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New research reveals surprising insights into what motivates employees to spend time in the office and how a holistic approach encompassing these generational differences can bring teams together better. The results will change how you think about your workplace’s value.

How do we maximize our workplace’s value? As we set out to answer this question for our customers, we started by considering the myriad ways the workplace is used every day: A place to socialize with coworkers. Space for focused work. Opportunities for face time with company leadership. When it comes to the workplace, different generations have different needs, and they’re not always what companies assume.

Irvine Company partnered with independent research firm Wakefield Research to dig deeper into these differences. The survey of 500 Southern California office professionals explores generational differences in how Gen Zers, Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers feel about the benefits of coming into the office, what events they value, and the amenities that motivate attendance and foster productivity.

The results may surprise you. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not Baby Boomers who believe most strongly in the importance of being in the office: it’s Millennials. Gen Xers are the most dissatisfied with their workplace experience: They report their companies putting the least effort into creating an engaging office that meets their needs. And Gen Zers care the least about the workplace being fun. They’re craving quiet spaces, similar to a college library.

One finding was universal: Across all age groups, 9 in 10 professionals say that going into the office regularly makes them feel more connected to their company’s culture, purpose and values.

Beyond that, strong generational differences support the need for a multi-faceted approach to bringing teams together. Understanding these differences is key to maximizing the workplace’s value and creating an environment where all employees genuinely want to be.

KEY FINDING

The Office Matters Most to Millennials

It’s not Baby Boomers and Gen X who believe most strongly in the value of the office; it’s Millennials, and they are highly focused on career advancement.

They express the greatest motivation to come together in person, especially for access to senior management, and the highest interest in attending events.

“I Need to Be in the Office to Grow My Career”

Percentage of respondents who say “strongly agree”

Diagram: I need to be in the office to grow my career

What Motivates Millennials to be in the Office?

TAKE ACTION

Look to Millennials to Be Your Leaders in Creating Momentum Around Time in the Office

Eager for opportunities to advance their careers, Millennials will be your best partners, encouraging attendance at events and proactively interacting with employees across the company.

Create Learning Opportunities Targeted at Millennials

Millennials are likely to be mid-senior or senior employees with leadership aspirations, focused on growing leadership skills, including managing teams, influencing organizations and strategic planning.

KEY FINDING

Gen Z Cares the Least About Work Being “Fun”

Everyone appreciates perks, but companies counting on foosball tables and beer on tap to draw their youngest employees into the office may be disappointed in the results. Gen Z sees the workplace as a continuation of college, but “fun” is not the goal — community is.

What Does Gen Z Want?

Gen Z craves shared quiet spaces, similar to a college library. They are the least likely of all generations to stay at a company for a fun and engaging environment. But they are also the only generation to name “colleagues who are also close friends” as a key factor motivating them to come to the office. 

Gen Z and Career Growth

Like their Millennial counterparts, Gen Z is also focused on career advancement opportunities in the workplace.

TAKE ACTION

Help Gen Zers Build Community and Their Career

Give your youngest employees quiet, library-like spaces and exposure to different methods of thinking and problem solving. Consider offering hackathons or organizing cross-functional teams that give Gen Zers the opportunity to pitch new ideas to the organization while strengthening their coworker friendships.

KEY FINDING

Different Generations Need Different Office Features to be Productive

What environments make each generation feel productive? Gen Z strongly prefers shared quiet spaces to private offices. Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials all say the opposite: They’re most productive in private offices.

Gen X has the strongest preference gap with 56% of these respondents saying they’re productive in a private office versus just 26% in a shared quiet space. Millennials are the most flexible: Private offices top their productivity wish list, but collaboration zones aren’t far behind.

Which Office Features Make You More Productive?

Percentage of respondents who “agree”

TAKE ACTION

Design a Workplace Where Everyone Can Maximize Their Productivity

Successful interior office design will include a range of spaces for workday optionality, notably shared quiet spaces for Gen Z, collaboration zones for Millennials and plenty of private offices, which continue to be in high demand for employees aged 30+. Finally, consider how office design can bring together diverse groups of employees who might otherwise not interact. More than half of all respondents across generations (53%) cite meeting new people across the company as a key benefit of being in the office.

KEY FINDING

Amenities Could be a Job Deal-Braker and Retention Charmer

Even for employees who don’t plan to be in the office full time, the workplace plays a key role in their decision to accept a job offer or continue with their current company. Nearly 3 in 4 Southern California office professionals (72%) say they need a company to have in-office amenities like fitness centers, dining options or outdoor spaces if they are going to accept a position there. Once they’re hired, 83% say office features are something that can keep them at a company.

The effect is most notable for professionals under 40: 86% require on-site amenities to accept a job compared with 62% of professionals over 40.

Professionals Seeking In-Office Amenities

TAKE ACTION

Maximize Amenity Benefits

When prospective employees imagine daily life at your company, on-site amenities are an important part of the picture. Where will they go for coffee or lunch? How will they fit in their daily workout? Will they be stuck inside all day or be able to get fresh air? Offer prospective employees tours of your workplace given by future colleagues. This helps them better envision their workday.

Workplace Events: Who Wants What?

Even though 97% of professionals are interested in attending work events, preferences for timing and type run the gamut. Employees are nearly evenly split as to whether they prefer events during office hours (49%) versus after hours (45%), although generational preferences exist.

Millennials are most excited by happy hour events or group retreats that help them get to know their team better. Baby Boomers prefer to meet people from across the company they don’t normally interact with but strongly dislike after-hours activities or happy hour events. Gen Xers strongly prefer company-wide food events during the workday while Gen Zers prefer after-work activities.

With a variety of events during and after work hours, your company can offer something that appeals to everyone and boosts engagement across the board.

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