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Here’s a surprise about managing multigenerational workforces: when it comes to being recognized for their hard work, the “generations” are remarkably similar.

A 2013 O.C. Tanner Institute global research study found that all employees, regardless of age, are far more engaged, driven and connected to the company when they’re recognized for their contributions. They have better work relationships too.

The following statistics from the study show just a couple examples of the consistent value of recognition across generations.

Drive and determination

  • Strong Recognition Programs: 88% of employees ages 25-44 and 89% of those ages 45+ report feeling a high sense of drive and determination.
  • Weak Recognition Programs: A mere 41% of ages 25-44 and 47% of those ages 45+ experience a high level of drive and determination.

Company connection

  • Strong Recognition Programs: 79% of employees age 25-44 and 84% of those feel a strong connection to their organization.
  • Weak Recognition Programs: Only 32% of employees ages 25-44 and 39% of those 45+ feel a strong company connection.

Despite the clear value of recognition regardless of employees’ ages, to ensure your recognition is effective, there are some important generational nuances managers should account for, as shown in the following five best practices:

1. Deepen engagement by holding younger employees accountable and building trust for older workers.

Towers Watson research shows that regardless of age, the top driver of employee engagement is a “sense of opportunity for development in the organization and that the company cares about me.”

However, the number two driver of engagement for younger workers (ages 25-44) is a sense that employees are held accountable for their work. Younger workers want to know their work will get noticed and see how it makes a difference for the company and their careers. For older workers (ages 45-64), a feeling of trust for leaders and respect by leaders is the number two engagement driver. They need to feel that their company trusts them to perform, and trust that their managers support their actions.

2. Motivate younger employees with promotions and formal recognition for their work. Motivate older employees with variety and autonomy.

Across the board, employees are motivated by exciting, challenging work. But once that need is met, generational nuances matter. Younger employees (ages 25-44) want their work to be noticed by their peers, leaders and the organization. Recognition and promotions help younger employees feel a sense of opportunity and well-being. Older employees (ages 45-64) want to feel secure in the organization they work for; variety and autonomy not only give them this feeling, but also allow them to feel empowered to make a difference.

3. Make sure recognition is meaningful for less experienced employees and based on performance for more experienced employees.

Less experienced employees (those under age 25) want recognition to come across as genuine and personal. More experienced employees (ages 26 and up) need their recognition to be specific, based on performance, and given for very clear reasons.

4. Highlight unique ways less experienced employees contribute, and make sure recognition is given fairly for more experienced employees. 

All employees want to be recognized and appreciated in a variety of ways. Less experienced employees want to be uniquely valued, preferring more spontaneous recognition. Recognition that appears to be given to younger workers to “check a box” or “because it’s their turn” is not meaningful. More experienced workers are less concerned with uniqueness and more concerned with recognition that is fair, based on performance, and earned. Because they typically have more senior positions/greater tenure, their award expectations are also higher.

5. When planning career celebrations, keep in mind what would be most meaningful for each individual employee.

According to the O.C. Tanner Institute study, younger employees (ages 25-44) report wanting a more casual, party-like environment with more opportunities to socialize, to get away from the work location, and have greater management participation (but they’re sensitive to presentations that are generic and not personalized). Older employees (ages 45-64) are more comfortable with more corporate/formal presentations, family involvement, and greater management participation.

By recognizing and appreciating your multigenerational employees appropriately, you can engage, motivate and inspire great work from all of them.

About the Author: The New York Times bestselling author of Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love, David Sturt began his career in market research, where he studied and analyzed the impact of recognition on people and their work. In the two decades since, he has researched and developed products and services that engage employees, inspire contributions, and reward outstanding results in organizations around the world.

photo credit: Pigsaw via photopin cc

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David Sturt

David Sturt

The New York Times bestselling author of Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love, David Sturt began his career in market research, where he studied and analyzed the impact of recognition on people and their work. In the two decades since, he has researched and developed products and services that engage employees, inspire contributions, and reward outstanding results in organizations around the world. He regularly consults with Fortune 1000 company leaders and speaks at conferences such as Evanta, AMA, SHRM, the Gulf States Symposium, and TEDx. A weekly contributor to Forbes.com, he has been interviewed and quotes by the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, Forbes, CBS Radio, Huffington Post, Human Capital, and other media outlets.

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