Just a little fact: the workforce is currently made up of four generations: Traditionalist, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials.  Can you imagine creating a cookie-cutter recognition program that can single-handedly motivate people who may be 40 years apart in age?  Should companies recognize an employee of the month? Treat a team to happy hour?  Or give a snazzy pin to recognize all those years of service?  Well, let’s be honest- what motivates each of us is as unique as we are.  Companies who are stuck in an employee recognition rut may find that people gravitate towards companies that pay attention to the nuances of engagement.

What can we all agree on? We have an overall desire to be recognized for the efforts we put in.  I find myself sandwiched between the Gen X’ers and the Millennials.  That means I have an identity crisis. Some days I’m a member of the trophy generation who just wants applause for showing up and, some days, I want to outwork everyone and prove I’m a rock star.  It’s more often the second one, and as a result, I want people to notice my efforts and recognize me in a meaningful way.  What does that mean for me?

Well, I know this much.  It means something different for me than it probably means for someone else.  If my company takes the same approach to recognizing and rewarding me as it does others, chances are it’s going to fall flat.  For me, a $10 gift card to a place I never shop isn’t going to cut it.  If I worked all weekend to save a strained relationship or brought a project back from the brink of destruction, I think I deserve something a bit more personal and meaningful.  I want something that makes me happy!  That may be a new pair of shoes for me or a day at the spa for the coworker who helped me suit up and save the day.  When we both get what we want, although very different things, we feel affirmed for our heroic actions.

There is this fancy-shmancy theory, Expectancy Theory, that says in order to motivate your people, they have to feel they have the ability to do the work, believe that doing the work well will lead to something bigger, and have a desire for whatever that “something” may be.  In order for motivation to take place, all three of those things have to simultaneously align.  If I know I’m a rock star, I do incredible work that lands a big client, but you reward me with a certificate that I bury in a drawer, there is a pretty good chance that my motivation just went out the window.  The lesson you ask? If you want people to go above and beyond to make your company successful, give them the recognition and rewards they really want.  That can be a tricky feat for even the most intuitive HR manager.

To sum it up, I would recommend these things when consider the rewards and recognition program to put in place:

Know your workforce. Know what motivates or demotivates them. Reward according to the unique culture and preferences of your people.

If your current program isn’t working, switch it. Most companies do something, and if you ask the HR managers that are in charge of them, they feel the approach is outdated or ineffective. It is too easy not to switch to a program that better suits your needs and gives you more impact.

Clarify what “success” looks like. This doesn’t mean that recognition needs to be top-down. Quite the contrary: the best programs allow everyone across the company to recognize and reward each other; however, the more comfortable people feel about what success looks like, the more effective the recognition efforts will be. Many companies fail to define what success looks like, which leads to frustration, or even worse, a lack of recognition across the board. Define success, make it attainable, and let everyone else do the recognition.

Tiphany Hall is the Director for Business Development on the YouEarnedIt team. Tiphany’s background is in Talent Management and Organizational Behavior, and when asked, she is always eager to share her opinions on the right programs for any organization. 

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