Web Exclusive - July/August 2017

Millennial Motivation

Engagement Across the Generations

By Joe Bush


Maritz Motivation Solutions believes millennials are enough of a force in the workplace that it did a study on them. Actually, the study was its 2016 Customer Study, but within the general data was plenty on millennials, and the company did make an infographic about them. The set of people aged 18 to 33 have changed office culture and opened older eyes to new ways of thinking and working. Naturally, they have affected incentive programming as well.

Some quick millennial-loyalty-program-related facts as gathered by Maritz; these are important because their loyalty program behavior is a guide to incentive program behavior:

  • 42 percent of millennials strongly agree that loyalty programs are fun (compared to 30 percent of baby boomers)
  • 30 percent of millennials disengage from programs because they are boring and don't change over time.
  • 38 percent of millennials disengage because rewards take too long to earn or are too hard to earn.
  • Millennials are five times more likely than baby boomers to disengage within the first 30 days and two times more likely to disengage within the first 90 days.
  • 40 percent of millennials are more likely than baby boomers to spend points right away rather than save them.
  • 60 percent of millennials will mention their programs often to friends and family.

The most commonly cited traits of millennials are their desires for instant gratification, charitable work, and customized and memorable experiences. All of these are germane to incentive program communications, award choices, recognition and motivation.

Though millennials do have disruptive qualities in the workplace, incentive program managers shouldn't worry that they'll complicate matters, said Mary Luckey, reward strategy director for Maritz.

"The good news about millennials is that even though they're a new generation, they're still human beings," said Luckey. "And human beings respond to many of the same things regardless of their age or stage of life. Through our work with the Maritz Design Center of Excellence, we know that when designing programs, we always start with some very basic human principles—like the principle that people are both rational and emotional."

Luckey said that for years, economists believed that people made decisions based solely on what made the most sense and how they could benefit the most. In reality though, people make most of their decisions with emotion. A simple example is eating food you know is not healthy.

"So, when designing incentive and recognition programs, we're always looking for ways to include elements that tie into people's emotions, regardless of their generation," Luckey said.

And no matter the generation or age of the target audience, programs that have simple rule structures, are easy to understand, and employ ongoing communications and frequent personalized feedback have the best chance for success.

While people and basic program elements haven't changed, Luckey said, what is different are the techniques companies can use to ensure millennials are engaged in the program.

"I mentioned that progress feedback is important in a program, regardless of generation," Luckey said. "However, millennials tend to want feedback much more often than older generations. So, instead of providing monthly e-mail progress reports as you might have in the past, why not send millennials weekly text messages that tell them how they're doing and encourage them to keep up the good work?"

Because the lines between work and home are very blurred with millennials, Luckey said, another technique to consider is incorporating social elements into the program—an internal social network or existing networks such as Twitter or Instagram.

"Let them use the tools they're used to in the workplace and they'll feel more connected," said Luckey.

Millennials have a strong sense of purpose as it relates to the world and social calls, so when it comes to rewards, consider including charitable donations or ways for them to give back to others, Luckey said.

"Experiences are also important, but they don't need to be high-end experiences," she said. "Consider including certificate-based activities such as bike riding in downtown Chicago, Washington, D.C., or Seattle, or passes to museums or zoos."

Ira Ozer, president of Engagement Partners, said any changes made to incentive programs are not solely because of the millennials' character traits.

"In general, millennials are very much like the boomers, but at a different stage in their lives, in a corporate environment that is no longer patriarchal, in a world of increasing globalization and with social media as a primary communications and collaborative tool," Ozer said.

Ozer said older people have spent years accumulating things and are now in a mode to shed their possessions, so are less interested in being rewarded with more clutter. Millennials, though, are in their accumulation years and are in the process of creating homes, and decorating and outfitting them for their new families.

He cited research that says the traditional method of giving high-value awards to longer-tenured employees does not parallel the older employees' desire for fewer things.

"The new research indicates that older people do not value rewards as highly as younger people and that they are more motivated by appreciation," Ozer said. "So companies should consider flipping their service awards budgets to spend more on younger people and less on older ones."

Because of the shift from more formal and less frequent communications methods, such as printed employee newsletters, to less formal and more frequent methods, such as social media, companies should shift their recognition methods accordingly, Ozer said.

"We are doing this by creating mobile recognition apps, which empower employees to motivate others anytime and anyplace in real time, and by adding digital gift cards, which can similarly be redeemed in participating stores, at a moment's notice," he said.

Melissa Van Dyke, president of the Incentive Research Foundation, said like in many aspects of life, broad-brush painting of generations should be treated warily.

"While focusing on generations can be helpful, it is important to note the broad amount of diversity that exists within the millennial cohort," she said. "A millennial who has recently landed their first big job and has no children or significant other will be in a far different place, and therefore potentially have very different interests, than a millennial who has a partner, children, mortgage and well-established career path.

"We also found in the (2015) Landmark Participant Study that work locale—factory, retail, office—had a bigger influence on reward experience preferences than did generation. Therefore, it's important to consider the type of worker in the equation as well."