ADP: 5 Ways to Manage Employee Recognition Through Generations

Advice for HR leaders managing teams where four generations are working side by side.

ADP is No. 17 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list

(Originally published on ADP’s Spark)

Employee recognition is one of the most effective ways to raise employee morale, according to Harvard Business Review, and it can lead to enhanced productivity, retention and engagement. Employee recognition through generations is a key concern for HR leaders managing teams where four generations are working side by side. HR leaders should strive to develop effective employee recognition programs that resonate with employees across generations.

Employee Recognition and Generational Differences

One of the biggest challenges for developing an enterprise-wide employee recognition program is that different individuals are motivated by different incentives. Generational differences provide a useful lens through which to understand what employees find motivating. Certain factors — such as financial incentives and praise — are universally appreciated. But how much they matter may change for different age groups.

According to the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), different generations prefer recognition in different ways. Baby boomers want formal recognition in front of teams or groups, Gen Xers wants to receive recognition in private and millennials want fun, less formal and more frequent recognition, according to the IRF.

Organizations that understand how different types of recognition fuel growth and retention stand to attract the best workforce. The 2016 ADP Employee Engagement Study states that 66 percent of millennials and 62 percent of Gen Xers are motivated by financial rewards, whereas 41 percent of baby boomers prefer to be recognized through a formal, periodic bonus.

When applied systematically, employee recognition can help your business achieve its recruiting goals. Here are five employee recognition strategies that should help you connect to your multigenerational employees.

1. Gather Data on Recognition by Generation

Data should be the first step in crafting a plan. Fortunately, you can leverage research tools and software to sort and collate internal data and compare it to benchmarks from various generations, firm sizes and industries in order to get a better understanding of what factors influence engagement.

2. Encourage Management to Account for Generational Differences

One area that greatly influences employee recognition is in day-to-day management styles. While a large-scale, formal program has a role in enterprise management, it’s also key to educate your HR team and managers on different needs. Ask your managers to think about how recognition can be modified for interaction with a staff of varying ages.

3. Embrace the Basics

While there may be some variation between generations, certain aspects of successful employee recognition programs transcend age, including market competitive compensation, generous benefits and verbal recognition from managers and colleagues. Engage all your employees through financial incentives and praise for a job well-done.

4. Ask Employees for Feedback

Every business has a different culture and unique needs. Gathering insight about your team, their priorities, current recognition programs and any opportunities for improvement can help you shape a customized road map to improve your organization’s employee recognition strategies.

5. Invest in Enterprise-Wide Programs

Ultimately, employee recognition must be a core element of your organization’s culture. From periodic salary increases to annual performance awards, enterprise-wide programs make it possible for large businesses to recognize their team’s contributions at scale. So in conjunction with your generational efforts, you should still work to develop an enterprise-wide approach that embeds itself into your culture and is a constant source of connection to employees of all ages.

Managing employee recognition through generations is a challenge facing today’s busy organizations. HR leaders can create effective strategies to handle key questions by focusing on what motivates different employee segments, how data can improve recognition delivery and what steps can be taken to instill employee recognition into your organization’s DNA.

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