The Role of the Physical Environment in Maximizing Opportunities for the Aging Workforce
Virginia W. Kupritz
The University of Tennessee
This study examines physical attributes of the office environment that accommodate older and younger American workers within the service industry. The increasing age diversity in the workplace is a striking change in the American labor force. Seventy-six million baby boomers, whose life expectancy is 30 or more years longer than that of individuals born in 1900, face a social phenomenon unparalleled in history (Dychtwald & Flower, 1990). Demographic studies project that this aging population will play a significant role in the American workforce (American Association of Retired Persons [AARP], 1996; Brill, 1993; Hopkins, Nestleroth, & Bolick, 1991). Health professionals caution that design changes in the workplace may be necessary to support the physiological decline of aging workers (Ashcraft, 1992; see also Robinson, Coberly, & Paul, 1985). If so, corporations will need empirical data to guide them in allocating their finite resources to those design changes that will yield the highest productivity. This study will help corporations target the design areas that older and younger workers perceive as most critical to their performance.
With the exception of my recent study (Kupritz, 1999), research examining the impact of a broad range of design features on older workers is uncommon. Research examining age cohort group perceptions of design features is also rare. The present study builds upon the research findings of my earlier study. In the 1999 study, I developed a system of cultural meanings that older and younger workers use to describe office features that facilitate or impede their work. I found that older and younger workers have similar perceptions of what types of design features have an impact on work performance. Aging workers did not appear to require different physical features or special design adaptations to facilitate their job performance. This finding suggests that structural changes to the workplace may not be necessary to accommodate aging workers. Privacy also surfaced as a major concern in my 1999 study. The 1999 findings thus provide a beginning knowledge base about what age cohort groups, the physical features of the office, and workplace privacy. The qualitative nature of the earlier study, however, did not allow me to measure either the strength of relationships between physical office features and work activities or the relative importance given to physical office features by the cohort groups. I believe that, through quantitative measurement, differences in age cohort group perceptions of work place design may surface in ways that the 1999 study did not reveal. The objectives of this study are to determine (a) the strength of the associations that age cohort groups perceive between office design features and work activities, and (b) the relative importance given to office design and privacy features by age cohort groups.
Both older and younger learners need a supportive work environment to help bridge the application gap between the training environment and the practical work environment. Trainees returning to a supportive work environment appear to demonstrate greater utilization of training skills (Baumgartel, Reynolds, & Pathan, 1984; Broad & Newstrom, 1992; Foxon, 1995; Richey, 1990, 1992; Rouiller, 1989). Research indicates that organizational climate may be at least as important as learning in facilitating skills transfer (Richey, 1992; Rouiller, 1989; Russell, Terborg, & Powers, 1985).1 The physical setting of the workplace is an integral part of the organizational context (Sundstrom, De Meuse, & Futrell, 1990).
Precedent exists for recognizing the importance of context in adult learning. Social learning theory proposes that adult learning occurs through the interaction of an individual's behavior (cognitive and overt) with social context (Bandura, 1977; Merriam & Caffarella, 1991; Rotter, 1954). Current instructional design models stress the importance of designing the training environment, both psychologically and physically, to resemble the application environment as closely as possible (Clark & Voogel, 1985; Laker, 1990). This emphasis on design reflects the link between the identical elements concept and transfer theory: learning transfer is limited to situations where two tasks contain identical elements (see the historical review by Foxon, 1995). In other words, transfer is more likely to occur when the learning conditions approximate the application environment. Thus, instructional design models recognize that physical setting, in addition to social context, is a part of the contextual environment, which can either facilitate or impede adult learning. The present study stresses the importance of physical context in the application environment.
