08/12/2013 01:22 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2013

How Humane Is Work?

When we talk about topics like 'leaning in,' am I the only one who feels that it is a conversation we have been having since "I Love Lucy" appeared on CBS? If we can have Sarah Silverman break the stereotypes of women and comedy in such fun and outrageous ways (I am a fan), why are our conversations about women in the workplace still so 'Lucy'?

I got a letter a few years ago from an employee, one of our earliest hires and an amazingly valuable person. She had done a great deal for our company. She was tired. Burned out. Hadn't spent enough time with her spouse and children. Had neglected some of her own personal goals. These things mattered so much to her that she was ready to leave if necessary. She didn't want to. She just wanted some extra time off. But there were no mechanisms to accomplish this in our lean, fast-paced and aggressive start-up. But she came to me, and we made it happen. After her return, she wrote this:

No company has ever done that for me. I was ready to leave. I was ready to go be an independent contractor -- because these things mattered more to me than my job. But you just made me realize that it's okay if these things matter more. And as a result -- I feel like this is the place I belong.

This is an issue about the nature of work and its effect on everyday people. We pour so much of our lives and hearts into our work, regardless of where that work may be or what it may create. We are realizing that we need all of our experiences, at work and at home, to fully integrate into who we are, into our sense of passion, purpose and identity.

Being who you are with your family and friends, your children and neighbors is hard enough to figure out, right? We spend a lifetime trying to understand people with whom we share DNA. How much can we safely be who we are in any given situation? Given how much time we spend at work, "who we are" while we are there becomes an important question. It crosses our paths, our minds every day.

Why does 'The Third Metric' count so much in this dialogue? Because I think this is about more than health, gender, happiness or social norms. The issues we face and the discussions we should be having are these: How humane is work? How does work bring out the best in the human spirit and condition?

I recruit people. It has been my passion, privilege and job to take from even the shortest of conversations an understanding of who I am speaking to and what matters to them. I take every opportunity I can to ask individuals about the choices they make in their work and life. And a pattern has come to my attention. More people today are interested in who they are, their values and making a difference than in making a promotion. More people today won't be loyal to a company; they will be loyal to an ideal. More people today won't work for a jerk, they will take less money or go into debt to work for a great human being. I openly disagree with those who say that men and women are looking for something different, to be fulfilled. Some do -- there are plenty of stereotypes still stuck to our shoes like old gum on a hot sidewalk. But that's not our future. The generations to come are breaking those stereotypes apart. And I would rather figure out what we need to do for them than for the people stuck to the top of the glass ceiling today.

People want to know that what matters to them matters to those around them at home and at work. If people can't find the workplaces where they can be themselves -- a complete and fully-integrated version of themselves -- then they will leave work behind and forge a new path.

Increasingly, people tell me, "I am willing to forgo the secure paycheck, the big income IPO, the brand or the reputation, if I can do meaningful work that gains the respect of my family, customers and myself -- and I never have to compromise my values or what I care about."

Work itself, on every level, will need to be redefined to reflect this shift in values. With technology and the access it brings, people can be exactly who they need to be and find the meaningful projects that matter. They don't need to be an employee. They don't need to be branded by your vision or mine. Happiness, at work or in life, is as unique as a fingerprint or DNA -- we cannot 'can' it and offer it 'off-the-shelf.' What matters more is how we prioritize and understand what brings the best in people -- the experiences that are hard and sometimes unexpected, but meaningful.

This next generation will confound us in what they consider to be issues and challenges, given norms and expectations. They have had an African-American president and to them, that's normal -- as it should be. They are somewhat bemused by our constant amazement at the 'first Black' this or the 'first woman' that. They have seen college students start up some of the worlds most amazing technology companies from a garage or a dorm room. They have seen average, everyday people enrich their lives and imaginations through social media. They boycott companies that aren't socially or ecologically responsible. This is a different generation, for which I am thankful. And glass ceilings, telecommuting and paternity leave aren't on their agenda. They will forge their own path for meaningful work and humane values. Are we ready for them and are we ready to really change the conversation? I'd like to start.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power," which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.