What Do Millennials Really Want in a Work Environment?

Capital One’s Plano Campus. Design partner: GFF. Photo courtesy of Pascale Photography.

Modular furniture? Bike rooms? Relaxation spaces?

I’m often asked what millennials most want in a work environment, because there is so much conflicting information.

New trends seem to arise every day: Open plan offices were all the rage among employers, until people realized they can be noisy and distracting. Working from home was going to be the answer, until some decided it was stifling collaboration. Other companies tried “hoteling,” which then led to “beach toweling.” Still others experimented with going “resimercial.”

Why all the experimentation? Employers know that the overall workplace experience is an important element in recruiting and retaining today’s largest cohort of employees. Work environment matters…a lot.

While all 80 million American millennials certainly don’t have the same exact preferences, there is some new data to help shed some light (quite literally, as you’ll see below) on the workspace desires of the coveted millennials — and the rest of us working beside them as well.

1. Millennials Most Desire Office Designs with…

Believe it or not, the workspace design element most desired by millennials is neither new nor high-tech. Capital One’s newly released Work Environment Survey has found that natural light — yep, plain old sunshine — is the top design element desired of all employees, millennials included, among a list of potential workplace design elements.

A whopping 62 percent of respondents cited natural light as the attribute most important to them in a workplace — 20 percent more than chose “collaborative spaces” (43 percent) and more than twice as many as the 25 percent who chose “spaces for rest and relaxation.” I found this surprising since the latter are two components most of my clients assume millennials most want. It seems a plain old window is even more important.

2. The Way To An Employee’s Heart Really Is Through the Stomach

All those employers with on-site cafes and chefs are onto something. Survey respondents chose onsite healthy food and beverage options as the No. 1 offering they wanted, even if it meant forgoing all other on-site benefits. Interestingly, employers are more apt to offer relaxation or social areas to their employees, which was respondents’ second choice.

“At Capital One, we think of the workplace as the holistic associate experience,” Billy Baker, Vice President, Workplace Solutions, Capital One said. “On-site amenities such as healthy food options and the flexibility to use relaxation and social areas are the physical representation of an associate-focused company culture where wellness and balance are crucial to our success.”

3.Forget “Location, Location, Location”

Another common belief among employers is that millennials are all about reducing their commutes. Surprisingly, nearly two-thirds of professionals said that workplace design is equally as important as, or even more important than, workplace location when they are considering a new job.

I found it interesting that this question also had one of the biggest generational splits: Seventy percent of millennials are more likely to believe that design matters more than location, compared to just over 55 percent of Baby Boomers. This is good news for companies in not-so-hip or not-so-convenient locations: younger workers will appreciate upgrades to their daily workplace experience even if they don’t love the location of your offices.

Finally, Capital One’s survey found that work environment preferences are not just about people’s happiness; these preferences have an impact on work product. More than 80 percent of office professionals, millennials included, said they don’t believe that companies can encourage innovation unless their workplace design and environment is innovative.

So, bring on the natural light and healthy food and worry less about where your office is located. To retain millennials — and employees as a whole — work environment makes a big difference.

I’d love to hear what office design options are most important to you. Please share on Twitter or in the comments below.

Lindsey Pollak is the leading expert on millennials and the multigenerational workplace, trusted by global companies, universities and the world’s top media outlets. A New York Times bestselling author and keynote speaker, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her presentations have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

The post is sponsored by Capital One to share their new Work Environment Survey results. Find out more here.

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