Attracting the Post-Industrial Worker through Architecture? Theory and a Discrete Choice Experiment
One important rationale for spectacular new corporate buildings is the attraction of young knowledge workers in the alleged “war for talent” (e.g., Earle 2003, Myerson et al. 2010). Corporate architecture shapes the first impression among job applicants of the organization. Playful, experiential elements may be aimed particularly at appealing to prospective younger employees (Baldry & Hallier, 2010). It is unclear, however, whether this rationale is well-founded: Discourses such as “Generation Y” have not provided convincing evidence that younger knowledge workers really differ in their values from older generations. Nor do we have any evidence that younger workers prefer the new corporate architecture, the transparent façades that heat up in the summer and the open offices that expose workers to background noise and constant visibility.
We therefore explore for the first time why and to what extent job seekers value the architecture reflected in recent building activities. Our exploration is both theoretical and empirical.
In terms of theory, we argue that architecture signals important job characteristics, and that it symbolizes important elements of the organizational culture with which worker may identify. The post-industrial architecture combines a flat, transparent façade with an open office layout and areas for recreation. As a whole these functional elements signal and symbolize creative knowledge work with blurred boundaries between job and leisure conducted in a non-bureaucratic, anti-hierarchical organization. Knowledge workers prefer the post-industrial architecture over the modernist architecture; it is more fitting with the work conducted and the values held today; and it marks the transition from the bureaucratic white-collar worker to the post-industrial knowledge worker.
In our empirical part, we provide evidence from a discrete choice experiment in which students in German universities (N=172) were asked to rank different jobs. Each job combined either a more traditional, modernist architecture or a more recent, post-industrial architecture with varying levels of the starting salary, career opportunities, and training offers. The evidence is surprisingly clear. Students prefer working in a post-industrial rather than a modernist architecture. They would be willing to forego on average around 4,700 euro or 10 percent in terms of their starting salary.
Our analysis suggests that the post-industrial corporate architecture may be an important signal to young knowledge workers. Paradoxically, architecture as tangible work environment appears to become more important in the knowledge economy with its intangible inputs and immaterial products. Architecture should no longer be neglected as a signal in the recruiting literature.