Motivate Millennials with Meaningful Rewards

By Bob Nelson

When they have done good work or an outstanding job, Millennials want rewards that are meaningful and exciting to them. Obviously, these rewards include financial incentives, although 88 percent of Millennials don’t feel money is their main motivator, and 78 percent will work for less if they feel challenged.

Millennials who do express a desire to be paid more, however, may have less-than-realistic expectations as to what accomplishments are needed to earn more money, and that’s where you can help them out. Show them the skills they need to learn and the contribution they need to make to earn more money. Also show them the path that will get them where they want to go, both in their life and in your organization and help them see that you will help them succeed to the best of your ability.

This translates into discussions in which you as a manager need to state things like, “I can’t just pay you more because you want to make more. I can pay you more when you have increased your level of contribution to the organization to a level that warrants earning more. Let’s talk specifically about what that would look like and come up with a plan for how you can get there.”

Then you can channel the person’s energy into things he or she can directly impact, such as taking on greater responsibility, doing exceptional work, implementing a cost-savings idea, delighting an important customer, helping to streamline a process, bringing in a new account, and so on. Of course, limits do exist regarding what any employee is paid by your organization; in that case, you can focus on skills you are helping your employees develop that they can use throughout their careers and in future jobs.

Millennials expect that their reward experience be fun and exciting — not the same old boring thing the company has done for years. They increasingly expect rewards that are creative, varied, and personalized:

  • Creative in that the rewards are fun and unique. Millennials don’t want the same certificate, plaque, or trophy that has been passed out to employees for years. Scottrade, a firm based in St. Louis, Missouri, has implemented a peer recognition program, Above and Beyond, that allows employees to earn rewards such as iPods.

  • Varied in that not everyone gets the same reward. It’s not very motivating for Millennials to receive the same reward as everyone else. Take time to offer different items and experiences that match not only the achievement itself, but the individual employee. A gift card for coffee or a “thank you” might be a great option for a smaller achievement, but a more significant achievement deserves a more significant reward.

  • Personalized in that the reward needs to be tailored to the employee’s unique interests, which can be a hobby, travel, or a life experience. Give employees a choice and a say in what reward they receive for doing a good job. The days of one size fitting all are long gone when it comes to employee motivation. What thrills and delights one employee may be boring and insulting to another. Avoid this problem by allowing employees to choose what best motivates them — be it the latest electronic merchandise, an experience, or a charity donation.