I bet you do.  Most compensation and reward models in corporations are traditional in nature and focus on providing  external and monetary rewards – merit increases or bonuses.  Over time,  many companies have realized that small tokens of appreciation are also important so they have extended the external rewards to such things as gift cards or “a night on the town” or IPods.  

What if I told you that your youngest employees are not as motivated by financial rewards as previous generations?  I know it’s hard to imagine since that has been the traditional way employees have been rewarded for decades.  Remember that Millennials have not been raised or experienced a very traditional way of life as defined by Baby Boomers or even Xers to a less extent.  So it shouldn’t surprise us that in the workplace they are not going to gravitate to the traditional rewards we’ve all been comfortable with for so long.

You know what they value as recognition of work well done?  Among the few that I’ve witnessed, the ability to collaborate with others either in or outside their team is high on the list.  Millennials value learning and making contributions to the team as early as possible.  This is the generation that sees learning as a lifelong experience that certainly does not end or slow down in the workplace.  Quite the opposite.  That is how they will ensure they can move across teams and industries in their careers.

Because we are so used to rewarding excellence with financial resources we are not always aware of the physical signs that tell us that perhaps another format would be preferable.  Years ago I was excited to reward a Millennial for the excellent work he had done on a project.   I was even proud of the fact that I was not rewarding  him with money but rather with the latest IPOD.  I was convinced he was going to love the gesture.

When I thanked him for his hard work and presented the IPOD, he smiled and thanked me for the recognition.  Now this was a person that I had come to know and I knew him to be expressive with feelings. So I was expecting him to give me a fist pump or high five or thumbs up or some physical expression of happiness. No. Just a smile and a “hey, thanks”. 

The old, traditional me would have been a little disappointed with his reaction but would not have said anything or given it another thought.  Instead, the new, more enlightened me knew something was wrong.  So I asked him point blank why he wasn’t jumping up and down.   The great thing about Millennials is they will tell you and by the way, they appreciate your asking.  He told me that the IPOD was great but he already had one!  Duh!

What he really wanted, though, was to work with his peer in another team on a new project.  All he was asking was to be given the flexibility in his schedule, as his work permitted, to work with his coworker to learn and contribute where he could.   After clearing it with my peer in the other team, I gave him the good news that in recognition for his hard work, he could collaborate as needed with that team.  Not only did I get an unexpected hug but I saw a young man whose face lit up with happiness.

No monetary reward, no IPOD, no new fangled this or that.  Just motivation through collaboration.  Do you think he learned and contributed to the project?  You bet.  Do you think our team got value and recognition out of that act of collaboration?  Absolutely.

By observing and understanding the nuances that make Millennials unfamiliar to us, I was able to break with the old fashioned ways of rewarding and accept and utilize new, unfamiliar methods that are meaningful to them.

Let go of the old, bring in the new…