The science of human resource development (HRD) is in the business of improving performance through training and development. Training and development, however, should not take place in a vacuum; the organizational context of the larger must be taken into account when training is planned, developed, and evaluated (Richey, 1992; Tannenbaum & Yuki, 1992). Prior to setting up a training program for an organization, the training developer should examine the organization itself for organizational issues that may have an impact on the ultimate success or failure of the training intervention (Foxon, 1995).2 The physical environment of the workplace is one such issue that can impact worker performance. In studies of individual, group, and organizational performance, environmental design researchers have documented that office design can enhance or inhibit overall organizational effectiveness (Brill, Margulis, Konar, & BOSTI, 1984-1985; Davis, Becker, Duffy, & Sims, 1985; DeMarco & Lister, 1985; Springer, 1982; Vischer, 1996). Brill (1993) proposed that providing a supportive physical environment can yield a productivity benefit equal to two to five percent of annual salary in all job categories. Although researchers in HRD have paid minimal attention to the role that physical surroundings play in work performance in organizations, environmental design researchers have developed theories that may apply (Bechtel, 1997). Environmental design disciplines, however, have not approached work performance from a training and development perspective.
Becker and Steele (1995) contend that the performance of an organization as a complex, dynamic, living organism depends upon the "successful integration and deployment of not just people and technology, but also of time and space" (p. 5). The authors summarize the systemic nature of this relationship:
Good facilities will not guarantee success, nor will poorly designed ones guarantee failure. The same can be said for management, employees, and equipment. By themselves, none of these elements of a business is enough to ensure success. They are part of an integrated system, and to function effectively all the parts have to be in harmony. (p. 7)
The Aging Workforce
The aging population is a megatrend that creates a diversified workforce, not only in age and physiological makeup, but also in work and life experiences. The AARP (1996) has projected that the most rapid increase in population growth will occur between the years 2010 and 2030, when the baby boom generation reaches age 65. In 1980,the median age of the workforce was approximately 35 years; in 1990, it was 37 years; and in 2005, the median age is projected to be approximately 41 years (Brill, 1993; see also Hopkins, Nestleroth & Bolick, 1991).
A large percentage of older workers will experience physiological changes. Organizations have raised concerns about the physiological decline of the aging workforce for some time (Ashcraft, 1992; Fox, 1951; Robinson, 1983; Welford, 1976). While laboratory studies indicate that aging persons experience some decline in cognitive functions (e.g., cognitive speed, decision-making, memory, sensory factors), this decline appears to have no negative effects on job performance (Salthouse, 1982). Salthouse (1982) theorizes that the lack of negative effects may be because of the maximum demand level of laboratory tests as compared to on-the-job activities and the increased work and life experiences of older workers. For example, Machado and Smith (1996) investigated the impact of certain variables on the productivity (i.e., service order completion) of service technician teams at Bell South. They found that the teams in the top 10% of productivity levels were older, had much more time on the present job, and had much more service with the company than teams in the bottom 10% of productivity levels.
Formal memory training also has proven useful in helping older persons cope with memory deficits. For example, age differences in recall appear to decline when older subjects are given clues ahead of time about what they will have to remember later, or when they are shown how to organize new information in an effective manner (Bee, 1987). Research also indicates that productivity can decline with age for job-tasks or occupations that require a specific degree and type of physical effort, such as reaction time and speed of performance (Ashcraft, 1992; Robinson et al., 1985; Sheppard, 1976). Other researchers, however, point out that the studies showing a decline in productivity measure maximum levels of functioning, whereas in studies that measure average levels of functioning, age differences in productivity appear to be negligible (Merriam & Caffarella, 1991).
Robinson et al. (1985), after review of a number of studies on occupational performance with age, concluded that "environmental conditions are important in mitigating the effects of decline in aging workers" (p. 519). While their conclusion seems intuitively valid, I determined in my 1999 study that older workers do not seem to need different physical features or special design adaptations to perform their jobs, despite the physiological changes of aging. The present study investigates this phenomenon further. The research questions for this study are:
- What is the strength of the association that age cohort groups perceive between the office design features and work activities (including privacy-regulating activities) that were identified in my previous study (Kupritz, 1999)?
- What is the relative importance that age cohort groups assign to office design features perceived to facilitate work?
- What is the relative importance that age cohort groups assign to privacy features perceived to facilitate work?
- How do age cohort groups rank the importance of privacy features relative to office design features not related to privacy?
