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Consider Employee Age When Choosing Awards

September 21, 2006
Related Topics: Recognition, Featured Article, Compensation, Benefits
T he generational rift between man­agers and employees has the potential to undermine even well-intentioned recognition efforts if it is not taken into account by both sides.

    An employee’s age can influence more than the types of awards coveted, recognition experts and corporate managers say. (And no, not every Generation Y employee wants an iPod.) Generational values also can flavor the attitudes that managers bring to the table.

    Research shows that the older managers are, the less likely they are to embrace recognition initiatives, says Bob Nelson, president of San Diego-based Nelson Motivation Inc. and author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees. Older managers grew up in a different time, when having a job was considered thanks enough, he says.

    "They think, ‘Nobody ever had to do this for me. I shouldn’t have to coddle kids these days.’ "

    Parting with that hair-shirt attitude is only the first step, Nelson says. Then managers must learn to connect with the values and interests that drive their employees, so they can better reward success. One approach, he suggests, is to hold a staff gathering and ask everyone to bring two things that motivate them.

    Gen Y employees, compared with other demographic groups, are the least likely to be interested in pay increases and most interested in learning new skills, according to data released in July.

    The 2006 Employee Review, a survey of nearly 3,000 U.S. adults, was conducted by Harris Interactive for staffing firm Randstad. Fifty-eight percent of Gen Y and 52 percent of Gen X employees want pathways to personal growth, compared with 41 percent for boomers and 29 percent for the even older group, "mature" workers. (For its survey, Randstad defined the working generation ranges this way: Gen Y birth dates span 1980 to 1987; Gen X, 1965 to 1979; baby boomers, 1946 to 1964; mature, 1900 to 1945.)

"Personal time I think has become--and this is a real generational
difference--one of the most powerful reinforcers you can give to someone."
--Ken Siegel,
management psychologist

    Thus, even work itself can figure as a reward for some younger employees, says Audrey Boone Tillman, a board member of the Society for Human Resource Management. She also is senior vice president and director of human resources for Aflac. A valued employee could be recognized by involving him or her in a cutting-edge project in another area of the company, she says. For some employees early in their career, spending more time with a manager could be motivating, whereas older employees might feel micromanaged, Nelson adds.

    Work/life balance also is a common thread that connects today’s 20-somethings and 30-somethings, says Ken Siegel, a Los Angeles-based management psychologist.

    "Personal time I think has become —and this is a real generational difference—one of the most powerful reinforcers you can give to someone,’’ he says. "Life for most people has become increasingly busy and frenetic."

    A publication of the human resource organization WorldatWork recently took a stab at recommending different types of rewards based on the generations at work. Today’s oldest workers, those born before the baby boomers, may prefer flexible schedules and health and fitness rewards, while boomers may desire travel, suggests the publication, Workspan. Meanwhile, Gen X employees may jump at the opportunity for on-site child care, extra vacation days or high-tech gadgets.

    Still, recognition consultants say it’s a good idea to be wary of too many demographic stereotypes. A life stage can be just as important as age. A new parent may relish a gift card to a nice restaurant, while a first-time homeowner might be thrilled by a gift card for a home-improvement store.

    Those oldest employees shouldn’t be ignored, according to the Randstad survey. It revealed that mature employees crave recognition and appreciation more than any other group: 84 percent, compared with 74 percent for Gen X and Gen Y employees.

Workforce Management, September 11, 2006, p. 28 -- Subscribe Now!

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