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This post was originally published in December 2020
In our recent “Should we ditch the office?” report, we uncovered some fascinating insights into how employees have found working from home, and what this means for the future of work.
By surveying over 1,000 employees, we found that 70% have had an overall positive experience of working from home—and that, in the future, a staggering 86% would like to work remotely at least once a week.
But, as is so often the case, there’s much more to this data story. To get a more detailed picture of how the working population want to work post-coronavirus, we gathered demographic data on all of our respondents.
In this blog, we dig into how different ages feel about working from home.
With our free Workplace Strategy Tool, you can easily survey your team on how they want to work, access the results instantly via your own company dashboard, and get actionable workplace recommendations from our team of experts. Check it out now!
To do so, we segmented the response data into three different groups: Generation Zs (<26 y/o), Millennials (26-40 y/o), and Generation X + Baby Boomers (41+ y/o). And we found some pretty interesting differences.For instance:
- In general, Gen Z are the most “pro-office” age group—whilst Gen X and Baby Boomers are the most “pro-remote”
- The different generations value certain elements of office life more than others
- The same applies to WFH (working from home)—all three generations have liked and disliked the experience for slightly different reasons
- As a result, each age group would prefer different WFH perks
- In the future, younger employees may wish to work remotely less often than their older colleagues
- The younger the employee, the more likely it is they’ll expect a company to have an office
- Gen X and Baby Boomers would like to meet with their team in-person less regularly than Millennials and Gen Z-ers
Below, we dig into these findings a little deeper.
Insight #1: Gen X & Baby Boomers like WFH a little more than Millennials, and much more than Gen Z
Whilst the majority of all age groups have had a positive experience of working from home, this was most often the case amongst Gen X & Baby Boomers.
When asked how they’d found the experience overall, 71% of Millennials and 72% of Gen X & Baby Boomers reported that it had been “positive”, compared to 63.7% of Gen Z-ers.
What’s more, 8.1% of Gen Z-ers said that they’d had an actively “negative” experience—nearly double the number of their Gen X & Boomer counterparts (4.3%).
A number of factors contribute to this, as we’ll see later.
Insight #2: The different generations value certain elements of office life more than others
Whilst a higher proportion of Gen X & Baby Boomers appear to have enjoyed WFH compared to Gen Z-ers, that’s not to say that the former do not miss certain aspects of office life.
Nevertheless, age-segmented responses do show some interesting differences in what those are.
In the graph above, we can see what the different generations have missed most about the office experience during the pandemic (other than the people).
All generations miss meeting rooms the most—showing that whilst software such as Zoom is certainly helping, there’s still a desire for in-person meetings. The second-most popular response for all participants was the ability to enjoy the office’s “local restaurants and bars”—supporting the idea that office location is a key pull factor for employees, no matter their age.
From there, responses start to diverge. Gen X & Baby Boomers tended to say “none of the above” more than the others—though they do still miss things such as events and talks, and are also the group most likely to miss having in-office professional workshops.
Millennials, and even more so, Gen Z-ers, miss the modern perks of office space—the coffee, weekly events, free food and drink and gym facilities—more than Gen X & Boomers.
Interestingly, 37% of Gen Z-ers missthe office as a place to do quiet, focused work, compared to a lower percentage of Millennials (25.6%) and Gen X & Baby Boomers (19.8%).
A likely reason for this is living situation. A much higher proportion of the Gen Z respondents are currently living with parents, housemates, or friends compared to the other age groups—and many respondents commented on the difficulty of working in house or flatshares, vying for enough space and peace to work effectively.
The younger members of the workforce are also missing having access to outdoor areas more than the other generations—another probable reflection on their home environment.
With this in mind, it’s unsurprising that a higher proportion of Gen Z respondents feel a little or much more productive in the office compared to at home: 32% of Gen Zs feel more productive in the office, compared to 24% of Millennials, and 19% of Gen X & Baby Boomers.
Insight #3: All three generations have liked different things about WFH, but generally dislike it for the same reasons
There are also some interesting differences in what the different age groups have liked and disliked most about working from home.
What they’ve liked
One thing that everyone agrees on is how great it is not having to commute.
But Gen Z-ers have felt the financial benefits of remote working more than the others. 76.3% of Gen Z respondents ranked financial savings as one of the top 3 things about WFH, compared to 53.7% of Millennials, and just 45.5% of Gen X and Baby Boomers.
Meanwhile, with more familial responsibilities, more Millennials and Gen X & Baby Boomers have appreciated the extra flexibility it offers around childcare (12.3% and 17.6%, respectively).
Millennials also ranked having “more time with loved ones” and “increased focus” higher than the other generations, whilst marginally more Gen X & BB rated the “environmental impact” as one of the top 3 best things about WFH.
What they’ve disliked
On the whole, the different generations have struggled with similar elements of working from home, with a few minor exceptions.
Gen Z have struggled with work-life balance more than the others, with 40.7% of respondents ranking it as one of their top 3 worst things about working from home, compared to 35% of Millennials and 27.8% of Gen X & Baby Boomers.
Meanwhile, millennials were the group most likely to note the negative impact of WFH on their physical health. In their pro-WFH manner, 8% of Gen X & Baby Boomers have disliked nothing about working from home, but were the group most likely to be frustrated by poor team communication.
