Employee Recognition for all Generations in the Workplace

Every generation desires recognition. However, each generation has different expectations as to what, when and how often they are recognized. Gen Xers and Gen Ys tend to view their employment relationship as a transactional investment, where they seek short-term returns, while Baby Boomers and Traditionalists often view employment as a longer term investment within a full career.

This means that the concept of extrinsic versus intrinsic rewards and recognition may have to be evaluated differently for each generation.




Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Rewards

Intrinsic motivation is driven by an interest or enjoyment in a task or job itself, while extrinsic motivation occurs when an individual performs an activity in order to attain an outcome and receive external recognition.

Baby Boomers tend to take a “holistic” view of their careers. They realize that they may not be recognized within every job that they hold, but they seek to build their recognition profile over their entire career. This means that they may accept roles or positions that do not intrinsically motivate them if they feel that the role will provide them with an opportunity for future recognition and reward. They accept that they may not be satisfied with each job they have, but rather strive to reach the next “level” that will provide them with the recognition and rewards they desire.

As Baby Boomers reach the end of their careers, their desire for extrinsic recognition wanes. Having already achieved many of their career goals, Baby Boomers often search for roles that provide more intrinsic rewards, such as work with not-for-profit organization or involvement in community events.



Learn more with the Ultimate Guide to Engaging Millennial Employees


Gen Xers and Gen Ys expect to be intrinsically rewarded in every role. They are focused on growing, learning and developing professional skill sets, and getting results. They expect their work to motivate them intrinsically, but they also expect extrinsic rewards that are of value to them. This generation is used to being rewarded for their accomplishments. Gen Ys not only want to be recognized by leaders, they want the opportunity to also recognize their manager for strong leadership behaviour. In addition, peer to peer recognition is an important element to this cohort.

Developing an Employee Recognition Program

In order to engage and motivate employees of all generations, your employee recognition program should be comprehensive and flexible enough to address diverse needs. What motivates and appeals to one generation may not motivate or appeal another.




Conducting an employee survey can help you learn what is working and what areas of development you have within your current recognition program. It will also be helpful to understand which rewards are most valuable to your employees. A gold watch? A new snow board? Time off? While employees from all four generations may value the same rewards, it is important to take a broad approach and ensure employees have as much choice as possible.

Often rewards can be free or have little cost associated, but can significantly engage a multigenerational workforce. Identify all the way you can demonstrate to employees that you value them and appreciate their investment in your team. Recognition is an on-going process that when executed well will drive employee performance and engagement.


Note: for a complete tool on how to evaluate and enhance your recognition behaviours, see chapter 4 in Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills available at www.ngenperformance.com/book.

Giselle Kovaryh

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle Kovary has dedicated more than a dozen years to building strategies and programs that help clients target, motivate and engage employees in order to increase performance and productivity. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies across North America.

This article is by Giselle Kovary from ngenperformance.com.