Last week, in the City of London, I listened to a panel of experts discuss the design of the spaces in which we work and how this is adapting to meet changing needs. There was lots of talk of co-working and collaboration in inspiring and experiential buildings, designed and developed for the group of people we commonly refer to as millennials.
The vision we were invited to share was one where the workplace becomes such a great place to be that the productivity of the workforce is increased, and their wellbeing enhanced. Places so great, in fact, that the boundaries between home and work are happily blurred, playgrounds and offices become interchangeable, and there is almost no reason to go home.
This may be just as well since, thanks to unpaid internships and sky high rents, and shackled by shocking levels of student debt, many young people don’t have homes of their own to go home to.
I’m afraid that the workplaces and lifestyle being described made me think of some kind of Metropolis-inspired urban dystopia where, instead of fair salaries, affordable housing and work life balance, the millennial generation expects and even accepts the “always on” culture and the sacrifices this inevitably entails.
Perhaps there is an argument that being incubated from the world is good for productivity and lord only knows the world is in a parlous state and we all need to take a break from it every now and then. But is an extended adolescence and a table tennis table in the office the kind of break our millennials need?
My experience as a coach would suggest not. Coaching young people in their 20s who should be enjoying themselves and working out their place in their world with optimism and excitement, I find that instead they are held ransom by omnipresent tchnology and experiencing increasing levels of anxiety. Their interpretation of self-care is membership of a gym they never have time to go to, and they have lost sight of the person they know that they are and want to be and instead become a version of themselves that isn’t congruent with the values they hold.
Perhaps the leaders of today should nurture the leaders of tomorrow, not by building them workplaces that encourage them to stay longer, work harder and become a sort of metropolitan urban elite of worker drones, but by enabling their independence and giving them the support and space they need to develop into resilient, happy and fulfilled peopl.