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Rick Blabolil

What the IRF’s Latest Research Means for Your Rewards and Recognition Programs

One size fits all fits no one in today’s world. Consumer-focused marketers recognized this a decade ago, unleashing the flood of “personalized” strategies. It’s time for the workplace to get on board and implement programs that motivate by offering rewards and incentives that appeal to generational and life stage preferences.

A white paper from the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) suggests that age and life stage factors are the most prominent influences on employee motivation, engagement and rewards preferences. Based on a review of more than 20 years of literature, interviews with rewards and recognition and generational experts, plus spot surveys, the IRF paper says “…organizations should seek to understand the age and life-stage demographics of their workforce and the broad preferences and motivators associated with each.”

Tackling workforce generation issues

The IRF white paper approaches the issue of multiple workforce generations from many angles, and includes contrasting viewpoints. So, how do you apply any of this to your own programs? Here are some helpful IRF findings:

  • Three generations are represented in today’s U.S. workforce. This is a rough approximation but it makes it easier for you to get your arms around program needs than the “five generations” some studies have suggested. Generally, you’ll want a program that is flexible enough to include rewards and incentives appealing to Boomers (born 1945-1963), Generation X (born 1964-1980), or Millennials (born 1981-2000).
  • If you can’t home in on individual preferences (an ideal), modify rewards by age and life stage. In an ideal world, rewards and incentives would be geared to each individual’s unique preferences. A robust program hundreds of rewards choices offers this. But if you’re looking at incentives such as travel, you’ll want to give weight to broad generational characteristics filtered through life stage factors. The IRF advises, “Program designers who provide merchandise, individual travel and reward type incentives, for example, should strive to have a broad enough catalogue of options that any person or any age can find something that appeals to them.”
  • Travel has cross-generational appeal, but requires age-related tweaks. The IRF research revealed across the board appreciation for travel incentives, but to be most effective multiple options must be available to recipients once they reach the destination. Best is a mix of cross-generational activities plus options that appeal to generational preferences

Matching incentives to generations

Although the IRF study notes that multiple generations in today’s workforce are similar in many ways—for example, all reported appreciating flexible work, and many expressed a desire to give back to their communities—each generation reported different motivators. . What does this tell us? Rewards and incentives need to be crafted accordingly.

  • Boomers: 80 million strong and complex. Cash is a motivator for Boomers, yet other research supports the power of experiential rewards for this generation. Boomers like recognition, especially if given in a formal, public setting. Some intend to work forever, others look forward to retirement, so adjust life stage factors accordingly.
  • Gen X: Private and independent. Tend to prefer time off to cash or merchandise as an incentive. When it comes to recognition, keep it low key for Gen Xers. Many are sandwiched between caregiving for parents and supporting their own children, so Gen Xers especially appreciate flexible work arrangements.
  • Millennials: Tech smart and socially committed. We marvel at Millennials’ digital sophistication and some of us fret about their need for immediate feedback (and rewards). A peer-to-peer recognition platform brings the two together for positive—and powerful—results. The IRF paper cites a WorldatWork study showing that 42 percent of surveyed organizations use social recognition. Time off for community work is also valued by Millennials.

The most important takeaway from the IRF study is the need for highly flexible rewards and incentives programs.

Are you looking for a program with that kind of flexibility? Talk to us today to learn about PPM Suite Express, a cost-effective program that gives you and your employees the flexibility today’s work environment demands.