One-hundred-twenty administrators participated in the present study: They were divided into two age cohort groups: 59 older workers (60+ years old) and 61 middle-aged workers (35-50 years old). All 120 office workers were paid employees and held lead positions with at least some supervisory responsibilities. Replicating my 1999 study, the general work responsibilities of the participants entailed supervising and evaluating staff, using information technology, conducting meetings, working with clients, promoting the organizational mission, compiling reports, collaborating with coworkers, and reporting to higher management. The administrators worked for service organizations in the same geographic area. Their personal workspaces were cubicles, offices with floor-to-ceiling solid walls, or desks in an open area. I did not include persons aged 51-59 in the sample for either my earlier study or the present study, because I believed that, due to the physiological changes that occur with increasing age, use of the higher age group (60+ years old) would cause differences in the age cohort groups' perceptions of office features to be more pronounced.
For the present study, I used the second phase of the Heuristic Elicitation Methodology (HEM), building upon the first phase of the HEM used in my 1999 study. The first phase of the HEM is qualitative. It is designed to analyze complex issues by exhausting the range of respondent perceptions concerning the variables being examined.3 The second phase of the HEM is quantitative. It is designed to determine beliefs associated with issues and also to identify interrelationships among the issues. The HEM is a cognitive ethnographic method. Its basic assumption is that it is possible to match particular items and attributes with particular cultural values (Harding & Livesay, 1984). HEM stimulus materials are respondent-generated, rather than investigator-generated. Similarly, data is respondent-categorized, rather investigator-categorized. This methodology preserves the language and conceptualizations of the respondents and decreases the likelihood of overlooking significant attributes of the domain being examined (Spradley, 1979, 1980). The methodology is predicated upon the idea that "language provides a powerful entry to cultural meaning structures" (Harding & Livesay, 1984, p. 75).
The second phase of the HEM uses a structured questionnaire, consisting of a beliefs matrix and a preference ranking. The questionnaire for the present study was designed from the responses elicited during interviews conducted during my 1999 study. The questionnaire categories reflected the language of the respondents, salient variables mentioned most frequently, and items of special interest to the investigator. Privacy-regulating activities, as described by the respondents in the 1999 study, were included with the work activities listed in the beliefs matrix because privacy had surfaced as a major concern in the earlier study. During the 1999 interviews, the respondents also had discussed many of the design features listed in the beliefs matrix in relation to privacy activities. This is not surprising, because most analyses consider privacy to be a relational characteristic or an attribute of a selected class of interpersonal situations (Archea, 1977).
Beliefs Matrix. Each age cohort group considered the relationship between 19 design features and 15 work activities, which had been arranged in a binary matrix. The respondents answered yes or no to the question, "Is X [design feature] important for/when Y [work activity]?" Past experience with the beliefs matrix has indicated that data tend to stabilize with a sample size of about 50 (Harding, 1974; Nardi & Harding, 1978). The respondents took about 20 minutes to complete the matrix. I placed design features and work activities that I considered less critical to the success of the study near the beginning and the end of the matrix, in order to avoid potential problems with orientation and fatigue in respondents' answers. It is unlikely that fatigue, however, would be of much consequence in such a short time. Each respondent, upon completing the beliefs matrix, had answered 285 questions concerning his or her perceptions of what work activities are associated with each of the design features.
Table 1 is a graphic summary of the measured associations between design features and work activities, with computed matrix cells for each age cohort group. The probability of association between design features and activities was calculated using the binomial distribution at the .01 level of significance. (See Appendices A and B.) Z-scores were computed for matrix cells whose p value (sample proportion) was greater than the hypothesized p value (population proportion). Z-scores reached significance for particular design features and activities. Some features and activities are associated with privacy and others are not.
