Recognition Engages Gen Y to Stay

Millennials grew up with trophies and ribbons just for their participation, so instant feedback in the workplace is a key element to their engagement and satisfaction as an employee

A friend of mine works for an accounting firm that was recently acquired, and his new employer doesn’t give end-of-year bonuses. Instead, the bonus is added to the yearly salary at the beginning of the year. For example, those who made $70,000 a year and received a $6,000 bonus at the end of the year at the acquired company now simply have a $76,000 salary. My friend —also a millennial — and I were appalled. My parents were appalled that we were appalled. They told us the bonus is often already part of a salary; it’s accounted for, just given as a lump sum at the end of the year. We knew this, but we still think it’s a bad move for the company — “gifts” motivate employees.

My friend and I started talking about just how much gifts, big and small, engage us and other Gen Y on our team. He won a project-based competition earlier this year and won a $25 Subway gift card. We laughed at how silly it may seem that we’re motivated by rewards, but we realized we’re not alone.

I interviewed Donna Novitsky, co-founder and CEO of Yiftee, an online platform that lets consumers send gifts via email, text and social media, to find out what kind of rewards motivate millennials best and how leaders should implement them. I’d love to hear what you think — are your employees encouraged by rewards? Is verbal or material recognition more important? Does it depend on the generation? Let me know in the comments section below.

What kind of recognition do millennials want? Does recognition matter at all?

Millennials are all about immediate gratification and workplace recognition is no exception.

According to the 2014  Yiftee Thought Leadership Survey: Spot Awards for Employee Recognition , the most desired items for spot awards were money, gift cards, services (for example, a home food delivery or car wash), experiences (such as a meal out or a spa certificate) or a donation to a charity. Most commonly provided as spot awards by organizations in the survey are gift cards, money and logo items. 

Spot awards are an increasingly popular device in a manager’s toolbox because of their immediacy, personalized nature and ability to have a more direct impact on bottom-line results.

How does the way millennials want recognition differ from generations before them? Donna Novitsky, Yiftee

Millennials are different. They grew up in a wired culture, with instant feedback (social media, gaming) and helicopter parents. According to Young and Successful Media and RSJ/Swenson LLC, 80 percent of millennials look for immediate feedback in their employment situation. On-the-spot recognition is preferred over formal reviews, and they feel that this is imperative for their growth and understanding of a job.

What tips do you have for leaders who work millennials and have to offer them feedback?

We are learning that leaders must adapt in order to recruit and retain skilled millennial employees.

As competition in hiring continues to accelerate, and the workforce shifts to younger workers, organizations need to arm their managers with more relevant employee reward programs. Programs that provide more immediate feedback, acknowledgement and recognition include spot award programs by management for a job well done, peer-to-peer awards, team awards or awards to incent desired behaviors.

Rewards that are easy to deliver, quickly obtainable, easily customizable, and meet individual desires (such as a food delivery service, a spa experience, or a charitable donation) are most effective.

Considerations in designing a spot or peer-to-peer awards program:

  • Keep it simple with a title that explains the purpose of the award.
  • Define eligibility. Only full time employees? Part timers? Contractors? Employees up to the director level? Who can nominate someone?
  • Define any criteria required for winning the award. Try to align award criteria with the organizational strategy.
  • If possible, have team members help with the award design.
  • Consider adding an immediate public acknowledgement via social media.
  • Before launching a new rewards program, make sure that your managers are aware of and trained on the new program(s).
  • Define award amounts or items. Make sure it is something that can meet a wide variety of employee wishes, and will be appreciated by anyone who receives it.
  • On average, organizations are budgeting 2 percent of their payroll budget for recognition programs.
  • Be creative and have some fun.