For many employees, the physical work environment ranks among one of the top factors that influence their decisions to join a company. With a global war for talent intensifying, the workplace can be a strategic asset that distinguishes an organisation as an exceptional employer.
Linda Trim, a director at Giant Leap, a workplace design specialist company, said: “As workplaces look to attract the best and brightest, companies are turning to design to help differentiate their work environment, focusing on an increased understanding of what employees really need to make them happy and engaged at work.”
The magnetic workplace
How can workplace designers create a magnetic workplace that attracts employees?
“The most important principle is that the office space should make people feel really good,” said Trim. Landscapes, nature views or the introduction of plants in the office strongly influence productivity, because there is a powerful bond between human beings and the natural world referred to as biophilia. Studies have shown that being surrounded by nature improves both physical and mental health.
Feel-good spaces should also be tactile and have ample daylight. Living walls or biowalls and natural materials bring a sense of the outside into the work environment.
Office appeal and productivity can also be improved by offering a variety of interior settings that allow employees to choose where they want to work that day based on the mode of work required.
“For example, in the morning, workers could gather in a cafe style area for coffee and informal interaction. In the afternoon, they can move to a gathering place designed for teamwork or to a privacy ‘hive’ for focused work,” said Trim.
Magnetic workplaces support the unique roles, work styles and personalities of each individual. They provide a range of space types, furnishings and multi-functional common areas that draw people in and keep them wanting to come back to the office.
Coming challenge for design
Telecommuting offers employees an alternative to working in a traditional office. This trend, combined with the number of hours people now spend online, means that individuals are interacting in vastly different ways than they once were.
Remote work is likely to become the norm. The designing challenge, therefore, is to create a space that attracts employees back to the office.
“A magnetic workplace will be defined as one that is so appealing that employees who might otherwise work remotely from home or in a coffee shop, choose to come and spend their day at work,” she said.
There are already examples of this in co-working spaces that blur the lines between office and social venue.
“Knowing that our future workplaces present a greater emphasis on virtual communication, workplace designers will be challenged to create physical spaces that encourage face-to-face interaction and speak to our innate need for human connection.
“Many view the workplace as a second home, so employees will be drawn to magnetic workplaces offering comfortable environments where they can work, socialise and simply be themselves,” Trim concluded.
Linda Trim is a director at Giant Leap, a workplace design specialist company.
Perennials, the evergreen group that remains curious and relevant despite their advancing age, is a generation that is energetic, switched on and most importantly, employable.
Perennials were born between 1930 and 1950, and some would say that they incorporate the best of the “boomer” traits (such as being hard-working and value-based) and those of millennials (for example curious and tech-savvy).
Perennials, unlike younger generations, tend to focus on a company’s values and will often be more loyal to a business that matches their own. While a millennial will jump from company to company to satisfy intellectual curiosity, a perennial may stick around longer because they just like the people they work with.
Also, perennials pride themselves on being savvy. From pop culture through to the latest gadgets, you will be hard-pressed to find the purported knowledge gap between perennials and millennials.
Perennials are challenging the myth of old age. The idea that we all have a sell-by date is quickly becoming an old-fashioned notion. A recent article in MIT Technology Review shone the spotlight on the fact that the idea of old age and the body running out of vitality is a piece of 19th century science that has long since been debunked. While there may be some physical deterioration as we age, modern humans tend to stay quite healthy well into their twilight years.
Historically, when corporate masters wanted to crack the whip, they found that getting rid of their older employees created a surge of productivity – inducing fear down the line. To justify these retirements, the idea of the aged, and therefore useless worker was introduced.
But times have changed. The digital age has brought with it instant access to information, communication, productivity tools and a host of other benefits that are useful for both young and old.
The older generation is adopting and using these technologies with a degree of ease that is both surprising and helping to keep them relevant in the workplace. For example, in the Netherlands, at least 75% of perennials are active on Facebook.
Recently, the advertising industry has also been shifting away from staff complements entirely made up of younger minds. The industry is undergoing massive changes and the experience that an older staff member brings to the table has become invaluable.
But it isn’t all good news. The older generation is facing many challenges in their re-entry to the workplace. In many countries, the number of newly retired people trying to return to the workplace has grown, with some countries reporting a 20% increase in older job seekers. Many of these job seekers are struggling to find employment for one reason alone – ageism.
If you leave your age out of your CV, you are more likely to get an interview. In a world that glamourises youth, it has become difficult to demonstrate your value past a certain age. In South Africa, ageism is illegal. It still happens, but fortunately unions and/or the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration will gladly represent an older worker should they feel discriminated against.
Another challenge is that Silicon Valley is full of 25-year-olds solving problems for other 25-year-olds. Notice how technology aimed at the youth is slick, black and sexy, while technology aimed at the aged is beige and bulky? While most perennials make adopting new workplace technologies a priority, they often find that features they would find useful are just not present, simply because they are left out of the tech development cycle.
