversity, challenge, responsibility, honesty and creative input, compared to the boomers’ preference for a more rigid, work-centric approach.

Baby Boomers: born 1946 to 1964.

Boomers are committed, hard working and career focused – which has caused them to be tagged as workaholics by Gen X and Gen Y. The Baby Boomer work ethic is also characterised by dedication, loyalty and a willingness to stay in the same job for a long time. They have a lot to offer businesses with their work and life experience, skills and knowledge that many younger people can’t offer. They tend to work longer hours – and respect is paramount when managing a Baby Boomer.

According to research Gensler worked on between 2008 & 2013 in the workplace, Focus, balance, and choice in the workplace emerge as key drivers of satisfaction, performance, and innovation.

1. Workers are struggling to work effectively - when focus is compromised in pursuit of collaboration, neither works well.

2. Effective workplaces balance focus and collaboration. Workplaces designed to enable collaboration without sacrificing employees ability to focus are more successful

3. Choice drives performance and innovation.Employers who provide a spectrum of choices for when and where to work are seen as more innovative and have higher performing employees.

How do we account for designing work culture between spaces?

If we are to consider some of the data above, it’s important to consider key drivers below that will influence how space is designed to attract and retain talent:


  • A great explanation on the generation tags below (Click here for complete article) More data on attitudes and characteristics in the research folder on generational differences.
  • 2013 Gensler Workplace Survey