New Study Reveals Gen Y Desires for the Workplace

Gen Y Waves Bye-bye to the Cubicle and Fluorescent Lighting

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted May 26, 2010

The days of drab cubicles and workstations without the natural light from skylights are behind us.

The shared copy machine and water cooler might still find a place in the modern office, but the winds of change are beginning to rustle...

A new study by Johnson Controls Inc. reveals that those Generation Y members entering the workplace or preparing to do so have high expectations for what their "office should look like and offer its employees.

The WorkTech10 Conference in New York staged the unveiling of the research project OXYGENZ, a study is aimed at providing the first look at the Generation Y workplace expectations.

WorkTech10 is a forum for those involved in the future of work and the workplace, as well as real estate, technology, and innovation; the conference’s themes include smarter cities, buildings, sustainability, and new research into Generation Y and business agility.

Thus, the conference seemed the perfect forum at which to release the results of the OXYGENZ project, which queried more than 3,000 individuals, aged 18 to 25 in the United States, Germany, India, China, and the United Kingdom.

Surveys were conducted both in person and online, including questionnaires for nearly 400 individuals aged 36 to 45 for further context and comparison. A total of 5,375 individuals responded to research questionnaires for this study.

Generation Y will replace millions of retiring Baby Boomers in the workforce. A generation characterized by their skills in communications and use of technology, employers are trying to understand how they can engage and retain members of the Gen Y applicant pool.

Those born from 1981 to 2000 have recently dropped several hundred thousand on a college education, face years of students loans still to pay off, and with their first positions in the workforce, seek an office that reflects innovation, collaboration, energy efficiency, and sensitivity to the environment.

Marie Puybaraud is the director of Global WorkPlace Innovation at Johnson Controls and the author of the report.

According to Puybaraud, members of Generation Y shares work habits and desires with their predecessors, Generation X, their approach to the workplace is unique:

There's a very different story coming across with this group…That they consider work as a social element in their lives comes through very strongly... For them the workplace is a social construction and work is social. They want emotional engagement and the sense of community. They choose employers [because] they are looking for meaningful work and opportunities for learning, because of quality of life issues and work colleagues.

Puybaraud is quick to point out that these desires are not in direct conflict with Generation Y’s work ethic. On the contrary…

On the whole, members of Generation Y are keen multitaskers and akin to managing multiple social and professional obligations with diverse media and various outlets. This bodes well for employers who want employees who can balance tasks and a professional and personal life.

The majority of individuals from Generation Y surveyed during the OXYGENZ project research:

Desires jobs located in urban areas and that involve an easy commute. Be it by foot, public transportation, or by [hybrid] car, 79% of Americans polled said they prefer working in an urban setting.

Doesn't want to work in a home-based environment, but does want the option to telecommute. And why not? The Gen Y group is connected via Internet, social media sites, Twitter, news feeds, and constant interaction with one another and the world circuit. But for the majority of the work week, these employees seek a desk to call their own in a brick and mortar office setting.

Wants to be able to see and feel the greenness in their workplace:

  • 96% desire an environmentally sensitive or friendly workplace generation y
  • 70.3% said there should be recycling bins
  • 47.4% want water-saving fixtures and devices
  • 53% said stand-by modes or devices are musts for all electrical equipment
  • 72% expect office printers to be shared
  • 47% said solar panels should be on site
  • 57% expect their employers to perform well above regulatory compliance

Wants an office space that supports creativity, collaboration and teamwork, and productivity:

  • Nearly half of Gen Yers polled said they'd prefer access to a team space, such as an area dedicated to performing group work or brain storming.
  • More than one-third said they prefer breakout spaces to conventional meeting rooms that are used by various work groups.
  • Two-thirds of the survey participants want to work in natural light or with a combination of natural and artificial lighting.

So what does it all mean for the future workforce and for their employers?

According to Puybaraud, "At the end of the day, the thing to remember is that for them going to work is an experience ... and extension of themselves ... and part of their overall life experience."

Retrofitting the workplace — and a company’s mission to match its brick and mortar standards — may be employers' best option at preparing for the next several decades of a Gen Y-driven economy.

You can read more about the Johnson Controls' Global WorkPlace Innovation Report, "Generation Y and the Workplace: Annual Report 2010."