The fact is perennials are a great addition to any workplace. The reality is that the concept of old age is fading away and society has to catch up fast. We have seen that in countries with more established economies, such as Japan, older people far outnumber the youth.
With that in mind, it is in our best interest to start working on legislation, processes and technologies that will facilitate our older workers while we reap the benefits of their innate loyalty and experience.
The perennial in a business is a secret weapon. There is so much we can learn from a generation that has made their mistakes. History often repeats itself for those who choose to ignore the benefits of engaging with, and learning from, those who have been there.
Supplied by Lingo on behalf of SiSebenza.
Megan Greenwell, a columnist for The New York Times answers two workplace questions about how to deal with age discrimination in the work space.
Q from “London”: I am an advertising creative who has been unemployed for more than six months. I’m having difficulty finding a full-time position because being in my ’50s and I fear that I’ve been thrown out with the trash in favour of new blood.
No matter how I tailor my job applications, cover letters and CV with clever approaches, I can’t get my foot in the door, only compliments on my videos or LinkedIn connections.
I’ve sent solicited and unsolicited applications to more than 100 companies, but no luck. Some of this could be because I haven’t recently won any major industry awards, which carries weight in this competitive industry, or maybe the positions are genuinely filled.
I can’t hide my experience, nor can I turn back the clock. Time and money are now running out.
Q from “New York”: People need to stop prefacing workplace conversations with older people with terms like “Hon”, “Dear”, or “Sweetie”. Ageism is real and despicable. It is becoming more and more prevalent.
Those of us who are still in the workforce particularly loathe those terms. At 66, I am in excellent health. I dress well, walk fast to my workplace and pride myself on every compliment.
Yet too many professionals presume I am hard of hearing, frail, forgetful or otherwise impaired, to the point where they address me as one would a small child. Could it be the silver bob?
Of course I have email. And yes, I actually would prefer text, and yes, I am going to swirl around you fast enough on my sneaker-clad feet to make you spin if you do not stop texting and crawling along the road.
A: I know I’m supposed to be the expert here and behave professionally, but I have never called anyone “Sweetie” and aspire to both a chic silver bob and your level of pithy and acerbic writing.
I have a solid archive of questions about age discrimination and few good answers. It is a huge issue and it is absurdly difficult to fight, truly a terrible combination for an advice columnist.
New York, you’re surely right that you’re being patronised for your age and London, you’re surely right that your age unfairly plays into how your job applications are evaluated.
The problem, as I learnt when I turned to an outside expert for guidance, is that age discrimination is difficult to prove, by design.
A 2009 Supreme Court decision endorsed a higher standard for showing that advanced age is the cause of different treatment in the workplace than the threshold for other types of discrimination.
As a society, and I include the judiciary, we seem to view age discrimination as less serious and less wrong than other forms of discrimination because an employer has a right to run their business the way they want,” says Laurie McCann, a senior attorney.
London, you’re in the toughest possible position because you can’t say for sure that any company discriminated against you, just that the pattern seems clear.
“Hiring discrimination is the most difficult to prove because you rarely have any evidence,” McCann said. “You don’t know who got hired instead of you, you don’t have the comparison of if they’re younger or less qualified.”
So what is an older person who still has bills to pay supposed to do?
Even seemingly small changes can help. McCann’s advice is to keep up with trends in CV writing. For example, opening with a career objective is outdated, she said.
Emphasise your technological skills to the point of overkill; develop a social media presence. Leave graduation dates and other giveaways out of your CV so you don’t make it easy for employers to reject you.
Some online hiring platforms won’t allow you to move through the system without including those dates, but avoid them whenever possible.
Everyone can take a lesson from New York. Fight back when someone makes prejudicial assumptions or treats you unfairly at work.
Frustratingly, none of these practical strategies address the deeper societal issue. “We haven’t made many inroads in fighting those stereotypes (that older workers) are not flexible, that they’re stuck in their ways,” said McCann.
Neither of you can solve that problem on your own, so find some allies. London, start canvassing acquaintances in your field and age cohort about how they got their jobs, and whether their companies are hiring. Consider forming a support group that lobbies for change.
Volunteer to coach and mentor others in your industry. That will expand your network, provide another impressive line for your CV and show that you still have some irreplaceable skills.
While you have no obligation to keep things in perspective when you’re trying to find a job, try to remember that the youth are not the enemy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put them in their place when they suggest you aren’t fluent in emoji, New York, but they’re frustrated by being patronised and passed over, too.
McCann has a 22-year-old daughter who’s looking for a job, and she says she’s been struck by how similar her experience is to those of the age discrimination plaintiffs.
We can only burn down the system if we all work together.
Megan Greenwell is the editor of Wired.com.