I was chit-chatting with an old-school business guy over coffee last week. We’re talking crusty old. The kind of guy who may have begrudgingly allowed pants on Fridays for his female workers back in the day.

His purview: I’ve got the money and the work. I can dictate terms to “the cogs” who work below me. (His words, not mine).

I asked him what happened if he eventually ran out of “cogs”? There’s always more, he said.

And I think that’s the fundamental problem. Money is important, insofar as it pays for bills, rent, and food. Some days, you have to suck it up and work for someone who’s going to ream you just to get by. I have no doubt that Crusty McCrudgen thought he was doing a great service for those in his employ, but eventually – thanks to awesome word of mouth and connectivity – he’ll run out of people willing to work for him.

For Gen-Y, and I would argue – a lot of people working today, money and work aren’t the key factors. We look for any number of different things in a potential job, not the least of which are:

  • Interesting challenges for growth (professionally and personally)
  • Meaningful work
  • Meaningful work (yes, it’s that important)
  • Strong Work/Life balance
  • Respect
  • Open, honest communication, and let’s not forget:
  • Meaningful work

The hard and fast truth is that a Gen-Y’er would sooner jump ship than do work that isn’t meaningful. The best employers are the ones who help us draw a path from where we are (and the work we’re doing) to where we want to go. I’m not talking about financial rewards. I’m talking about things like life experiences, travel, chances to be recognized for doing great work, interesting problems to tackle, interesting people to work with (and for).

These aren’t hard things to offer, and I can already hear the rally-cry of the battle-worn managers: “Work is work. Show up, shut up, get paid, and go home. Quit yer bitchin’, Sally.” And that’s sad. Seriously.

Really, though – you want to retire, right? And you want your business or work to last beyond your ability to contribute to it? Then you need to bend a bit. And, for that matter, so does Gen-Y. We need to be a little less choosy about what tasks we will and won’t do, a little slower to play the Work/Life balance card, and a little less enthusiastic to pull the cord on our escape chute.

Both sides have got to come to the table and work this stuff out; otherwise Gen-X will never be able to retire and Gen-Y (and Gen-Z) will never be able to learn the stuff they need to know to make society work.

(Header image: 3 Generations, 1 Macbook by lyzadanger)