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What Generation Z Wants at Work

10/03/2019 | By Janelle Penny

Workplace demographics are changing rapidly. Members of Generation Z—people born after 1996—are starting to move into their first post-college jobs at the same time that 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age every day, according to Investopedia.

The changing composition of the workforce is impacting the way buildings are designed and managed.

Here’s how Generation Z is changing the way offices function—and what that means for facilities managers.

Who is Generation Z?

The oldest members of Generation Z were in kindergarten when 9/11 occurred. The War on Terror and the economic recession of the late 2000s were formative events for them, explains Abhijeet Jadhav, director of marketing strategy for Georgia-Pacific Professional

“We talk about these folks being much more realistic and pragmatic. They understand that it’s not going to be easy for them and it shapes how hard they work,” Jadhav explains. “To a certain extent, the millennials were much more idealistic and optimistic. Generation Z has seen the good and the bad.

They’ve seen their parents struggle, the economy tanking and job losses. They’ve had to make sacrifices. That has given them a much more pragmatic approach to life. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, because they seem optimistic about the future just like millennials do and they share that desire for doing right by people.”

Generation Z marks the start of true digital natives—people who have grown up with technology from their earliest days. Older millennials likely started using computers in school, but they may not have had such technology in the house until their teenage years.

“They don’t know a world in which they didn’t have access to multiple screens,” Jadhav says of Generation Z. 

This generation is independent, highly connected and generally unafraid of change, adds Jadhav. They value security and stability and make decisions quickly. These qualities translate into specific workplace needs that are markedly different from the offices of previous generations.

Generation Z’s Impact on the Workplace

Generation Z’s lifetime of technology use has made them especially adept at working anywhere. They’re used to multiple devices and being able to relocate on a whim with their laptops, something that even millennials haven’t always taken for granted.

Where Boomers’ career aspirations revolved around the corner office, Generation Z prioritizes community spaces and unique amenities, like accessible rooftop areas and ample natural light.

For building owners and facilities managers, that means creating spaces that inspire creativity, but aren’t necessarily bigger, Jadhav explains. That can be a tough adjustment for Boomers, who tend to prioritize size and storage because they grew up doing things on paper. 

Building flexibility into the workplace to attract workers from Generation Z can also present challenges for janitorial staffs—they need to clean places after workers leave and before they arrive in the morning, and that can be tough when half the office is working flexible hours.

However, offices that can balance these competing needs will find themselves well-placed when it comes to attracting new workers and keeping existing ones.

“The past decade has been a decade of strong growth, and that has created a lot of opportunities for corporations and employees,” Jadhav explains. “Talent is hard to find and even harder to retain. They expect that they will not only find meaningful work for a brand that has purpose, but that they also get compensated well and have access to good benefits at work.

When it comes to how that affects offices, the office is one of the spaces where they’re spending a lot of time, so they expect a certain level of a premium experience. That means things like an open, agile work environment, focus and meeting rooms, and the amenities an office building can offer, whether it’s a cafeteria, gym or fitness center, or convenient options like a bank, retail shop or minute clinic.

They want a lot of their daily chores to be taken care of in that office building.”

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How to Update Your Office

Refreshing your office building to meet the expectations of a new generation of workers doesn’t require you to start over from just the core and shell. Start by defining what your existing tenants value and what types of amenities motivate them by conducting employee engagement or satisfaction surveys. 

People’s amenity preferences are affected by many factors, including:

  • Age
  • Job duties
  • Corporate mission (“Some corporations are focus-driven and may offer days off from work for volunteering, or they may have other amenities,” Jadhav explains.)
  • How easy it is to run errands nearby vs. on-site

“In general, the research we’ve done shows that people want good food service options where they get quality food but don’t have to spend an arm and a leg,” says Jadhav. “Other options we’ve seen are around ambiance, like the lobby or common areas where people spend a lot of time.

Breakrooms are another area where people congregate, so that area has to be well-done, as well as the restroom area.”

The speed of change can be a lot to reckon with, but there’s an upside for building owners and managers, too, Jadhav says. Upgrading your amenities periodically is about so much more than recruitment and retention.

“By investing in these office spaces, by offering amenities and premiumizing the experience, you can make more money as well,” Jadhav says. “Differentiation of the property also goes up. It’s a win-win – it’s good for the employer because they can attract the best and the brightest. Young people want to work there because they can brag about all the amenities.

And it’s good for the property manager because they’re making more money and lease rates are probably going to grow. It’s a positive picture for all parties involved.”

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