LTU panel: Young workers seek balance, meaning in the workplace

SOUTHFIELD – The millennial generation, now getting its first promotions in the workplace, and Generation Z that follows them, seeks both work-life balance and the knowledge that the work they do is meaningful.

That was the analysis Thursday from an expert panel on “The New Workplace,” at a Leaders and Innovators business breakfast hosted by Lawrence Technological University and presented by WWJ Newsradio 950.

Panelist Margaret “Peg” Pierce, director of career services at Lawrence Tech, noted that millennials will be the majority in the American workforce by 2020, and are now taking “early decision-maker roles – that’s having an impact on how the workplace functions.”

Added Pierce: “Our recent graduates are looking for work-life balance, to work when they want to work, and live when they want to live. I think sometimes they get a bad rap, because it’s thought that they don’t want to work, and that’s not true at all. I think they may work more over a 24-hour period than someone who clocks in at 8 o’clock and clocks out at 5.”

Panelist Shaun Wilson, partner and senior vice president at the Lansing-based public relations firm Truscott Rossman, said his company has come to realize that its employees also work from home at all hours, “so we tend not to be too strict about work hours… We’re flexible, but it has to be managed for productivity.”

Panelist Joe Schoch, a talent engagement manager at Ann Arbor-based software developers Pillar Technology, told the audience about his company’s workplace. It’s not called an office, it’s called “The Forge.” Conference rooms aren’t called conference rooms – they’re “crucibles.” The company also doesn’t have reception areas or assigned seats for workers. Customers, family members, and members of the community are free to come in, and they’re greeted and directed to their destination by the first person they happen to meet.

At Truscott Rossman, Wilson said he’s still “old school” and has a separate office, but even its workspaces are becoming more of a bullpen, fostering collaboration.

While flexible work hours are important, face-to-face time is still critical, panelists said. Panel moderator Murray Feldman, business editor at WWJ, pointed to a study showing that one face-to-face conversation can convey as much information as 30-plus emails.

Panelists said that more than anything, today’s workers want to know that their work is meaningful. Pierce said a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed young workers want to be “part of an important process, not just doing busy work.”

Panelists also said today’s young workers lack a firm grasp of a fringe benefit package, tending to value things like help with student loans over health care coverage.

“What keeps young talent is giving them challenges, rewarding them for those challenges, and letting them know they’re doing the kind of work that you value,” Pierce said. “Benefits won’t hold them.”

Panelists also noted that today’s employers are looking for team members who can work on projects collaboratively. Pierce mentioned a Farmington Hills company that has traffic lights outside its conference areas – and when the team working there hits a roadblock, the light goes from green to yellow, which means other people in the company are encouraged to join the meeting and contribute.

Audience members also pointed out that today’s young employees need a fair amount of help with writing skills, interpersonal skills, and social skills like knowing when it’s OK to dress down for work – and when it isn’t.

“We’ve lost the war on dress codes,” Wilson said. “I’ve had to back down. When people are inside the office and not engaging with clients, I look the other direction. I work in the Renaissance Center, and I see GM folks, where it used to be blue suits and blue ties, it’s now floral (shirts) and no socks.”

Overall, panelists said, companies need to tailor their dress codes to the industries they serve. “If your clients are in jeans and sandals, you do your homework, you know how they dress, and you adjust your dress,” Pierce said.

The Leaders and Innovators series will continue with breakfast events at Lawrence Tech Thursday, March 15 and Thursday, April 19. For more information, visit

Lawrence Technological University,, is a private university founded in 1932 that offers more than 100 programs through the doctoral level in its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and Management. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 100 universities for the salaries of its graduates, and U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best Midwestern universities. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.

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