Gen Z office happiness—how open workspaces can enable collaboration, autonomy and mental health
The generation that came of age in the pandemic—when mental health for most was at its worst—is no stranger to candidly expressing opinions.
Alongside the growing culture of authenticity on social media, many Gen Zers are not afraid to voice their concerns and distaste, including about their workplaces. If you visit TikTok and query “finance recruiting,” you’d likely be hit with many Gen Z creators complaining about their mental health or even on the verge of tears over their 15-hour workday trapped at a desk.
Memes taunting at the constraints of cubicles have surfaced over the internet, mainly using humor to poke fun at Gen Z’s biggest worries for the future. But with its preference for autonomy, mental health awareness and collaboration, Gen Z’s vision for the future of work brings a golden opportunity for companies to create change. Changing the workspace to a more collaborative, lively environment can further facilitate what Gen Zers desire most—an open space that not only fosters creativity, but one that celebrates it.
Beyond the rows of chairs
There was a time when education was primarily for equipping the next generation to work assembly lines. These spaces bred little creativity and provided no autonomy over one’s work. Now, some educators are pushing past the traditional classroom designs—rows of desks facing away from each other to discourage collaboration. Many educators have begun integrating Socratic seminars (spaces where students sit in a circle and discuss topics), group projects that encourage creativity and assignments without ultra-specific guidelines.
Gen Zers have been taught to challenge and reject the status quo if it doesn’t serve their needs. This mindset has carried over to the generation’s views of the workspace.
Prioritizing mental health
Openness and breaking traditional norms have shaped Gen Z’s values. As this generation moves into the workforce, companies are presented with a unique challenge and opportunity: How can they appeal to a generation that demands work-life balance and mental health above all else?
For many, the pandemic inspired deep reflections on mental health and well-being. Mindfulness influencers and coaches preached meditation, journaling and grounding nature walks as essentials for a day-to-day routine. For Gen Z, the workspace should reflect these priorities as an environment that supports professional growth and development and places authentic care on mental and emotional needs.
Inspiration from co-working spaces
Co-working spaces gained popularity in the early 2000s and highlighted the growing need for flexibility, collaboration and an overall pleasing workplace environment. People could come together in a dynamic environment and learn from each other.
These spaces are still alive today and provide a valuable blueprint for companies trying to embody Gen Z’s expectations in the workplace. From shared amenities that foster deep community to open layouts that guarantee unexpected interaction, these spaces encapsulate the values that Gen Z long for in their professional lives. They foster a sense of community that the stacks of rows could never match; even simply seeing other’s faces reminds us we’re human. In a deeply disconnected world, connection is what Gen Zers need to keep the fuel going inside and outside the workspace.
Breaking traditional hierarchies and fostering inclusivity
Gen Zers don’t want to be tucked away in a cubicle on floor 7—three floors away from senior management, with the only chance they have to network when they are lucky enough to bump into someone in the elevator during a bathroom break.
This generation desires a workspace that doesn’t abide by traditional hierarchical norms. Yes, there should still be a company CEO. But when upper management is approachable and down to earth, it can break the divide between levels and promote a culture of mutual respect. Implementing opportunities for employees in the office to mingle with all levels of management, like a mood board-making social or movie night, not only encourages networking but also makes the space for it to happen.
Mitigating burnout and embracing autonomy
Gen Zers worry especially about burnout, and companies can incorporate workspace elements that help mitigate it before it happens. Amenities such as relaxation areas; comfy, quiet zones; and a plant or nature room can maximize well-being and promote a sense of mindfulness among employees. Having mental health events, such as self-care days and distress painting nights, can bring employees closer together and encourage openness about mental health, which Gen Zers admire.
The traditional office model has undergone significant shifts due to Gen Z's concept of open and collaborative workspaces. Companies must make adjustments as this generation continues to join the workforce with unique expectations to establish environments that foster professional development and emotional well-being.
Businesses can usher in a new era of workspaces that resonate with Gen Z's ideals by taking cues from co-working spaces, promoting diversity and strategically embracing technology. Doing this will ultimately benefit the entire workforce and boost productivity. If employees are happier when waking up and arriving at the office, the work they produce will reflect that.