Insight #4: The different generations have different WFH requests
With employers now looking to re-evaluate the provisions they will offer to their team members if they start to work remotely more often, it’s interesting to see which perks and benefits would best help each age group.
We asked respondents to name up to three things that would significantly improve their working from home experience.
From the responses, it’s clear that all three groups are keen on improving the physical setup of their home workspace, and would be most appreciative of ergonomic chairs and dual monitors. Gen Z and Gen X & Baby Boomers believe that faster WiFi would significantly improve their WFH experience (26.7% and 26.2%, respectively), whilst more Millennials would prefer to have a standing desk (25%).
Along with Gen Z-ers, Millennials are also more likely to appreciate “lifestyle perks”—such as coffee subscriptions and food allowances—making up for those features they’re missing from the office.
Almost twice as many Gen X & BB respondents said they’d want a garden office (16%) as Gen Z (9.6%)—though this is perhaps unsurprising, given how many of the youngest generation said that they miss having outdoor space full-stop.
And amongst Millennials and Gen X & Boomers, 7.8 and 11.8% of employees would rank childcare as one of the top three things that would most improve their WFH experience.
Insight #5: Gen X & Baby Boomers want to work remotely more than others (and usually in the same place)
When looking ahead to the future, each generation’s enjoyment of WFH translates neatly into how often they’d like to work remotely going forward.
When asked how often they’d want to work remotely in the future—remotely being anywhere that’s not their company’s office building—the most common response amongst Gen Z was 1-2 times/week, whereas more Millennials, Gen X & Baby Boomers would like to do so 3-4 times/week.
What’s more, an impressive 21.4% of Gen X and Baby Boomers want to work remotely every single day—almost 200% more than Gen Z, and 50% more than Millennials.
When it comes to where the different generations would like to work when not in the office, all three say home.
Aside from home or the office, Gen X and Baby Boomers are less likely to want to work in a cafe than the other generations, but are more likely to want to work in a member’s club.
Millennials, on the other hand, are the keenest to work from abroad, with 44.6% selecting this option.
Insight #6: Younger employees are more likely to expect your company to have an office
In-keeping with the general trends of the survey, it’s no surprise that, of the three generations, pro-office Gen Z are the most likely to want their company to still have an office (77%), whilst Gen X + Baby Boomers are the least likely (65.8%). Millennials sit close to the overall average of 70.5%.
Whilst a significant number of people are still undecided about whether their company should have an office, what’s clear is that more Gen X & Boomers know when theydon’tthink their company should. 1 in 10 over-40s wouldn’t want their company to have an office of some sort, compared to 1 in 50 under-26s.
So when they do want an office, what do the different generations want it for?
“Team culture” is the most common reason why respondents of all generations would like their company to have an office, followed by “collaboration” and “internal meetings”.
57.7% of Gen Z respondents said that they’d want an office for team socials, but in line with their previous grievances around focus and lack of prodictivity at home, over half (51.1%) would still want an office for regular desk work. 48.9% would also want the office for training and development purposes.
Gen X & Baby Boomers seem more interested in having an office for external stakeholders, and rate the importance of having office space to conduct client meetings and impress clients more highly than the other age groups.
Millennials generally sit between the two on all accounts, but are the most likely to want an office for collaboration and internal meetings.
Insight #7: Gen X and Baby Boomers would like to meet with their team in person less regularly than Millennials and Gen Z-ers
It appears that Gen X & Boomers would prefer to get together with both their direct team and whole company less frequently than younger generations.
For instance, whilst the most common answer for all age groups was a preference to meet with their direct teams 1-2 times/week, far more Gen X & Boomers responded that they’d like to meet with their direct team “rarely” (21.4%, compared to 13% of Millenials and 4.4% of Gen Z), and only 5.3% would like to meet with their direct team more than once a week, compared to 12.5% of Millennials and 18.5% of Gen Z.
All age groups are aligned on generally wanting their whole company to get together in person 1-2 times/month, though once again, the proportion of employees who responded “never” or “rarely” is much higher amongst Gen X and Boomer respondents.
As an employer, understanding how different employees tick is crucial when navigating this new era of working. There’s no doubt that we’re moving towards a more remote-friendly future—but before implementing any major changes, it’s important to bear in mind that employees of different ages may have had different experiences with WFH. And the more you understand why, the easier it will be to introduce the most effective and sustainable measures.
With a much higher proportion of Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers in positions of seniority (for instance, only 21% of the Gen Z respondents in our survey said that they ‘manage at least one other person”, compared to 51% of Millennials and 62% of Gen X and Baby Boomers), it’s important to recognise that what’s best for some may be different from what’s best for those affected by their decisions. And, of course, understanding the varying needs of different demographics will also be important when it comes to hiring new talent, not just retaining existing team members.
Find out how your team want to work in the future
If you’re looking to identify the best workplace strategy for your company, it’s crucial to find out what works for youremployees.
To help you find the insights you need quickly and easily, we’ve created a free-to-useWorkplace Strategy Tool—designed to help you find out how your own employees want to work.
With the tool, you can survey your own team using our curated questionnaire, access the data immediately via your own personalised results dashboard, and get free, professional advice on the best workplace solutions from our team of experts. Check it out below: