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Generations at Work -- Rumors of our differences are greatly exaggerated!

GenerationWhy

We’ve all heard the stereotypes. “Traditionalists don’t understand technology.”  “Baby Boomers are workaholics.”  “Gen X bucks authority.” “Millennials are spoiled brats who feel entitled.” The trouble with stereotypes (or even genuine patterns) is that while they may describe some aspects of a group, they can’t create a complete picture of what it’s like to be in someone else’s skin.

To get to the heart of the matter, Inscape recently hosted a panel discussion comprised of representatives of the four generations at work. Our panel included the following industry leaders:

TRADITIONALIST: Dennis Cahill,  Leasing Director, New York Design Center

BABY BOOMER: Joyce Bromberg, VP of Strategy & Research, Convene

GEN X: Greg Kraut, Principal, Avison Young

MILLENNIAL: Jocelyn Ling, The Design Gym

We asked the group about how and where they like to work and their strategies for coping with distractions. We asked about work/life balance as well as how they stay connected with colleagues, friends and family. We talked about technology and working in collaborative teams. What emerged was not a list of the ways we are different but rather an understanding of the ways we’re all the same.

PLACE MATTERS

Regardless of age, everyone agreed that the office is an important place if only because everyone else is there. Interacting with others is more than just collaborating to get work done. Dennis said that he “draws on the energy of others.” Joyce agreed and added that there is a strong link between memory and place, recalling where she was when President Kennedy was assassinated. While that event was too far back for half the panel, I’m certain everyone would recall where they were when President-Elect Obama claimed victory.  In the same way, work gets richer when it is created together. A shared language and common story emerges and people remember the process as deeply as they know the content.

BALANCE

Finding a balance between work and life is also not as generational as we may have thought either. It’s true that Millennials are more likely to need time off to care for a sick child but Baby Boomers are more likely to attend to an aging parent. Everyone seems to be struggling to find a balance between work and life no matter how devoted they are to their career. Jocelyn referred to it as “managing the resentment threshold” which she described as that point where work demands crowd her life so much that she becomes bitter. I’m a poster child Baby Boomer but I no longer feel guilty about perusing Facebook at 3 pm because I know I’ll be answering work emails at 8:30 that evening.

ACCESS & SECLUSION

We come to work to interact with others but we also need to focus to get our individual tasks done. I believe the yin and yang between access and seclusion is the number one issue facing office design today. Greg Kraut is fortunate to have one of the dwindling number of private offices, and when he needs to be left alone he simply closes the door. Others offered low-tech solutions like using a light to signal availability or blocking out times for “do not disturb” on public Outlook calendars. All agreed that workers need to adjust their behavior to avoid disturbing others  — and that a frown (even from across the room) is an effective way to communicate that a colleague is too loud.

TRUST & RESPECT

Any marriage counselor will tell you that all relationships are difficult at times and work relationships are no different. Our panel spoke as one in saying that trust and mutual respect are key ingredients in successful work cultures. Greg pointed out that “compromise and accepting different styles or values are essential.” Stereotypes aside, what everyone wants is authenticity and to be valued for who they are and for their contributions to the work.

| By Michael Fazio

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Quotable

“A mega-trend is sharing instead of ownership of workspaces. We can either all ride in coach or we can share a private jet.”

Chris Blackadder
Principal, Woods Bagot