Uses of the term privacy in work environments generally reflect the regulation of interaction with outside entities. Methods of regulation encompass retreat from incoming stimulation (generated by people and by the environment) and information management for control of outgoing information (Sundstrom, 1986). The activity categories 3-8 and 12 are common meanings found in literature on privacy in work environments. (Justa & Golan, 1977; Kupritz, 1998; Oldham, 1988; O'Neill, 1994; Sundstrom, Herbert, & Brown, 1982; Zalesny & Farace, 1987.) The categories described as "being able to concentrate, "minimizing interruptions," "minimizing noise distractions," and "minimizing visual distractions" are examples of attempts information management. The activity of "evaluating people, written and verbal" encompasses both retreat from incoming information and information management.
Research suggests that workplace occupants experience and judge privacy from noise differently from privacy related to speech (Sundstrom, 1982, 1985; Vischer, 1996). Both types of acoustical privacy are implicated in the following job activities: "talking privately on the phone," "talking privately in person," "evaluating people, written and verbal," and "minimizing noise distractions" (i.e., environmental background noise). Altman (1975) proposed that the most basic privacy need is to optimize social contact (with both incoming stimulation and outgoing information) and to avoid crowding. Sundstrom, Town, Brown, Forman, and McGee (1982) suggest that the next privacy need may concern mental concentration and the avoidance of distraction, interruption, and noise. Where neither crowding nor concentration poses a problem, the third privacy need for autonomy and conversational privacy may become a salient issue.
|Beliefs matrix questionnaire: Measured association between design features (X) and work activities (Y)|
Preference ranking. Twenty-four hours of interviewing older and middle-aged workers in my 1999 study did not elicit any differences in the perceptions of the age cohort groups with respect to office design or privacy, despite the physiological changes occurring in the older workers. In this study, I investigated that finding further by measuring the relative importance of individual design features through preference ranking. Each age cohort group ranked the 19 design features listed in the beliefs matrix in the order of their importance to work performance. The questionnaire presented the question, "What are the most important design features for you to have at work in order to perform your job?" The respondents took about 10 minutes to complete the preference ranking.
|Mean Rank for Design Items|
|OLDER WORKERS||YOUNGER WORKERS|
|Design Item||Mean Rank||Design Item||Mean Rank|
|having a larger personal office||6.695||having a larger personal office||6.394|
|having up-to-date information
technology (e.g., computer
equipment and phone lines)
|8.153||having an adequate work surface
to spread out my work
|having a workspace with floor-
to-ceiling solid walls
|8.881||having adequate office equipment,
reference materials & supplies
|having adequate storage||8.898||having adequate storage||8.459|
|having an adequate work sur-
face to spread out my work
|8.932||having up-to-date information
technology (e.g., computer
equipment and phone lines)
|having adequate lighting||9.542||having a flexible work space
where my furniture and equip-
ment can be rearranged to fit
my work needs
|having a flexible work space
where my furniture and equip-
ment can be rearranged to fit
my work needs
|9.661||having adequate lighting||9.231|
|having adequate office equip-
ment, reference materials and
|9.881||having a workspace with floor-
to-ceiling solid walls
|having a door||10.424||having my workspace located
away from the main traffic flow
|having my workspace located
away from the main traffic flow
|10.509||having room to personalize my
office with pictures & mementos
|having minimal traffic routed
through my area
|10.542||having a workspace with 5'-0"
|having a conference room
available when needed
|10.593||having a conference room
available when needed
|having a window||10.610||having coworkers who work
together located close together
|having a workspace with 5'-0"
|10.763||having a window||11.016|
|having room to personalize
my office with pictures&
|10.881||having a door||11.115|
|having a conference room
located near my office
|11.034||having a conference room
located near by office
|having coworkers who work
together located close together
|11.051||having a work space with
7'-0" high partitions
|having easy access to general
office equipment, reference
materials and supplies
|11.220||having minimal traffic routed
through my area
|having a work space with
7'-0" high partitions
|11.559||having easy access to general
office equipment, reference
materials and supplies
Table 2 positions the mean rank of each design item listed in the beliefs matrix, per age cohort group. Rankings per design item were summed across all respondents and divided by the number of respondents per subgroup. The lower the mean rank, the closer the design item is to being ranked first, or most important. The rank order reflects not only which design items each subgroup considered most important to work performance, but also which items were deemed least important. The wide range of scores per subgroup indicates that there was a fair amount of consensus for each design item. The Levene's Test for the Equality of Equal Variances did not produce significant F scores. As sample data supported the assumption of homogeneous variances, T tests were computed, but did not reach significance for any design items.
