Focus on Recognizing People Instead of Generations

When I write, you don’t necessarily know which generation I belong to.

Oh, there may be the odd word or two I use that might give away which generation I’m from. But for the most part I write the same way I speak.

And as each of you read what I write about authentic recognition, I hope you will respect and value what I contribute from my expertise on the topic of employee recognition and not by which generation I’m from.

What has this got to do with generational differences and employee recognition, you ask?

Some of you know me, I know. But most of you do not.

You are blind to my age and generational category.

Yet you read what I write because you believe that I have something in my content that might help you in your work.

You respect me for what I write and this correlates with you respecting me as a person.

You do not value or recognize me for my age. You do not categorize me into a generation and say I must treat you differently. You hopefully engage with me as a human being who has worth independent of anything I write, say or do. Then if I do contribute something that merits recognition you will acknowledge me the same way you would your neighbour at work or at home.

You will recognize me as a person and not a generation.

Generational Differences and Recognition

Remember, if you want to understand an employee from any particular “generation”, look to the parents to see how they treated the child that you’re now dealing with as an adult in the workplace.

So for those of you focused on generations let’s take a quick look at each one.

Parents of Seniors (born between 1925 – 1945) went through hard times of the depression. Seniors view work as survival. They work hard, stick to the rules to keep their jobs, and never complain. Rewards and recognition are not expected right away, they stay for the long haul and expect personal acknowledgment for their sacrifice and anticipate receiving traditional tangible awards or gifts. A handwritten thank you note always goes a long ways for a Senior.

Baby Boomers (born between 1946 – 1964) are next in line. Their Senior parents saw an emerging economy and doted on and adored their children. With equality and role changes happening and seeing the hard work ethic of their parents, Boomers fell in love with work as an act of fulfillment. Not surprisingly, Boomers desire personal and public recognition and want to be part of a team. They also want appreciation for their long hours at work. Layoffs in the 80’s and 90’s were a great disillusionment for this group and a marker for future generations.

Generation Xers (born between 1965 – 1979) saw workaholic parents parent around their work schedules and multiple child activities. “Gender bender” roles and responsibilities emerged creating a more diverse workplace. Xers are hard workers and see work as a means to an end rather than the end-all-be-all of their parents. They started the cell phone and Internet connectivity of a techno-literate generation. Their idea of rewards and recognition is expecting greater pay equity, working with like-minded people and making a difference. Giving verbal recognition or sending email thanks will add greater meaning over and above incentives or tangible recognition.

Millennials or Gen Y (born between 1980 – 1995) are now taking over from retiring Boomers. Their Xer parents made sure Millennial children succeeded in everything, and praised them constantly, and ensured they were never wronged at school or play. Work for Millennials is perceived as a chance to develop their personal skills portfolio. Incidents like Enron taught them to be more concerned about themselves than their employers. They are techno-savvy like no other generation and are glued to technology as multi-taskers. They are very socially responsible and want to make a difference in the world. Rewards and recognition for Millennials are career development and education along with immediate incentives aligned with personal goals of the company. Immediate and frequent feedback, along with personal and public praise, means a lot to this group. You can even text your appreciation. The downside of immediate reinforcement can be an entitlement mentality.

And now we have Generation Z (born between 1996 – 2010). These young employees entering the workforce are much more like their parents than any preceding generational grouping. They have grown up with a smartphone in their hands and communicate with parents and peers this way too. They saw how their parents were focused on personal and professional development and they want the same. The company they work for needs to assist them with career development through training and mentoring. They’ve observed how their parents were underemployed and often held contract or part time positions. For Gen Z they want stability and are willing to commit to staying longer with a company if they have a positive and engaging workplace. They want to know how their work contributes to the company’s overall purpose and objectives. Their digital savviness would have them anticipate fast feedback and recognition through online tools and apps.

However, these are all stereotypic characteristics and they don’t apply to every individual born in their respective generational timeframe.

That’s why I am not suggesting you have to carry a list of rewards and recognition preferences for each generation. But understanding the differences and possible reasons behind them helps you with how to treat them better.

For example, I have written before about Giving Generation Y The Feedback They Deserve. Yet the reality is it’s the same kind of feedback that Seniors, Boomers, Xers, and Generation Z would all love to have too!!

Throw Away The Labels

Generational understanding is helpful but far from essential with giving meaningful, memorable and motivational recognition.

All you really need to do is throw away the labels and get down to brass tacks in knowing your employees very well.

And therein lies the problem. Most people don’t want to invest the time in finding things out.

So to help you out here are 6 things you can do that cross all generations and help you to give more effective and meaningful recognition to people.

  1. Know the individual. From one-on-one visits, to seeing how they work on job tasks, as well as when they are in meetings, identify whether they are extroverted or introverted. Where do they tend to shine the most in their work and what appears to motivate them to do their very best? Know what their strengths are.
  2. Know their preferences. Conduct a recognition preference interview to learn whether they like public versus more private and personal recognition experiences. Learn things they like and do not like – food, drink, past recognition experiences, hobbies, family and other interests. Know their favorite recognition.
  3. Know the action. In recognizing someone for their positive action, make sure you understand what they did and the context around how it happened. Was this hard or easy for them to do? Were there constraints they had to overcome? Why is this significant for this particular individual? Know exactly what they did.
  4. Know the impact. Find out how their actions made a difference and exemplified the company’s purpose and objectives. Who specifically benefited from their personal effort and contribution? Ask the individual impacted how the employee’s actions affected them the most. Know how to connect the dots for them.
  5. Appreciate the person. Never forget that foremost you should express appreciation for the individual. Acknowledge their personal attributes, skills, talents, interests and background that make them who they are. Learn to appreciate people independent of their positive actions. Appreciate their worth.
  6. Value their contribution. People want to know they have made a difference so make sure you tell them. When you value someone’s contribution do they know how, and what, they have added to the situation, a customer or fellow employee? Be very clear on how they have moved the dial and transformed people’s lives. Value their actions in attitude, word and deed.

Recognition is an art and practice depending on behavioral skills and insights. It is about appreciating people for they are and recognizing them for what they do.

You are not recognizing a group of people – a generational group – when you acknowledge an individual.

My best recommendation for recognition and this subtopic is to be mindful of the generational differences but to be more mindful of the individual’s recognition preferences.

Question: How have you seen generational labels hinder or help with recognition giving?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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