The Ideal Work Environment for Gen X vs Gen Y
Guest Post on GAIA Insights
What Work Environment would Gen X and Y Craft for Themselves if they Could Realize their Ideals?
Do you ever wonder where some of your co-workers came from? Why do they work so differently just because they’re 10 years older or younger? How are you going to deal with them? I’ve decided to help you figure out how, by representing one of two generational perspectives on the topic of working – the Gen X professional. As a guest blogger for GAIA Insights, I’ll share my generation gap expertise in a 9-part series that will help workers get along with members of the other Generations. A Gen Y contributor writes her perspective.
From a Generation X….
As a Generation X professional with 20+ years working in business , I am completely amazed at how vastly the work environment has changed since the late 1990’s. It seems like a fast and drastic shift, which is very challenging for Gen Xers who are used to rigid infrastructures. If I could craft my ideal work environment based on my Gen X comfort zone, yet addressing today’s need for speed, here is what it’d look like:
To Gen X, workspace is very important – they define their success in the corporation by type and location of their office. Most Gen Xers go into the office to work with their colleagues, to get things done, to talk to their manager about projects and sometimes, hide in their office. I cherished the ability to shut the door and think peacefully: no kids, no employees and no bosses – just me and my work. But when it’s taken away, it’s like getting evicted out of your favorite hotel.
I see the perks of open seating, or “hot desking”, but it makes Gen X very nervous. We think: “how can we talk on the phone…oh wait can we use a phone?…I don’t want to sit near that loud person…where will I put photos of my kids and pets?” Despite the need for speed, higher-level employees who manage people should have their own office: 1) to hold private conversations and 2) shut the door to create or concentrate. Let employees strive for the office title but they can no longer hide… they have to adapt to keep up with the next generation.
A traditional corporation that I recently worked with switched from rows of closed-door offices to hot desking. Gen X employees struggle with it because they feel “exposed”, insubordinate, miss the privacy and overall, lack a sense of security. But as Gen Xers, we comply because that’s what we do.
Tools & Processes
Most Gen Xers thrive on structure vs. thrive on chaos. When we graduated college or grad school, the majority worked for large corporations or banks ruled by structure and processes, not by creativity.
Gen X performs better with some structure, or else we feel lost, ignored, frustrated and thus, unproductive. For example, as assistant brand managers for consumer products, we’d wait in line outside the Director’s office for hours to get something signed. We’d spend 40% of our time learning or following processes and rarely did we contest the process.
Yet to be creative and competitive today, I can see the need for serendipity. Ideally, companies should have a balance of creativity and process: let employees innovate, but help employees activate.Fluid processes can be used as informal guidelines to 1) give direction to today’s independent employees and 2) help Gen X achieve their potential.
Up until recently, we Gen Xers went into the office 5 days a week from at least 9-5. Then it became 8-7, then another 2-3 hours at night became the norm. But this doesn’t work for Gen X. Multi-tasking without boundaries makes us overwhelmed which leads to burn out.
Today there are very few boundaries between personal and professional life… unless you create them. We need a “flexible schedule” – an individual agreement with the company specifying our general schedule for the week based on what works best for the employee and their division or boss. I created one with my recent employer and it worked!
Gen X appreciates flexibility; we do not abuse it because we feel lucky to have it. Female breadwinners and those “co-parenting” need flexibility more than ever. I agree with Sheryl Sandbergthat women need to break barriers and change the rigidity that still exists among Gen X and Boomer leaders.
Gen X can struggle to sustain what’s familiar and comfortable, or we can adapt and remain in the workforce and, hopefully, rise as leaders at this point in our careers. An ideal work environment features each generation’s preferences, and each generation needs to be willing to adapt.