Are Millennials from Mars and Gen X from Venus? Surprisingly, when it comes to workplace motivation, both generations share more in common than managers may realize. Both Millennials and Gen X struggle with workplace engagement and both could benefit from customized incentives to improve motivation.

As an executive recruiter, I work with clients and candidates alike who cite a lack of engagement as a primary workplace problem. Companies want to make smart hires who will be ready to hit the ground running from day one. Candidates want to work for companies where they will feel motivated to do their very best work. Despite these best intentions, however, only one-third of employees describe themselves as “engaged” in the workplace, reports Gallup. While myriad factors impact workplace engagement, a lack of motivation is a key problem– and generational divides may be to blame.

Millennials versus Gen X: Workplace Motivation

At first glance, these generations are certainly different.

Gen X is juggling child rearing and mortgages while Millennials are dealing with roommates and student loans. Gen X grew up as “latchkey kids”. They watched their parents dedicate long hours to companies that offered little loyalty back, and consequently place a major priority on work-life balance. They’re entrepreneurial and independent and thrive when given autonomy.

Millennials are a bit different: they’ve earned a reputation as “trophy kids” for being lavished with praise and “participation awards”. They’re collaborative multitaskers who seek out positive reinforcement and team building opportunities.

Understanding these differing perspectives is essential to creating a cohesive professional environment and motivating both generations to succeed.

3 Tips for Motivating Gen X & Millennials

1. Understand communication preferences.
While Gen X and Millennials have both spent much of their life surrounded by technology, their communication preferences are still different. Millennials are accustomed to instant communication. They prefer messaging via Google hangouts and messaging apps or even hopping on a video conference call rather than responding to email. They like clear, frequent feedback on progress. In contrast, Gen X is more likely to use email for communication and may even find direct messaging to be intrusive as it interrupts workflow. They strongly dislike being micromanaged and prefer the freedom to solve problems on their own.

2. Customize incentives.
Don’t assume that financial incentives are the best motivators for both Gen X and Millennials. With mortgages, children, and retirement plans, Gen X certainly feels the financial pressure and will respond positively to financial performance incentives, like bonuses and profit sharing. Millennials, however, are more focused on quality of life: flextime, telecommuting, and even more paid vacation time can be a huge bonus. In fact, 33 percent of Millennials will place mobile flexibility over salary when considering a job offer, reports Inc. It’s not all about the money for Gen X either. This generation is also craving workplace flexibility in order to spend more time with children and family members. Keep in mind that flextime and telecommuting can be major motivators for both generations.

3. Motivate with mentoring.
For Millennials just starting their career, being mentored by someone who is only a decade older can be more beneficial than someone who is 20 or 30 years older, reports Harvard Business Review. Why? With less of a gap, both parties will speak the same language and have more common cultural touchstones. Pair your Gen X leaders with new Millennial hires. As Millennials encounter issues in the workplace, Gen X can readily reflect back on their experiences and offer guidance. Be careful not to micro-manage these mentorships: provide a general structure and then let the mentor/mentee build a relationship that best suits their needs. As an added benefit, mentoring helps both parties be more invested in your company’s long-term success. They’ll see a pathway forward for career growth rather than a temporary stopover en route to their next job.


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