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Consider Generational Differences When Choosing Ways to Reward Employees

When it comes to reward programs, one size definitely does not fit all.

Indeed, one of the biggest differentiators worth considering, especially as we celebrate National Small Business Week (May 1-7), is where employees fit on the generational spectrum.

The challenge can start with the “truism” that no two economists (and let’s extend that to designers of rewards programs) will agree on the answer to the question of what works best for a particular generation.

That said, existing research indicates that a combination of factors, including the time frame within which a person is born and his/her stage of life, typically influences that employee’s motivations at work and his/her desire for certain rewards and other preferences.

Some argue that the shared “formative life experiences” in each generation stay with them, from youth through retirement.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 97 percent of the U.S. workforce is made up of three generations—Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials. In 2015, Millennials became the largest of the three cohorts. By 2020, Millennials will comprise about half of the total workforce.

In a variety of research available (a Google search on “Millennial Reward Preferences” took less than a second to deliver nearly 250,000 results), one of the themes attached to this most populous generation is their preference for digital interactions.

Indeed, Donald Tapscott, author of 1999’s Growing Up Digital and its sequel, the 2008 Grown Up Digital, says: “I came to the conclusion that the defining characteristic of an entire generation was that they were the first to be ‘growing up digital.’”

What does that tell us when it comes to rewarding employees?

We can start with choice. Gift cards, especially ones that promote choice--the American Express Reward card and Target both come to mind--speak to the freedom Millennials in particularly enjoy.

Yet another common characteristic of this most-populous of today’s workforce is a desire for interesting work and—more importantly—the flexibility that a job offers, even more so than job security.

It’s a good idea to keep what motivates Millennials in mind when you’re looking for ways to drive employee satisfaction, regardless of the size of your enterprise.