The beliefs matrix and preference ranking analyses, taken together, determined, with respect to older and younger workers (a) the strength of the associations between design features and performance of general work activities, (b) the relative importance given to design and privacy features that were associated with work performance, and (c) the importance of privacy features relative to performance enhancing features.
Research Question #1 - What are the strengths of the associations that age cohort groups perceive between office design features and work activities (including privacy-regulating activities) that were elicited in my previous study (Kupritz 1999)? Older and younger workers, in general, appear to have similar perceptions of the strengths of the association between design features and work activities.
Overall, Z scores reached significance for the same combinations of design features and work activities for both older and younger workers. (See Table 1; Appendices A and B.) Both age cohort groups perceived a cluster of particularly strong relationships among the four design features: having a work space with floor-to-ceiling solid walls," "having a door," "having minimal traffic routed through my area," and "having my work space located away from the main traffic flow" and the eight general work activities: "having little meetings," "concentrating," "talking privately on the phone," "talking privately in person," "minimizing interruptions," "minimizing noise distractions," "minimizing visual distractions," and "performing individual work." Many of these work activities also relate to privacy issues, as described in another previous study of mine. (Kupritz, 1998.) Interestingly, however, neither older nor younger workers in this study associated having a workspace with 5'-0" H or 7'-0" H partitions with privacy activities. This result contradicts the findings of earlier studies regarding the association between office partitions and privacy (Kupritz, 1998; O'Neill, 1994; Sundstrom, Burt, & Kamp, 1980).
The age cohort groups also perceived clusters of relationships among other sets of design features and work activities: the design features "having an adequate work surface to spread out my work" and "having adequate office equipment, reference materials and supplies" were both considered important to the work activity "performing individual and group work"; the design feature "having up-to-date information technology (e.g., computer equipment and phone lines)" was considered important to four work activities: "performing individual and group work," "communicating with people who work together," "increasing [the worker's] sense of control," and "using the computer"; the design feature "having adequate lighting" was considered important to three activities: "having little meetings," "concentrating," and "performing group work"; the design feature "having a conference available when needed" was also considered important to three activities: "having little meetings," "performing group work," and "communicating with people who work together"; the design feature "having easy access to general office equipment, reference materials and supplies" was considered important to the activity "performing individual and group work"; and finally, the design feature "having coworkers who work together located close together" was considered important to four activities: "supervising people," "having little meetings," "performing group work," and "communicating with people who work together."
Differences between the age cohort groups in respect to the associations they perceived between design features and work activities surfaced in some situations. Younger workers perceived 22 relationships that did not reach significance for older workers. For example, younger workers associated "having a flexible work space where my furniture and equipment can be rearranged to fit my work needs" as being important for the work activities "concentrating," "minimizing interruptions," "minimizing visual distractions," "performing group work," "promoting good feelings while working," "increasing [the worker's] sense of control," and "using the computer."
Research Question #2 - What is the relative importance that age cohort groups assign to office design features perceived to facilitate work? Older and younger workers have similar perceptions of the relative importance of some design features needed to perform work, but not of others.
The age cohort groups ranked 10 out of 19 design features at the same level of importance or within 1 or 2 positions of each other (see Table 2). For example, "having a larger personal office" was ranked first in importance to work performance by both older and younger workers, "having adequate storage" was ranked fourth in importance by both age cohort groups, "having adequate lighting" was ranked sixth in importance by older workers and seventh by younger workers, "having a flexible work space where furniture and equipment can be rearranged to fit work needs" was ranked seventh in importance by older workers and sixth by younger workers, and "having my work space located away from the main traffic flow" was ranked tenth in importance by older workers and ninth by younger workers.
