Will Millennials change or be changed?

This month I attended a seminar by Adrian Campbell, in Bristol; which raised a few poignant questions in my heart, not only about how we work, but how our education got us there in the first place.

During the RIBA CPD Seminar Campbell presented his current research, with The Senator Group, looking into ‘How We Work’. His study surveyed 2000 UK employees that equally represented the population that currently working in offices. Gender, location and age were applied to the mix to ensure that the results produced were not at all bias to any single sector of the population. These 2000 were asked a variety of questions on their preferred seating posture, working height and work surrounding; for everyday tasks such as reading and writing emails.

The results presented were very interesting indeed. Results suggested that ‘gender, location and the differing private and public sectors have very little impact on the preference of how people work.’ (Campbell, 2016). The largest factor that seemed to cause diversity in opinion, is age. Although we are led to believe that Millennials are taking over the workplace and we must accommodate them, the amount of 18-34year olds have actually decreased in the last 10 years, due to the increase of students heading onto university rather than the workplace. The majority of our workplace is inhabited by ‘35 and overs’. The data produced showed that the ‘unders’, fresh out of university, Latte in hand, while posting a ‘Selfie’, preferred to work in any position except sat at a desk, which was completely opposed by the ‘Overs’.

This divided view got me thinking on my way back home from the Arnolfini Gallery, in Bristol Harbour side. Firstly, will the Millennials change the workplace in 10 years’ time when they become the ‘Overs’, or will the workplace change them? Will they settle down, have a changed outlook on life, will they grow up? Looking outside the workplace and towards the home, I think that recent financial difficulties may have a dramatic effect on this question of ‘will Millennials change or be changed?’ Let’s take the housing market, only 44.9% of 20 to 30 year olds are homeowners (BBC, 2015), and that’s decreasing as property prices grow disproportionally to the ‘starting out’ salaries.  One of the results of this is much more sharing. Shared accommodation, shared services such as AirBnB and Uber, without even mentioning social media and the amount of data distributed across the internet every minute of every day. Millennials, and their successors Generation Z, share EVERYTHING. So do I think Millennials will change? No, do I think that they will change the marketplace? Yes they already have. Every year hundreds of our UK universities compete for the top candidates across the world. If one university has understood what type of study area, accommodation, transport, or student union, prospective students like over another, they are obviously more likely to win over that candidate. This attitude of the students saying ‘JUMP’ and the University saying ‘HOW HIGH’ through polls, attendance, applications and feedback is one that has developed dramatically over the last 5 years and one that the students have got quite accustomed to. This attitude is then transferred into the workplace, it’s only a matter of time till the companies that would like the top candidates will have to take the same stance as the universities.

The second question that started to developed in my mind, is why designers get so frustrated that users will not change. Why will they not work at a sit stand desks, while in a sand pit, on a space hopper with a living wall as a desk screen? Simple, because they have not been brought up to do it! All the way back when we were toddlers, our parents told us to sit down legs and arms crossed with a ‘shh’ finger on our lips, or perhaps you were, sit down, pat your head and rub your belly? Either way we have always been told to sit down, sit still and shh up. We metaphorically harness children to a plastic chair under a metal framed table and there we have remained for the rest of our days. We physically stop innovation right there. Right there. As soon as you sit a child on a seat and tell them to shh, you put them in a box. Moving forward 20 years, employers then want ‘decision makers, innovators, creators, problem solvers or leaders’ they tell you to ‘think outside the box’ and our little brains say ‘but how?’ we get frustrated and deflated, all because when we were 2 years old, someone put our innovation in a box.

There is so much knowledge available from scientists, experience from teachers and clear signs from school exam results that show us that the way we are teaching our children is not working, but change is still not happening. As much as I can clearly see that the workplace is changing to a more dynamic, interdepartmental, innovative environment; I think one day our ideas will plateau; that is, at least until with give toddlers their innovation boxes back.