How Different Generations Want To Be Recognized at Work

If you’re a leader in today’s workforce, you’ve probably experienced firsthand the distinct set of values that each generation brings to the workplace. While younger generations are known for prioritizing the holistic employee experience, older generations are more focused on traditional motivators like a high paycheck and prestigious title. In many ways, the different generations that make up the modern workforce vary dramatically from one another — but not always.

One preference that does transcend age is a desire for recognition. Many multigenerational workforces have found significant success using employee recognition programs, like Nectar, to uplift company culture in a way that resonates with employees of all ages. That said, a recent survey by WorldAtWork found that only 17% of employers considered themselves as having a “deeply-embedded recognition program.”

Why is it so effective? Praise is a fundamental human desire. It’s wired into our basic psychology to feel good when we are recognized, and employee recognition programs capitalize on this to boost morale and bring colleagues closer together.

Unifying as it may be, there’s still not a one-size fits all recognition program that magically transforms your workforce. Although people of all ages are generally on board with the concept of recognition, different generations vary when it comes to how they want to be recognized, and what they want to be rewarded with.

Leaders committed to making the workplace an inclusive environment for members of all generations must design a recognition program that’s truly meaningful to employees of all backgrounds. Understanding the generational traits and preferences shared in the following article can help.

How Each Generation Wants To Be Recognized at Work

Before we dive any deeper, it’s important to note that this article is based on generalizations. When you design your company’s rewards and recognition program, broad trends can help you shape a program that will appeal to the majority of your workforce. When you put the program in practice, it’s important to remember that you’re interacting with individual employees who bring with them a unique set of preferences, values, tastes, and expectations. Don’t expect to know everything about how an employee wants to be recognized just because you know what generation they belong to.

With that in mind, let’s review the typical preferences of each generation when it comes to being recognized at work.

Generation Z

Generation Z is the youngest generation included in the modern workforce. Its oldest members are only just beginning their careers, with the vast majority still in school. Nonetheless, some trends have already begun to emerge that define the generation. Here are a few things leaders should keep in mind:

How To Recognize Generation Z

As Generation Z enters the workforce, they bring with them an expectation for regular recognition — not because they’re entitled, but because it’s what they’re used to. Raised in a world where likes and comments come moments after sharing new content, it’s no wonder this generation expects near-continuous feedback. Therefore our most important tip for recognizing Generation Z at work is simply to do it, and do it often.

How To Reward Generation Z

When it comes to rewards, Generation Z is a lot more practical than one might expect for a cohort so young. Although there is still much to understand about this generation, so far they’re known for prioritizing facts and showcasing a very practical mindset. This pragmatic worldview has lent them a strong moral compass, so Generation Z is likely to appreciate rewards that drive progress towards important social causes (think donations, time off to volunteer, etc.)


As emerging adults, millennials developed a somewhat negative reputation. Labeled the Me, Me, Me generation by Time Magazine, this group has been blamed with ruining everything from the American housing market to dinner dates to napkins. In truth, they just ascribe to a different set of values than their predecessors and it took a while for that to be understood. Luckily, that’s changing.

When it comes to recognizing millennials in the workforce, here are a few things to know.

How To Recognize Millennials

Similar to Generation Z, the world as millennials know it is steeped in technology. This means they can seamlessly integrate new softwares and platforms into their digital ecosystem. Don’t hesitate to rely on an online platform to recognize members of this generation.

In terms of frequency, millennials are also similar to Generation Z in that they are accustomed to getting feedback fairly frequently as a result of continuous updates from peers via social media. Without feedback, this sensitive generation may tend towards the assumption that they’re doing something wrong, so don’t neglect to recognize them.

How To Reward Millennials

Millennials are all about experiences and finding a sense of meaning in life. Experiential rewards might look like concert tickets or travel perks. Rewards that help them feel connected to a larger purpose might mean cashing in points as a donation to a charity of their choosing. One great idea that combines both is rewarding millennial employees with a day of VTO (volunteer time off) — this speaks both to their preference for experiential rewards, and their desire to give back to the world at large.

Generation X

Sometimes referred to as the forgotten generation, Generation X has been plastered with less stereotypes and overall garnered less attention than the generations that surround them. That’s not to say they don’t come with their fair share of unique traits and preferences though.

When you’re recognizing and rewarding members of Generation X, try to be aware of the following defining characteristics:

How To Recognize Generation X

Like everyone else, Generation X loves receiving recognition — but they’re distinct from other generations in that they generally prefer to be recognized in private, or in the company of a small group. One theme that runs consistent throughout Generation X is a desire for autonomy and independence, so their aversion to group fanfare is somewhat unsurprising. You should check in with all employees to make sure that they’re comfortable receiving recognition publicly, but be especially mindful to do so when working with Generation X.

How To Reward Generation X

Generation X is all about work-life balance — in fact, they’ve been credited before with pioneering the concept. When rewarding Generation X, leaders should look for ways to give them back some personal time. That might mean an extra day off or options for a flexible schedule. Generation X also loves rewards that improve their quality of life outside the office, like travel perks or a meal delivery service. The better this generation is doing outside of work, the better they’ll perform at work too.

Baby Boomers

Unsurprisingly, Baby Boomers are the most traditional of the generations included in the modern workforce. Sometimes, their preferences are directly at odds with the generations that followed them. Without the proper understanding this can lead to friction as baby boomers see the workplace evolving away from their familiar values and ideals.

By keeping the following recommendations in mind, you can make sure you’re recognizing baby boomers in a way that they want to be recognized.

How To Recognize Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers spent the early days of their careers using technology quite different from today’s. Recognition delivered digitally is still meaningful to them, but in order to make it maximally meaningful you should incorporate at least some in-person elements, especially for more momentous occasions. That can be as simple as toasting the employee over lunch, or as elaborate as an in-person awards ceremony.

How To Reward Baby Boomers

Baby boomers tend to gravitate more towards traditional workplace rewards — things like promotions, a cushy corner office, or even a simple plaque commemorating their accomplishments. As they near retirement, they’re also increasingly interested in health and wellness related perks to help them feel continually supported in taking care of themselves.

Streamlining Your Program

Keeping all of these recommendations in mind might seem overwhelming — and rightfully so. With four different generations working side by side, the modern workforce has more age diversity than it ever has. That trend will only persist, as lifespans extend and retirement happens later and later.

The best thing you can do is select a recognition program with plenty of room for customization, so that you can configure it to truly cater to the preferences, needs, and values of every member of your workforce. From custom recognition occasions to a catalogue of redeemable prizes, there are all kinds of opportunities to customize your company’s rewards and recognition program in a thoughtful way that truly makes it inclusive for everyone.

With these tips in mind, you should be well equipped to develop a recognition program that truly uplifts and unites your multigenerational workforce. As the world moves towards more and more age diversity, having this kind of strategy in place will be critical to supporting long-term success for your employees and your company.

About the Author

Katerina Mery is a marketing specialist at Fond, a rewards and recognition company dedicated to building places where employees love to work. She authors articles about how to leverage recognition programs to drive company success. Learn more at