The age cohort groups identified clusters of particularly strong relationships among certain work activities and design features, when asked to associate design features and work activities individually in the beliefs matrix. However, the age cohort groups did not necessarily consider the same design features as the most important workplace design characteristics, when asked to prioritize them with other design items. For example, "having a door" was ranked ninth in importance by older workers and fifteen by younger workers, and "having minimal traffic routed through my area" was ranked eleventh by older workers and eighteenth by younger workers. On the other hand, the age cohort groups did consider some of the design features that had statistically significant associations with certain work activities as also being among the most important features needed to perform work. "Having a work space with floor-to-ceiling solid walls" was ranked third in importance by older workers and eighth by younger workers. "Having an adequate work surface to spread out my work" was ranked fifth in importance by older workers and second by younger workers. "Having up-to-date information technology" was ranked second in importance by older workers and fifth by younger workers.
Research Question #3 - What is the relative importance that age cohort groups assign to privacy features perceived to facilitate work? Older and younger workers generally appear to perceive design features needed to perform basic job functions as most important to have at work, followed by certain design features associated with privacy activities. "Having a larger personal office" was ranked by both age cohort groups as first in importance to work performance. "Having up-to-date information technology" was ranked second in importance by older workers and fifth by younger workers. "Having adequate storage" was ranked fourth in importance by both subgroups. "Having an adequate work surface to spread out my work" was ranked fifth in importance by older workers and second by younger workers. In an earlier study (Kupritz, 1998), younger to middle-aged engineers working in an aerospace industry assigned similar ranks to two of these design features: "having an adequate work surface to spread out my work" was ranked first in importance by both subgroups, "having adequate storage" was ranked second in by one subgroup and fourth by the other.
The age cohort groups also connected certain privacy activities with these design features. Younger workers associated "having a larger personal office" with "talking privately in person" and "having up-to-date information technology" with "talking privately on the phone." Older workers ranked "having a work space with floor-to-ceiling solid walls" as third in importance to work performance and also associated this design feature with many of the privacy activities described previously. "Having a flexible work space where my furniture and equipment can be rearranged to fit my work needs" was ranked seventh in importance to work performance by older workers and sixth by younger workers. Younger workers also associated this feature with the following privacy activities: "concentrating," "minimizing interruptions," and "minimizing visual distractions." "Having adequate lighting" was ranked sixth in importance by older workers and seventh by younger workers. Both subgroups associated this feature with "concentrating." Younger workers also associated adequate lighting with "minimizing visual distractions."
Research Question #4 - How do age cohort groups rank the importance of privacy features relative to office design features not related to privacy? Older and younger workers appear to have differing perceptions regarding the relative importance of architectural privacy features that facilitate work performance.
Architectural privacy refers to the visual and acoustical isolation provided by the physical surroundings of an environment (Sundstrom, Burt, & Kamp, 1980). The age cohort groups generally perceived different types of design features associated with privacy as being important to their work performance. "Having a larger personal office" was ranked by both cohorts as first in importance to work performance. Only younger workers, however, associated this design item with the privacy activity of "talking privately in person." Even though certain design features and privacy activities listed in the beliefs matrix formed groups of particularly strong relationships, the age cohort groups typically differed in their perceptions of how important these design features were. For example, both age cohort groups strongly associated "having a work space with floor-to-ceiling solid walls" with the privacy activities of "concentrating," "talking privately on the phone," "talking privately in person," "minimizing interruptions," "minimizing noise," and "minimizing visual distractions." This design feature was ranked third in importance by older workers but only eighth by younger workers. For the most part, even the design features related to privacy that both age cohort groups considered as less important were given different ranks. For example, "having minimal traffic routed through my area" was ranked eleventh in importance by older workers and eighteenth by younger workers. There were only three instances in which the age cohort groups assigned similar ranks (within one position of each other) to design features associated with privacy: "having adequate lighting," "having a flexible work space where my furniture and equipment can be rearranged to fit my work needs," and "having my work space located away from the main traffic flow."
