Motivating & Rewarding Employees of All Generations

Image: Motivating & Rewarding Employees of All Generations

How to motivate and engage employees is a topic that consistently receives attention from senior leaders, because it underpins all other business goals. The need to reward and recognize employees in a way that increases their motivation; makes them feel valued; and strengthens their commitment to the organization is critical to success. In particular, understanding what drives high performing employees and what retains them is the focus of HR leaders and managers. Layering on a generational perspective to this process is essential to ensure your reward and recognition efforts are targeted and will tap into the unique values, expectations and needs of each generation.

How to Motivate All Generations – Understand Them

Before you can truly motivate a multigenerational workforce, you need to understand what each cohort values and which rewards will resonate most with them. While individual differences and needs will always exist, there are enough general themes across the generations that you can use the information to create a well-rounded approach to rewarding and motivating your team members.

In today’s workforce, most employees will be Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), or Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000).

Each generation has been shaped by their experiences growing up and the world around them. In addition, each generation values different things. Understanding what motivates each cohort will help you determine how you can reward each generation to increase engagement and performance.

  • Baby Boomers

o   Baby Boomers are strong team players who generally value personal growth, optimism, and involvement. This generation tends to be career-focused and competitive in the workplace, with a strong desire to add value to the organization. They seek advancement and status, want respect for their expertise and tenure, and feel most engaged when they can share their knowledge.

  • Gen Xers

o   Gen Xers are flexible, creative, entrepreneurial, and results-driven. This generation tends to be quite individualistic and focuses on self-reliance and creating a work/life balance. Members of this generation also tend to focus on gaining marketable skills and outcomes that will assist them in building a strong career.

  • Millennials

o   Millennials value diversity, corporate social responsibility, optimism, and involvement in decision making. This cohort is expressive, creative, and loyal to their colleagues across the organization. Millennials tend to expect frequent feedback and communication from their leader and often like to move quickly from one project to another.


As you can see, the identities and motives of each generation are quite different. Also, since each generation is at a different life stage, their concerns and goals may be quite different. Baby Boomers, for example, may be focused on preparing for retirement, while Millennials may be putting more emphasis on personal and career development.

The key is to create motivational tactics and rewards that are geared towards each generation so that you can easily pull from your tool box when you want to motivate, engage and reward the different generations on your team.

Motivation and Rewards

Once you have learned more about the drivers of each of the generations in your workplace, you will need to turn this information into specific motivational tactics and rewards.

For example, Baby Boomers are more likely to appreciate rewards such as formal recognition in a public setting, such as a company-wide email or acknowledgement by a senior leader at a company off-site event. Baby Boomers, more than other generations, will also appreciate earning a new title as a reward for a job well done. This reward ties into their desire for respect, advancement and status.

Since Gen Xers are more focused on independence and having to “fend for themselves” they may be more appreciative of greater autonomy as a reward, such as the opportunity to for more flexible work arrangement and greater independence to take on a new project or manage a larger area of the business. This generation is motivated by rewards that develop their skills sets, such a funding for an advanced degree; or that provide them with more freedom such as additional resources on their team whom they can delegate to and engage on special projects.

Millennials seek interesting work, appreciate flexibility, and desire new experiences. Therefore, this cohort can also be rewarded with the opportunity to take on new projects, but they are less interested in the status associated with leading a project than they are interested in the chance to tackle something new and gain new skills. The ability to engage with senior leaders and have the opportunity to have a ‘seat at the table’ for important decisions is motivating. In addition, opportunities to demonstrate creativity and innovation can be rewards that spark enhanced engagement. This generation also seeks a fun work environment, so team events that strength the bonds with colleagues taps into this generations desire to cultivate a “second family” at work.

Of course, all generations of employees appreciate additional time off from work as well as financial rewards. However, how these rewards are handled will different across generations. Providing as much choice as possible around flexible work schedules and how financial rewards are allocated will allow each generation (and individual employee) to tailor what works best for them.

As noted, it’s important to remember that individuals within a generational cohort will not all respond to or expect the same tactics. While each generation definitely shares particular characteristics, tendencies, and experiences, remember that each person is unique. Learning about the individuals on your team will help you formulate effective motivational tactics and rewards, while keeping in mind at a macro level how each generation may respond and be motivated by different rewards.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

This entry was posted in Leadership and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.