Younger workers really like recognition. Research tells us that workers born after 1989 are 73% more likely to want frequent recognition than those in the Generation X and Baby Boomer demographics. In fact, some Gen Xers and Boomers say they “never” want recognition! This gap in expectations sets up a potential disconnect between leaders and their employees as it relates to workplace recognition.
The same research cited above says that employees are four times as likely to be engaged at work if they strongly agree that they get the right amount of recognition for the work that they do. The leadership people equation take-away here is that people (of all ages) want meaningful recognition doled out in ways they prefer, in amounts they appreciate.
So let’s take a look at a few scenarios to see how these recognition gaps may play out and then consider how you as a leader can make use of this information.
GenX and Boomers Who Lead Younger Colleagues
Given that the majority of leadership ranks (especially at the senior-most level) are still assigned to the older demographics, this scenario is very likely. Not surprisingly, people who have a preference for less recognition also tend to dole out less recognition to those they lead. I’ve observed a fair amount of kvetching from seasoned leaders about how “younger colleagues these days want a gold star for everything.”
And you know what? It’s true. It’s a societal shift that like it or not, is here to stay. I don’t see a return to stoic, Greatest Generation attitudes anytime soon. So it may be best to see this as an opportunity to lead with what you’ve been given – which is to say, an energetic workforce that will be loyal if they feel they’re appreciated.
Millennials and Gen Zers Who Lead Older Colleagues
There are enough folks under 40 in leadership to encounter a reverse of this dynamic: leading a GenX or even a Baby Boomer. Consider this scenario: a young leader, who thrives on collaboration and frequent recognition, gives out praise frequently and generously to their entire team. This may take some older workers aback – and possibly cause them to doubt the sincerity of the praise. If this is the case in your workplace, younger workers shouldn’t take offense if they feel their older colleagues aren’t awash in the afterglow of a recognition session.
Recognition in the Workplace: Leadership Food for Thought
Take stock of your recognition practices. Think back to the way you give praise and recognition, both formally and informally. How did your team members react? If their reaction didn’t match up to your expectations, reflect on why that might be? Was there perhaps a gap as discussed above? Either too little recognition or too much, depending on your employees’ expectations.
Discuss recognition practices overtly. At your next one-to-one with your team members, ask them about recognition. Be warned: it will probably catch them off-guard, as few managers ever make this an “out loud” discussion. So warn them ahead of time that you’ll be bringing this topic to the table.
Consider the personality of your colleagues. In addition to the frequency of recognition, people also have preferences about the ways in which they receive praise, especially as it pertains to publicly or privately. Some folks love hoopla, others prefer a more low-key thanks.
Employees of differing generations may vary in the amount and type of recognition they receive. Leaders who know their employees well enough to tailor recognition practices to specific individual preferences will increase engagement. Use these ideas to help get you started and let me know in the comments how it works out for you.