The Culture of Work: Beyond the Paycheck

A recent Andy Kessler column in The Wall Street Journal caught my eye (“Profit Can Be Your Purpose: Why do Millennials and Gen Zers want their work to provide psychic rewards?” March 3, 2024).

I often like Kessler’s articles and appreciate his humor on this topic. Example: “Looking for work now is about finding your passion. My true passion was to bat cleanup for the St. Louis Cardinals. Oh well. Instead, I found a job where I could learn something and eventually contribute.

I have little patience for people who want a paycheck without adding value. However, his perspective on this is off-base.

Well-run companies always have something beyond the paycheck to keep people committed. Whether a great boss, delighted customers, world-class products, or a positive culture, there has always been something beyond the paycheck.

Macro trends play a role here. When unemployment is high, crappy employers still find employees. And, if you pay enough, people allow you to abuse them. 

I do, however, completely agree with Kessler’s assertion that people need to add value. Unless you’re a complete narcissist or dolt, you understand that a company must be able to pay you and get more value from you than they’re paying. That’s how business works.

Suffering through a career when you don’t have to seems pointless. Expecting greater rewards than you bring to the table, however, is silly. 

Throughout my long career, I’ve seen that leaders who create great work environments typically have more luck in attracting and retaining talent. Some are perhaps trying to provide “psychic rewards,” but most are just trying to do the right thing. This also means they must profitably address a market, which is best done by having high expectations of those they work with.

If work doesn’t give you joy (paycheck plus intangibles), work toward finding another job that’ll lead you to an enjoyable career. Recognize that sometimes work is awful and hard, but over the long haul it can be enjoyable if you have the right mindset. You might even find passion. This applies to senior leaders and front-line workers. Another message to younger workers: If you don’t understand how capitalism or the economy works, take a few classes. Adding value is an expectation that will always follow you.

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