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In Association with:Karndean Commercial Logo copy

Thanks to all who attended

Rachel Withey, 74 / Dilhan Surin, tp bennett / Mattew Mitchell, Skansen Group / Poppy Weston, Buckley Gray Yeoman / Dieter Wood, Interaction / Steve Dickson, FaulknerBrowns Architects / Dan Gardner, KKS / Matt  Freeman, 33 Interiors

For the first time, we held a Mix Roundtable during Clerkenwell Design Week. For some it might have been a bit of gamble, but the lure of a cooling drink and an opportunity to rest weary limbs overcame all else – together with a chance to discuss the big Generation Y issue, of course. Needless to say it was a great success.

Together with our sponsors, Karndean Designflooring – the UK’s market leader in luxury vinyl flooring – we posed the question, ‘Should we care about Generation Y?’ We had a fantastic group of designers from across the UK, including Newcastle, Bristol and Manchester, as well as a great cadre from London around the table – which we borrowed from the kind folk at Howe (when we say borrowed, we actually took over the basement of Howe’s Clerkenwell showspace for an hour – so thank you to Greg Marshall and the team for that).

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We begin by asking our esteemed guests what the fundamental differences between Gen Y and previous generations are. Incidentally, our panel comprises professionals from different generations – can you spot who is from which from their wise words alone?

Dilhan: I think we – Gen X – grew up with a slightly different set of values that were instilled in us by our parents. We still carry them through to the workplace today and I think Gen Y has a slightly different set of values in terms of how they relate to their employer, what they are entitled to and what they should get out of their career. They live by a different set of rules. I think this comes down to the fact that we have baby boomers as parents, who were very much dedicated to the company they worked for and tended not to jump ship as much.

Dieter: It’s interesting that Gen Y are perceived as not having a sense of loyalty towards their employers. I tend to disagree. I think they are much more savvy in terms of seeing what else is going on and they have the access to things – they are so digitally savvy – so they do have a ‘grass is greener’ mentality. There is also less hierarchy – or they perceive that there is less hierarchy by them and so feel entitled to have that or to go and move on to somewhere else. I think it is less about loyalty and more about having fewer barriers.

Matthew S: I think this is about expectation – the expectation of progression, the pace of progression and the salaries that go along with that are very different from previous generations. The perception of how long you are expected to work in a role before you get to the next step is very different.

Rachel: We had a graduate who started with us and immediately asked how they could be fast-tracked to my position! I explained that I got to my position through experience – by learning on the job and learning from mistakes.

“It’s interesting that Gen Y are perceived as not having a sense of loyalty towards their employers.”

Matthew M: I do think the value placed on experience is far less than it is with older generations.

Poppy: I do agree with that. I think Generation Y is quite a me-centric generation – it’s more about what can you offer me? What can you do for me? Not what can I do for you? There is an expectation among them. Too many younger people aren’t prepared to use their initiative, to throw themselves into their work to gain experience.

Sam: I do recognise that and have a certain amount of empathy with it. To spin things on their head, a lot of people say that Generation Y are really impatient – but what is patience and how long should we be patient for, either within a role or a company.

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Rachel: This comes down to technology – everything is now instant. You look for a new job and then look at Instagram and some new, cool, funky company who are showing these amazing shots of what they’re doing – and you think, ‘I want to be doing that!’ The reality might not even be close – so you move on…and then on again.

Matthew M: Then they don’t know what to do when the technology goes wrong – so throw their toys out of the pram!

Dilhan: The age range we’re talking about here – those born between 1980 and 1996 – grew up with huge technological advancements. Somebody born in 1980 will have grown up with very different levels of technology than somebody born in 1996 will have – so I don’t think you can just group everyone into one category. There’s a whole range of Gen Y’s and therefore a huge range of how they perceive their workplace and technology. I don’t know who the youngest here is – maybe they might be able to answer that?

“I do think the value placed on experience is far less than it is with older generations.”

Dieter: As businesses, we now understand what employee branding and talent pooling is all about and we now have this outward brand, which is driven towards attracting talent. That didn’t really exist 15-20 years ago. There’s a whole load of stuff that we now need to do to attract this talent – because they are out there looking and thinking, ‘I could go to any of these places – which is going to be best for me?’

Poppy: I think that’s it – there are so many overwhelming possibilities that a lot of young people simply don’t know what to do!

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Steve D: We see a real eagerness from younger people in our business. We also see a desire for constant mentoring from the peer group – and we see more challenging issues being deferred to someone who is more senior and more experienced. I’m not sure this is passing the buck – more that they are more reliant on the experience that is already there rather than trying to gain that experience for themselves. I think this is one of the issues that technology brings – that bypassing of face-to-face. I’ve found that, often, they don’t like conflict and will leave it for the older guys to deal with those issues. They are very comfortable and confident in trying to resolve things through technology. I think this is an issue that businesses have to face. These Gen Y’s have to realise that there’s an opportunity, just by the intonation of a voice, to diffuse a problem rather than just sending an email.

Rachel: There is a really bad culture of emailing rather than just getting up and walking across the office!

Dan: We’re definitely seeing more and more people talking internally via things such as Snapchat. Things have moved on from the group email – people are now ‘chatting’ with one another. So there’s a ‘chat’ going on with the comms team or there’s a chat going on with the HR team.

Dilhan: I think it often depends on the size of the company. In my younger design days, I worked for smaller, boutique companies and everyone had to do everything! When you get to larger companies, you do one thing and someone else does something else – you focus on one thing and you need other people to back you up.

Rachel: I came from a large company to a smaller company – and that’s something we are finding particularly difficult. Younger people coming into the business want mentoring but we don’t have the time to devote to them. We need them to figure things out for themselves – maybe I should tell them to Google it!

“Generation Y looks for a flexible approach to work. They’re more likely to be productive if they have more control over where, when and how they work.”

Matthew S: This is where there can be a real clash of the generations. The older generations have had to learn their trade and find solutions for themselves. I’m not sure Gen Y have had that because everything’s so instant.

Matthew M: My father is incredibly tech-savvy. He picks things up so quickly – but he figures these things out for himself. He does this with everything in his life – because of his upbringing he had to. He’s incredibly independent.

Matt F: You need to do that from very early in life. If you don’t do this from very early on – learn how to figure things out – you’ll always struggle to work and live in this way, you’ll struggle to learn to work things out.

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Steve D: This is where businesses need to ask themselves whether they need to put more structure and more layers in place.

Dieter: The people have changed but the reality is that the entire business world has changed. Many of the procedural tasks that many younger people might have undertaken for two or three years in order to gain some experience simply don’t exist any more.

We haven’t even talked about the look and feel of the space occupied and desired by our Gen Y friends. What are they looking for?

Matthew S: We know from recent projects that end users and specifiers are looking to offer an engaging, comfortable and stimulating atmosphere in order to retain talent. The floor can be a key feature in making a space look fashionable, modern and appealing.

Generation Y looks for a flexible approach to work. They’re more likely to be productive if they have more control over where, when and how they work. Often we’re working with specifiers to zone-out floor designs, mixing wood and stone designs, enabling a sense of direction and creating individual working areas.

Conclusion: Should we care about Gen Y? Of course we should. We should not simply disregard anyone. Everyone should be included – and everyone has different requirements. Does Gen Y have specific requirements? Yes – but then again so does each generation. We should be designing spaces for people – not for generations.