But What ABOUT The Workplace?

Photo c/o Unsplash

Photo c/o Unsplash

If you listened to Episode 3 of our podcast you heard Emmy and I talking about the importance of the place we work.  If not, you can listen here.    

My very first “office” was a 5-foot square cube behind the printer in a block building in the middle of a factory, which I shared with another human. The block building was affectionately, and unofficially referred to as “The War Room” (think of the scene out of Apollo 13 when they’re working on getting the crew back to earth), and yes, there was an ashtray on every desk. I know it’s hard to believe for many of my millennial friends out there, but people used to smoke at their desks.   

So when people complain about your headphones, remind them of that. And despite the fact that my desk was behind the door and I had a mirror to see if I was going to get hit in the head when the door opened, I did my work, got a paycheck and helped support my family. 

Was work always perfect? No. Not by a long shot. The command and control bosses ruled at that time. There was no such thing as flex time, working from home hadn’t been thought of, and I could only leave the building to go to lunch from 12:00-12:30 every day. Work hours were 7:30-4:30. And if I needed to work on a weekend, I had to work on the weekend. I remember working for a paycheck then. And once I was a mom and had two kids to think about, the lack of flexibility and the working conditions were a huge factor in my decision to leave.

Fast forward to another job, when I worked in the in the corporate headquarters of a major commercial office furniture company. Talk about lovely surroundings. I was happy to go to the office every day and work in beautiful surroundings with lots of natural light, collaborative work areas, a community room and kitchen, and comfortable ergonomic furniture. Add to that the ability to go out and take a walk on the pretty grounds every day, and you would think it was perfect, right? Was I more engaged? Was I more productive? Happier? 

I would say the answer is, it depends; on the day, the work at hand, the latest assignment or meeting. My manager. The beautiful surroundings did not make work perfect. Not by a long run. But it did make being at work more engaging.  Being able to collaborate was easier. Technology had changed since my days in the factory, and the wireless building allowed us to work anywhere.

Working in a well-planned and well-managed workspace is a part of being successful at work, and it’s only one factor. Culture and leadership are equally important. You can work in a fantastic building with beautiful surroundings, but if the culture is bad, or you’re micromanaged, or you have to sit at your desk from 9 to 5 because your boss thinks that you’re only working when you’re in your seat, then you have a problem. 

And what about employees who have never had the experience of a modern, beautiful collaborative workspace?  Does work still get done?

It does. Fast forward to my next job, the headquarters of a well-established professional services company whose HQ had been built sometime in the early 70s with an all private office floorplan and no updates since then. Employee turnover at that company was under 2%. The employees were happy and worked collaboratively. The leadership team was great. The culture was one of hard work and having fun, and the average tenure of employees was close to 20 years. This was a workplace full of baby boomers like me. They didn’t know what they didn’t know.  The workers and the workplace had matured together, and they hadn’t noticed, and yet, work was getting done!

Even though I was a baby boomer, I had been working in a collaborative, open work area and felt immensely stifled by the all private office workplace that I found myself working. Not to mention the 20-year-old “shabby but not chic” furniture that nobody besides me seemed to notice. What were we going to do when these baby boomers started retiring and we needed to hire new talent?  What would we do with the millennials? 

When it comes to the workplace, millennials get a bad rep. They tend to be labeled lazy, entitled and glued to their iPhones and their earbuds. But a recent survey conducted by Gallup shows that they're not that different from other generations when it comes to happiness in the workplace than you may think. The poll of almost 200,000 people from across organizations in a wide variety of industries gives us a glimpse into the workplace. What’s surprising is that the changes millennials are pushing for in the workplace are things that everybody wants, yes, even us baby-boomers.  

Regardless of age, we seem to agree on how we want to work and what we need as employees to be happy and productive during office hours.

Here are some of the key findings of what employees want — and you can thank the millennials in your life for starting to demand them.  Interestingly enough, very few of these things are directly related to the type of working space they spend their time. 

They want: 

Variety. Half of the employees surveyed say they are actively looking for a new job or watching for openings, and 35% of workers reported changing jobs within the past three years.

Purpose. Most workers, many of whom are millennials want their work to have meaning and purpose. They want to learn and develop. They want their job to fit their life.

Perks. You’d think the benefits millennials value would be the juice bars, onsite gyms, and pet-friendly offices. But the benefits they value align with those that other generations see as most important: things closely related to the quality of life like health insurance, paid vacation and retirement plans. 

Frequent Communication. The yearly performance review isn’t cutting it these days. Millennials seek feedback, clear goals and constant updates on their performance. As leaders in an organization, baby boomers need to give them that. They need a clear line of sight to how their work links to the organization’s goals (it’s all about purpose) That’s why it’s so important that we continue to engage in meaningful conversations in the workplace.

Work/life balance. Flexibility and work/life balance go hand-in-hand. Many workers feel that working from home or working remotely at least two days a week makes them more productive and engaged when they are in the office.  

So does the workplace matter?  I think a great workplace is essential to attract and retain great talent, but it is only one piece of a larger puzzle. If it’s the physical place that helps ensure employees are getting what they need to be engaged - then it matters.   

Emmy Hayes