Integrating Generation Y into the Workplace

Image of Zappos Office from Chris-Moody.com

Growing up, Millennials (those of us born between 1980–1995), or Generation “Y” as we are also called, are taught to believe we can do anything, go anywhere, and speak our opinion whenever we choose.

It is true that technology has amplified how we express ourselves, through social media and video technology such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. It is also true that Gen Y’s believe it takes hard work in order to become successful.

And as I and my fellow classmates experience our first taste of professional life — that is, as interns in design firms across the country — we’re learning that integrating this new generation into an evolving work environment is proving to be interesting.

I am smack-dab in the middle of this “Millennial penetration” into the workplace. I am finishing up my degree at Auburn University in Alabama, and have already noticed the psychological battlefield the workplace has become. From my perspective, I believe the Millennials have the ever-so-wavering, cautious upper-hand, simply because we are so tech savvy.

However, this is also where we falter; it is true that most Millennials want to stroll into work in jeans with our iPods around noon and still be a CEO by Friday. This doesn’t settle well with the Generation X and Baby Boomer upper-management crowd that’s used to a safety net of four-walled offices and business suits. To them, the idea that hard work comes with many hours. They are the ones that have the experience, so who are we to believe we know all?

So I’ve already learned that while these generalizations are extremes, it paints a descriptive and thorough picture of what many companies are learning to deal with. In conversations with classmates and friends who are entering the workforce, a similar pattern is emerging in our tales and experiences.

The common denominator among these two perspectives on work is the workplace itself; that it exists for us to be a part of isn’t such a jump. But how do we make the workplace one in which all workers enjoy and are still productive?

Flexibility as a connecting thread between generations.

It is true that productivity is one of the most important things a company can have. One extreme way to raise productivity is to invest in a work environment where the employees are comfortable and feel they can concentrate. Thus arises the word “flexibility.”

Generation Y is now coming into the workplace looking for many specific things: a good workspace with a sense of collaboration and flexibility. We are a diverse group, because the world is becoming more diverse. Because of this, the workplace must be flexible to accommodate.

I’ve learned that if your office space is suited for one specific purpose, it is very hard to change it once a new employee is hired, a new project happens, or when your office needs to accommodate a different purpose. Thus the reason workstations are becoming more popular — with their lower panels and separation between individuals — is to accommodate this flexibility. This allows for collaboration between colleagues whose projects may come and go and change and evolve. It’s also well-suited to encourage growing friendships due to the close proximity between one other. I think this can grow into wonderful things for a company, because their employees can produce better work with the collaboration between two or more people, rather than just one.

Social responsibility as a company-wide commitment.

Another important aspect of Millennials, which is important for companies to consider, is that we are very socially responsible. Because of the growing knowledge we have of the earth and what a precious resource it is, more students are graduating with a complete education in sustainability — and they want to take this into practice.

So why not value this group of individuals and utilize their knowledge in Green Practices in order to help your company? Attract this crowd with a Green Office. Generation Y wants companies to have an organizational culture that identifies how they care about these things.

Embracing the digital culture.

Lastly, we are extremely digital. We accomplish whatever possible with technology. This is unique in that Generation Y is using technology ahead of what their employers use. In order to attract, and retain the Generation Y crowd, there must be technology implemented into the workplace. Not only does there need to be technology, but there needs to be a spoken communication between the employers and the employees about whether this technology matches what is needed in order to get their work done, on a productive level.

I think our work environment and the culture in which we live is more important than ever. With the influx of our Generation being introduced into the workplace, it is critical to mesh this Generation with the Veteran Generation X and Baby Boomers in order to create a cohesive environment.

We need all these Generations to work together to create efficient, productive companies that will thrive in this economy. Companies have been noticing this because the older Generations can provide their wisdom and hard-working skills to the newbies, which provide the tech-savvy skills without frills.

Again, the place where all of this can come together is the workplace, which companies need to foster and nourish to create this center of production. Perhaps yoga balls instead of regular chairs, individual employee-designed workstations, or integrated rich-media environments with music or video *won’t* be such a far-fetched office design in the future.

These are all questions the Millennials are asking now as they consider the office in ways unlike past generations, and I think their inclusion into the evolving workplace will set apart a new generation of leaders in company culture.

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