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Ducks in a Row: Millennials (and Everybody) Need Quiet

by Miki Saxon


If you’re old enough, like me, you remember when open offices for knowledge workers/professionals, i.e., cubicles, happened.

I dodged that bullet in 1980 when my company moved into new space and I got a private office, but only because of my hearing.

In those days, recruiters spent the day on the phone and, even with an amplifier, I needed quiet to hear my clients and candidates.

Everybody complained; nobody liked the bullpen/open office concept. It did not increase productivity.

Originally, the idea that noise equals energy was sold by restaurant designers.

Trendy places started using smaller tables and packing them more closely together. They eliminated sound absorbing items, such as carpeting, and adding more hard surfaces and louder music, which forced customers to talk louder, thus upping the decibel level even more.

The myth that eliminating walls boosted collaboration and creativity was sold by consultants, architects and office designers and eagerly bought into by management, primarily because it saved money — it’s a lot cheaper to build out no-wall office space.

And it became almost holy writ when discussing Millennials.

But a new survey from Oxford Economics, an analysis firm spun out of Oxford University’s business college, proves that’s not the case. Rather than fancy perks and giveaways, most respondents want quiet.

More than half of the employees complained about noise. The researchers found that Millennials were especially likely to voice concern about rising decibels, and to wear headphones to drown out the sound or leave their desks in search of quieter corners. Among the supervisors, 69 percent reported that their spaces had been laid out with noise reduction in mind; 64 percent had engineered the workplace to mute noise intruding from outside of the office, too.

It takes quite to think, to create, to dream.

Neither today’s world nor workplace lend themselves to quiet.

That may change if workers become vocal enough with their demands.

And vocal is something at which Millennials excel.

Flickr image credit: Elizabeth Ellis

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