October 22, 2013

Principals Roundtable: Making Millennials Happy at Work

428924 Twitter San Francisco HQ Photography By Chad Ziemendorf

Twitter’s San Francisco HQ by IA Interior Architects. Photography by Chad Ziemendorf.

With metadata only a finger click away via smart phones and social media, the 38 architects and designers at the recent

NeoCon East

principals roundtable, moderated by

Interior Design

president Mark Strauss and


executive vice president and CEO Cheryl Durst, asked: how do we design for and manage a generation founded on instant gratification? As the Millennial Generation enters the work force, office rules and etiquette that have been in place for years no longer apply. Keep reading for the discussion breakdown:

#1 Decreased productivity in Millennials?

The discussion began with the realization that, as employees, Millennials are less productive. Should rules be enforced demanding that phones be off limits during the workday? Designers see both sides of the coin, since while employees may be taking personal calls during the workday, they are also more available via text or call after business hours. Designers agreed that the nine-to-five job is a thing of the past; people work longer hours and, when not at work, are more available to answer emails, calls and texts.

Some participants mentioned that not only has productivity diminished but, perhaps more importantly, creativity. Has the blessing of technology also become a curse and stunted our creative juices? There was a slight disagreement on this subject, with Barbara Mullenex of

Perkins Eastman

maintaining that she appreciates the millennials’ free thinking and a fresh skill set that is lacking in older employees.

#2 Do younger workers expect more rewards—and greater pay?

Rhea Valfor of

Hickok Cole

addressed generational differences in the way Millennials were raised: “They were given trophies since the day they were born and now, in the office, these trophies no longer exist.” Her solution? Give goals and create rewards to capture their short attention spans. With burning out becoming increasingly popular, most will not stay in one job their entire life; studies show that baby boomers have three to five jobs per lifetime, while the Millennials are expected to have 10 to 15 jobs. With these statistics, it is imperative that leaders take the reins and manage expectations. Still, Michelle Acevedo of

MAD Hospitality Studio

praised the prospect of multiple jobs in one lifetime, appreciating that employees can have varied work experiences and learn different ways of solving problems.

Why is the younger generation bouncing around to multiple jobs? Jim Williamson of


points out that people are chasing money and bigger life goals. He is afraid that this will lead to a talent drain as promising, young employees will leave their creative and artistic positions for a job that either pays more or something completely outside of the field. All agreed that flexibility is key to keep employees in positions for a substantial amount of time. The subject of flex scheduling was brought up, which designers agreed seemed great in theory but could be difficult to manage.

#3 How much should the industry change to attract a younger workforce?

Since technology and culture is evolving rapidly, designers noted that it is a problem to keep up with the ever-changing trends—how do they bridge the gap between the old and the new, and at what point does the industry stop catering to the trends? As one designer remarked poignantly, “it is no longer a question of the masses conforming to the industry, but the industry conforming to masses—which can be stifling.”

The concensus seemed to be that, without technology, life as we know it would not be as easy or as advanced as it is today. Social media has enabled globalization, connecting more people from around the world than ever before, and it also allows us to network and learn more from others. The message was one of acceptance—and patience, as designers agreed to work together to find solutions for greater individuality in the workplace.

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