Workplaces are currently experiencing a dramatic transformation, led by the upcoming Millennial workforce majority. As I explored previously in “Millennials in the Workplace: More Engagement, Less Powerpoint,” Millennials are looking for more engagement and collaboration in a work setting. In most industries, the need to attract and retain Millennial-age employees is leading to an increase in public work environments, instead of traditional cubicle and private office setups. As an added benefit, these companies also typically save on workplace-related costs. Here’s a trend that makes both employees and company accountants happy.
Millennial Workforce By the Numbers
In Gen Y: United States, a comprehensive study conducted by Steelcase Workspace Futures, we get a clear picture of why Millennials will be so important to the US workforce in the coming years. Compared to the 76 million Boomers, there are only 50 million Gen Xers, rising to 70 million Millennials (This study refers to Millennials as Gen Y).
There simply aren’t enough Gen Xers to take the place of retiring Boomers. Millennials will move into positions of importance at a rapid pace. As stated by the study authors:
“Gen Y is the fastest-growing segment of the workforce, growing from 14% to 21% of the workforce over the past four years. There are approximately 76 million Baby Boomers (45-65 years old) and most of them will be phasing out of the workforce in the next 10-20 years, at the rate of approximately 4 million per year. This will create a huge deficit as the next generation, Gen X, is limited by its size of only 50 million. So as Baby Boomers phase out, it will be Gen Y who will be assuming their place at a rapid rate.”
As Boomers retire, companies will compete to attract and retain the incoming generation of Millennial employees. Part of that competition will involve offering work environments attractive to Millennials.
What Millennials Want in a Work Environment
Millennials’ top two values for their work environment are flexibility and collaboration, according to Michael Merritt, Senior Vice President, Workplace Integration, DTZ. DTZ is a commercial real estate firm, and its Workplace Integration services are on the cutting edge of helping organizations plan their work environments for long-term success.
On the flexibility front, Merritt emphasizes that Millennials don’t necessarily feel the need for a private-- or even personal-- workspace. In fact, some companies are moving away from assigned seating altogether.
For collaboration, lounge seating areas are becoming popular, along with the open concept work environment. Merritt explains:
“The key behind open spaces is that everyone sees each other. It creates an energy by seeing other people work and talk to each other. It leads to accidental conversations that build new ideas.”
Other things Millennials want in a work environment include exciting or unusual spaces, access to daylight and access to the different kinds of technology they are used to using. This info graphic, created from the Gen Y: United States study data, provides a similar perspective:
Two representative quotations from the study show what Millennials want in their own words:
“I want the work environment to support personal needs and personal technologies, as well.”
“We work 50-70 hours a week and bring work into our personal lives...it’s a fair expectation that work environments accommodate our personal needs.”
How AAIS Transformed Its Workplace
One innovative insurance services firm, American Association of Insurance Services (AAIS), is wholeheartedly embracing the new era of work environments by transforming its entire office space. In a change management effort spearheaded by Joan Zerkovich, Senior Vice President of Operations, the firm has taken great strides toward attracting and retaining Millennial employees.
Starting with a 15,000 square foot space, large, high-walled cubicles and private offices that ringed the perimeter, AAIS moved to a new 12,000 square foot location with virtually no assigned seating and a completely open space, where every employee can see the windows. The firm went from having one private office per every three workstations to having only one private office total, for general use. Even CEO Edmund Kelly doesn’t have an office or assigned seat.
From a design standpoint, the space looks fantastic—every bit as exciting as a tech startup. AAIS realizes that the insurance services industry might not be as innately appealing to Millennials as other career options, so it has chosen to create a work environment tailored to this generation.
Merritt, who worked on this transformation with AAIS, details:
“AAIS is appealing to the younger workforce. They will save money on recruiting and retention, which was a primary objective of the move. Additionally, they see savings in their real estate and technology costs. People love working there—even the naysayers who thought the concept wouldn’t work.”
The ‘New Era’ Workplace Benefits Organizations
As the AAIS example illustrates, the benefits of public workspaces go beyond attracting top Millennial talent. Public and open work environments also translate into square footage savings of up to 25%. Merritt elaborates:
“Technology is allowing us to have smaller seats. We don’t need as much paper or storage, which allows us to go from an 8’ x 8’ cubicle to a 6’ x 6’ one. Companies can fit more people into a smaller space. Offices that formerly had 100 seats can now accommodate 120+ employees.”
Smart organizations are listening to Millennials who advocate a new workplace era, and they will enjoy the benefits of a sustainable workforce pool and cost savings for decades to come.