The PLACEmaking blog

Why your traditional workplace is putting off the next generation of talented employees




March 28, 2019
According to research by Mindspace last year, 21% of 18-24 years olds have turned down a job offer because of the design of the employer’s offices and/or lack of amenities.

According to research by Mindspace last year, 21% of 18-24 years olds have turned down a job offer because of the design of the employer’s offices and/or lack of amenities.

That may come as a surprise to those who might assume that when jobs are hard to come by, young people should just be grateful for an employment opportunity. And what’s wrong with the traditional office? Why would anyone be so put off by superficial design and what exactly are these amenities that are missing? After all, surely an office is just a place to work – and amenities are just a distraction from concentration and productivity.

But if this is your reaction, then it’s time for a rethink. And if this is your reaction and you are currently recruiting, then you need more than a rethink – you need a total rewire of your perception not just about modern office design, but of what purpose the office actually serves in 2019 and why redesigning the office as a workplace is one of the best motivational investments an organisation can make.

Traditional office design

First of all, let’s look at the design of the typical office on offer, and the reasons why so many younger people don’t want to work in it. It’s clean, clear and generic. But individuality and personal needs have to be abandoned at the front door of such buildings, and explicit dress codes set aside their occupants from everyone else. This smacks of the corporate culture that is such a turn-off for younger generations.

The lighting is artificial, the air is recycled and one office interior looks almost identical to the other next door. Hierarchy is strongly reinforced by how the space is laid out: management grades have offices around the perimeter window walls and all other ranks sit in row after row of desks in anonymous open plan space. Offices look broadly the same with pale colour schemes and the odd pop of bright or primary colours on statement furniture pieces in branded reception areas. The overall impression is of supervised control and hierarchy and the message is clear: the office is a factory with people still expected to adopt the same principles of the workhouses of the past – to be at your post at the same time and for the same hours each working day.

Nothing wrong with that you might say, and in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s those that wanted to join the apparent safety and job security of the corporate world would have recognised such buildings as cathedrals of opportunity that met their expectations. The question is do their children, now entering the world of work, want the same thing? Some do but at least a fifth are now opting for very different solutions.

Outdated office technology

Then there’s the whole topic of technology, and this is where the themes of hierarchy and control are really played out. More and more, younger generations are finding their employers’ technology offerings to be so outdated or impractical that they instead just use their own devices and find workarounds to avoid having anything to do with internal ICT support. Those who persevere with what they are provided tend to accept that they will function at less than their full potential and fill the rest of the time optimistically applying for jobs anywhere the ICT might be better.

In reality ICT has fallen into the same trap as office interior design. It’s all too generic. What you’re going to get is what the ICT department is contracted to give you and only what they are prepared to support. That’s almost never what you want or what you need but the world of technology remains shrouded in technical mystique and frequently involves a language mere mortals simply don’t understand, so in reality no one really can challenge them.

The one fifth of young people who reject working for organisations that tolerate this approach are demonstrating that they don’t intend to just hand over control or passively accept whatever generic, catch-all solution is on offer. They want to use their initiative, while keeping up their technology awareness and developing their own ICT skills. Millennials are the first generation to have grown up with super-fast internet connectivity in their pockets, and they expect to be able to utilise flexible, effective and familiar technology when carrying out the tasks required of them in order to meet a business’s objectives, ambitions and opportunities.

Uninspiring amenities

And what of the amenities that this fifth of young people say is missing in employers’ offices? Well, almost all offices have meeting rooms for those senior enough to be invited to meetings, and the odd kitchenette – possibly with breakout space – for everyone else to enjoy when they escape from their desk. Larger organisations might justify a little more, maybe a staff café, showers and bike storage are at the top of the added amenities list. But is that really what young people are looking for in terms of added features in the workplace?

Have a look at the types of places those that reject jobs in offices do choose to work in. They are often the polar opposite of the generic office with standard amenities. They are quirky, informal and personal spaces often clustered in mixed communities juxtaposing, for example, small scale tech-based entrepreneurs with professional services, creative studios and craft workshops. They often occupy only small areas of their own space but share common resources and exchange information and initiatives without the boundaries of corporate confidentiality. They are rife with communal areas, allowing a more relaxed approach to building relationships between coworkers. By their very nature, they foster a culture that supports creativity and team collaboration. They are quick to market and stay nimble to new trends and challenges. They mix together eclectic bits of furniture, artifacts and fittings and put their investment into the best technology, tools and equipment they can afford, happily tolerating small inconveniences as the price for freedom from the constraints of the corporate world.

In reality, many larger organisations are committed to their big city centre-based office buildings and workplace-related legislation prevents such enterprises adopting the same characteristics of small scale start-ups. But what they could and should recognise is that whilst in the past the promise of a stable career persuaded many to accept that compromising their personal desires and accepting corporate working styles, patterns and way of life was worth it, younger people today are well aware that there is no such thing as job security. They remember the images of suited young professionals carrying out their boxes of personal possessions on the day of their sudden redundancy from one of the world’s largest banks, and many of them will have witnessed their middle-aged parents being made redundant from previously safe professions following the 2009 recession.

Maybe the fifth of 18-24 year olds that reject job offers because of the quality of the office design and lack of amenities are really rejecting what they regard as failed model of employment, and instead preferring to embark on their own adventure – taking control of their own careers and clearly expressing that in the bespoke designed places where they choose to work, developing their own interpretation of what a valued amenity is. Perhaps most prominent is their desire to work for an employer who values health and wellness and recognises their need for a better work-life balance.

Larger employers can rest easy that four fifths of young people are likely to accept jobs with them despite their outdated office design and limited amenities.

Unless, that is, the other fifth that do reject these jobs are the very people they need to attract.

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