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Human resources departments are accustomed to dealing with changes to the make-up of their workforce. However, HR is currently living through one of the most seismic shifts witnessed in generations.

Generation Y is the fastest growing segment of the workforce. People born during the 1980s and early 1990s now account for approximately 21% of the overall workforce.

According to a survey by Lee Hecht Harrison, more than 60% of employers say they are experiencing tension between employees from different generations. Furthermore, 70% of older employees are dismissive of younger workers’ abilities and nearly half of employers say that younger employees are dismissive of the abilities of older co-workers.

To help these seemingly different demographic groups work together, human resources professionals are keying in on both employees’ differences and common values. These common interests among generations in the workforce include the desire to:

  • Benefit society
  • Engage in satisfying leisure activities
  • Exercise leadership
  • Have friendly and congenial associates
  • Have a high salary
  • High prestige and status
  • Make contributions to important decisions
  • Have a stable and secure future
  • Participate in a variety of work assignments
  • Work as part of a team

Key Defining Differences of the 4 Working Generations:

The current workforce is made up of 4 generations all with different strengths and weakness and needs in leadership, training and motivation. Learning to effectively manage and motivate such a diverse group is essential to team cohesion and company growth.

The Traditionals (Born before 1945)

Source: Harvard Business Review

While the majority of Traditionals are retiring or already retired, they leave behind a set of rules and processes that continue to define the workplace. Baby Boomers and even some Generation Xers are inheriting old, hierarchical organizational structures that clearly do not fit the transforming workplace.

Traditionals were born and raised in war times, which defined their working and management styles. These employees are generally conservative in all aspects of business and actively avoid risky decisions, a clear contrast to younger generations.

Get the Free Guide: How to Set Up a Successful Employee Recognition Program

They are self-disciplined and accustomed to formal structures and a military-style command/control leadership. By nature, these employees respect authority, desire social order and generally do their best to avoid conflict. These employees feel an innate sense of obligation to their company and often work there for life.

Employee Rewards and Recognition for Traditionals in the Workplace

Your rewards and recognition program will provide Traditionals the structure they desire in a quickly evolving workplace. They’ll feel empowered to learn new skills in emerging technologies through training courses and have a venue for sharing knowledge between themselves and younger employees. Rather than waiting for retirement, these employees may find renewed energy in their work through collaborative projects and innovative ideas.

When designing your employee recognition program, engage Traditionals by providing clear goals for forward progression and structure. Providing clear communication about your new recognition program and proper training and support to employees will help you get off to a smooth start and ensure everyone is equally involved.

Baby Boomers (1943 – 1965)


Baby Boomers make up a large portion of the workforce today. This unique generation were raised smack dab in the middle of the Vietnam War, civil rights demonstrations, both the Kennedy and the King assignations, Watergate, and of course, the sexual and free spirited revolution of the 60’s.

This generation believes above all else, that hard work and sacrifice are the price to pay for success. As a result, Baby Boomers set a standard for workaholics, working around the clock, at all costs. These employees are hard workers who seek job security in exchange for company loyalty. In general, Baby Boomers are conflict avoidant and reluctant to speak out against their peers, but they thrive on the possibility of change.

In managing employees of the Baby Boomer generation, it is best to set a clear organizational structure, be clear in communication and implement a system that recognizes achievements on a regular basis.

Employee Rewards and Recognition for Baby Boomers in the Workplace

Rewards and recognition programs open up regular feedback channels for Baby Boomer employees to grow in their career by exploring creative solutions to once mundane tasks and honing skills for advancement of their careers.

Company loyalties and employee motivation grow as employees and managers become more in synch through mutual feedback and shared goals. Team projects, group decision-making and social engagement provide a forum for all employees’ voices to be heard equally, bonding multigenerational teams and disseminating knowledge across the organization.

Generation X (1968 – 1979)

Those born in Generation X grew up in a turbulent time of financial and societal insecurity. These children grew up in a time of significantly increased divorce rates and were witness to their parents’ loss of security even after a lifetime of company loyalty. As a result, Generation X employees are often less trusting of their employers and are more likely to be independently driven to succeed on their own.

Generation X employees desire a work/life balance that includes flexible schedules and paid leave for family additions. While not as loyal to their employers as previous generations, Gen Xers are very loyal to friends within their organizations, making teambuilding and a social workplace essential to retention. Generation X employees are comfortable with technology and easily adapt to change.

They value continuous learning and skill development and are ruled by a sense of accomplishment and results rather than the clock. A system for tracking and rewarding accomplishments empowers Gen Xers to work hard to reach goals and compete with themselves and other employees.

Employee Rewards and Recognition for Generation X in the Workplace

Generation X employees love rewards and recognition programs for the independence and opportunities they provide. Employees are empowered to advance their careers through skill building, task ownership and leadership training while building a network of colleagues and growing ever loyal to the organization.

Shape your program to give Xers the structure and format to send and receive feedback from managers and coworkers to bolster their motivation and success. Your recognition platform should turn their drive into one that motivates others through social engagement and friendly, workplace competition.

Generation Y (1980 – 1999)



Source: LinkedIn

Generation Y is the newest and fastest growing segment of the workforce. These employees were raised to multitask and work with great flexibility to innovate and achieve more every day.

Gen Y employees show up on their first day eager to make an impact. They are extremely comfortable with technology, independent and entrepreneurial. Unlike Traditionals and Baby Boomers, Gen Yers are not process focused and prefer small goals with tight deadlines to build an ownership of tasks.

These fresh new faces entering the workforce absolutely need a work/life balance and a manager who encourages their professional development. They value a manager who acts as a coach, providing constant feedback and fair, direct communication to help them achieve their potential.

Employee Rewards and Recognition for Generation Y in the Workplace

Being raised on social media and digital technologies, Yers blossom with the guidance of rewards and recognition. Through daily feedback and coaching, managers will assume a mentor role to young employees, guiding them and encouraging their career growth in your organization. Under the structure of your program and given a autonomy, Yers strive to work better and faster than others, absorbing all the knowledge they can from their coworkers, and have been seen to produce innovative results.

The Role of Employee Recognition in Manage a Multigenerational Workplace

While Traditionals, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Yers may have different values and working styles, they all want to make a difference in your organization and be recognized for it.

Your employee recognition program should provide structure around employee management to level the playing field and ensure all employees, regardless of age, feel connected to the company and their teams. Encourage managers to provide regular recognition and feedback to keep employees on track for goal completion and career growth. Everyone in the organization, management and HR included, should be encouraged to use the social wall to stay connected with each other to building strong, multi-generational teams.

Your employee recognition program is always a work in progress and should be evaluated and adjusted regularly. If you’re not already, involve employees in defining goals and setting rewards and be sure to check in often in one-on-one meetings and status reports to identify areas for adjustment.

Today’s HR professionals have the power to shape their organizations and make a lasting difference by introducing technology to employee management and building a company culture to fit the changing workplace. Systematic peer to peer and management to employee recognition helps you create a more connected company culture while increasing employee retention and providing a compelling tool for recruitment.


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