Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation: What Works Best to Motivate Employees?

  • By Matt Collins
  • October 24, 2013

motivate employees

When it comes to motivating, engaging and retaining employees, there’s no one-size-fits all strategy that small business owners can rely on.

That’s the finding of Ceridian’s Pulse of Talent Survey, which polled employees ranging from Generation Y to Baby Boomers to uncover how they feel about job rewards and recognition, performance reviews and overall career satisfaction.

Key Finding to Motivate Employees

One key finding that might make cash-strapped small business owners nervous: Job rewards (that is, monetary or non-monetary compensation).

It is the most important factor in employee engagement overall. Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents rank job rewards first, above job recognition (42 percent) and job motivation (11 percent).

Keep in mind, however, that “job rewards” include both monetary and non-monetary compensation. So if you can’t offer raises or bonuses, you can offer non-monetary rewards (something 60 percent of companies in the survey do). In fact, the survey found that younger employees are driving a shift toward non-monetary rewards.

Sixty-four per cent of employees surveyed say they would like to see their companies offer non-monetary rewards, but among Generation Y, the percentage jumped to 70 percent.

The most popular non-monetary rewards:

  • Comp time off
  • Free food or meals
  • Event tickets (to shows, sporting events and concerts)

While these do cost money, they cost less than offering raises since they’re given on an occasional, not ongoing, basis.

That said, tangible rewards like raises, bonuses and promotions still matter to Gen Y. In fact, possibly more than they do to other age groups. While 31 percent of respondents overall say they’d start job-hunting if an expected raise, bonus or promotion didn’t materialize, among Gen Y that figure jumps to 48 percent.

It Depends on the Life Stage of the Employee

Other key motivators for employees vary depending on their ages and life-stages, too. For example:

  • Gen Y and Boomer respondents are more motivated by interesting work.
  • Gen X was more motivated by good benefits and good pay/salary.

This may reflect on life stage:

  • Gen X: Typically married and raising a family with lots of financial obligations.
  • Gen Y: Carefree with fewer financial obligations.
  • Boomers: Working less from financial need and more because they want to stay mentally active.

In general, employees of all ages say being able to work at home, have flexible hours, receive additional training options and opportunities and take on additional responsibilities make their jobs more rewarding.

The Differences

There are some key generational differences:

  • Gen X: Values flexible hours most (reflecting their busy lives juggling work and children).
  • Boomers: Prefers flexible hours and training opportunities (reflecting their interest in being mentally active).
  • Gen Y: Want the chance to take on more responsibilities and handle bigger projects.

What’s the takeaway for your business?

Don’t treat your employees like they come out of a cookie-cutter mold when it comes to benefits, pay and rewards. In fact, don’t even treat employees in one generation like they’re cut from the same mold.

Sure, some Gen Y employees are fun-loving singles who live with their parents and pay no rent, but others are frazzled new parents raising twins and going to night school.

Make the effort to get to know each of your employees and what matters to them. Yes, it will take some time and thought to craft rewards that motivate each worker (and are fair to everyone else). But the effort will pay off not only in financial savings but also in improved employee satisfaction, productivity and loyalty.


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