The ranks given to design features associated with privacy in this study differ from those in my earlier study (Kupritz, 1998). Of the 17 design items in the 1998 study, "having a work space located away from the main traffic flow" was ranked 7th in importance by production engineers and 6th by manufacturing engineers. "Having minimal traffic routed through [the worker's] area" was ranked fifth by both subgroups. Interestingly, "having a larger personal office" was ranked tenth in importance by production engineers and ninth by manufacturing engineers. "Having a workspace with floor-to-ceiling solid walls" was ranked fourteenth in importance by both subgroups. The differences between the two studies with respect to priorities may be peculiar to the sample. The engineers sampled in the earlier study worked for a specialized manufacturing organization, and held lead positions with some supervisory duties. As a case study, the rankings given to architectural privacy features may have been dependent on the relevancy of those features to the engineers' situation and the needs of their particular job types.
Implications for HRD
The present study supports my earlier finding (Kupritz, 1999) that older and younger workers associate similar design features with facilitating work activities. Particularly strong relationships surfaced within certain groups of design features and work activities. This study also supports my finding (Kupritz, 1999) that privacy is an important concern of office workers and should not be overlooked when addressing the needs of an organization and its employees. Privacy research during the 1970s-1990s revealed that inability to hold confidential conversations, lack of control over accessibility, inability to avoid crowding, lack of autonomy over supervision, and inability to avoid distractions and interruptions can have negative effects on job performance and satisfaction (Sundstrom, Burt, & Kamp, 1980). Noise, in particular, can add to job-related stress (Karasek & Thorelli, 1990; Sundstrom, Town, Rice, Osborn, & Brill, 1994).
Even though older and younger workers generally associated similar design features with facilitating work activities, differences in their perceptions of design features surfaced in other ways. The findings of this study indicate that differences in age may influence how workers judge the relative importance of certain design and architectural privacy features that are perceived as important to work performance. This suggests that office design changes may be necessary to enable older workers to perform as efficiently as their younger counterparts. Recognition of similarities and differences in the perception of design features by age cohort groups can alert and direct HRD professionals and organizations about how they should channel their finite resources in order to facilitate work practices when training is planned, developed and evaluated. As stressed in the introduction, the physical surroundings of the workplace are an integral part of organizational context and can affect the ultimate success or failure of a training intervention. Organizations can use the information from this study to assess cost benefits and to evaluate alternative design solutions that will support new ways of working back on the job. Properly chosen design solutions can prove cost effective to organizations as they strive to support workers of diverse ages. In most American companies, facility-related expenses (i.e., real estate and equipment) represent the second largest organizational asset at about 25% operating costs, exceeded only by personnel operating costs at about 38% (Becker & Steele, 1995; Haworth, Inc., 1985).
In a broader context, the theoretical considerations presented in the present study offer additional insight into what aging workers think about design and architectural privacy needs in their work environment. Further research is needed to generalize these results. Larger cohort sample sizes for preference ranking should decrease the likelihood of mean ranks occurring due to sampling fluctuation. Also, studies are needed to explore the impact of office design on informal and incidental learning for older and younger workers. Findings from future studies, along with the theoretical considerations presented in this study, can help HRD professionals make informed decisions about the appropriateness of the work environment for training and developing older and younger workers.
Kupritz is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Resource Development, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
1 Organizational climate refers to the collective atmosphere of a workplace created by the attitudes, perceptions and dynamics that impact how people and their organization perform on a daily basis (Childre & Cryer, 1998). The functional and aesthetic design of the physical surroundings, along with the implicit messages and organizational images conveyed by the design, can foster or inhibit a positive organizational climate (Schein, 1992).
2 Studies examining the transfer of training report that the percentage of training that actually transfers is extremely low and that much of it is extinguished over time (Broad & Newstrom, 1992; Georges, 1980; Grabowski, 1983; Kelly, 1982). Organizational issues that have been documented as having an impact on training transfer include management and collegial level of support, availability of resources and technology to support transfer, timeliness of training to try out new learning, training relevance, and potential application of training back on-the-job (Foxon, 1995).
3 Lawton (1990), a preeminent environmental gerontologist, recommends that qualitative methods should precede quantitative methods when examining older persons.
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