Employers 'should accommodate the needs of four generations when designing premises'

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Employers must bear in mind the varying needs and expectations of four different generations when they are kitting out their offices.

This is the view of Nicola Gillen, global practice lead at AECOM, who said the age gap between the oldest and youngest employees in an office can be up to 50 years.

Writing on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development website, she warned this can lead to a fragmented or one-sided approach to workplace design and culture.

As a result, she believes employers must consider this issue carefully, as failing to accommodate the needs of different age groups could lead to them losing top talent.

"As many HR departments know, a well-designed workplace environment can be a powerful asset for attracting new talent to a company," Ms Gillen commented.

"But designing the office in a way that meets the needs of four generations, now working together, is a relatively new challenge for many organisations."

Ms Gillen pointed out that baby boomers tend to be process-driven and focused on independent working.

By contrast, she believes millennials are often "innovation-driven and group motivated", with more of an interest in socialising with their colleagues online.

Nevertheless, she argued that these two varying ends of the age spectrum still have plenty in common.

For example, she said baby boomers and millennials are both typically interested in discovery, education, entertainment and exploration.

Generations X and Y, meanwhile, were described as the "ages of responsibility", as workers in this age group typically juggle work with other commitments, such as children and mortgage repayments.

Ms Gillen also noted that these people especially value working flexibly and from a range of locations.

"HR departments have a key role to play in helping to meet the challenge of accommodating all four generations by dismantling the outdated view that the workplace should be a static environment driven by presenteeism," she said.

"When many people think about office space, images of rows of individual desks and cubicles spring to mind. But this 20th century image of the office layout is no longer relevant as advancements in technology, remote working and greater flexibility in terms of hours are changing the way people perform their jobs."

Ms Gillen went on to state that employers are increasingly recognising that workplace design can help promote employee wellbeing, which in turns boosts staff performance and productivity.

As a result, she believes making the working environment a space that works both as a place for knowledge sharing and socialising can have a positive impact.

"A combination of workstations, meeting rooms and collaborative spaces, agile working and desk sharing in a neighbourhood-based environment works well for most people and is better for the employee than traditional hot-desking, which can make people feel disconnected from their colleagues," she observed.

Ms Gillen acknowledged that physical space can be very costly to an employer, but stressed the cost of human capital can be considerably higher.

This, she said, means they must not overlook the link between the built environment and staff wellbeing.

She added that employers must also be flexible as a new generation of people applying for their jobs is "just around the corner".

Indeed, Ms Gillen said organisations should already be anticipating the needs of the "tech-savvy fifth generation", as they are just a few years off entering the job market.