Recognizing Millennials at Work – Where Not Everyone Gets a Trophy

April 2, 2014

employee recognition and rewarding employees when they are Millennials

The number one driver of employee engagement is recognition, especially recognizing millennials, according to Kevin Sheridan’s Building a Magnetic Culture.

Now, recognition goes a lot further than the employee of the month star on the bulletin board.  For millennials, recognition is especially important.  We are a high-achieving generation, and we grew up being recognized with trophies and ribbons just for our participation.  In addition, we had parents, mentors, teachers, and coaches who told us we were special – often.

Due to this upbringing, showing appreciation and recognizing millennials and employees in the workplace is a key element of our engagement and satisfaction as an employee.  In fact, a Workforce Mood Tracker survey found, 69 percent of employees would work harder if they were better recognized!

There are a few things to keep in mind as a manager when recognizing your millennial employees:

1. Recognize and appreciate early and often.

Managers frequently complain that their millennial employees always ask for promotions.  One reason is that a promotion is a sign of recognition and a job well done.  If you’re recognizing your millennial employees often, then you may find they’re not as adamant about getting a promotion or a raise.

That being said, you don’t want to go months without recognizing great performance.  When your employee is doing an especially good job, pull her in a one-on-one to tell her just that.  Ken Blanchard says, “Catch someone doing something right.”  Almost 100 percent of the time, when you catch someone doing something wrong, you say something.  How often do you comment when you see someone doing something right?  10 percent? 5 percent?  Try to catch someone doing something right today, and tell them right then and there.  Millennials especially appreciate this instant and frequent feedback.  Some ideas include:

  • Instead of giving a quarterly or annual award, offer a monthly incentive or recognition tactic
  • Share a personal, targeted, and sincere acknowledgement of a star employee at your next client or team meeting
  • Once a month, handwrite an ABCD card in which you describe how an employee went above the call of duty

2. Customize your recognition to the individual.

Just because you would love to be recognized at the all-company meeting, doesn’t mean your employee does. Perhaps a more targeted gesture at a team meeting would be more his style.  The important thing to note is that not all individuals are motivated by the same things.  Get to know your employees, and ask them how they like to be recognized.  Do they prefer private praise or public praise?  What are their interests, hobbies, or passions?  Once you know what motivates and encourages your employees, you can tailor and customize a meaningful gesture and make a big impact with your recognition.  Ideas include:

  • Tell your employee what an excellent job he did on the project and CC your boss
  • Give a yoga class gift certificate to the employee who worked long hours on a project
  • Have your employee’s favorite cup of coffee waiting for her when she arrives at the office

Devora Zack on the Best Way to Motivate Others

3. Be creative when you don’t have a big budget.

It can be difficult to recognize your employee when you can’t give a promotion or a raise.  Fortunately, there are a host of things you can do to keep a millennial engaged and feeling appreciated without dishing out big bucks.  You can recognize and reward your employees through praise, flexibility, visibility, responsibility, and autonomy.  If you can’t give dollars, can you give visibility to senior leaders or responsibility over a new project?  Can you delegate a task that your employee would be excited and passionate about?  Who can you tell to make your employee feel proud, valued, and appreciated?

  • Arrange for lunch or coffee with a senior leader for your top-notch employee
  • Give a stretch project that challenges, pushes, and rewards your star employee
  • Offer to swap a task with a direct report for one week to show appreciation for a job well done

Have fun thinking through creative ideas and add some personality.  One of my favorite Zig Ziglar quotes is, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Customize your appreciation, be creative, and recognize early and often to keep your millennials engaged and going above and beyond in their work.

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Like this post? You might be interested in seeing other posts by Courtney Templin.

Courtney Templin is the coauthor of Manager 3.0.

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About The Author

COURTNEY TEMPLIN is the Chief Operating Officer at JB Training Solutions, and a Millennial herself. She sits on the board of the Chicago Society for Human Resource Management, where she leads the Emerging Leaders Initiative. - See more at:


  1. avatar

    This is a joke, right??

  2. avatar

    Courtney, I think this statement in your article speaks volumes. “We are a high-achieving generation, and we grew up being recognized with trophies and ribbons just for our participation.”

    Millennials are anything but a high achieving generation for this exact reason. They expect recognition for mediocrity, rather then striving for excellence. I can’t speak for any industry where the millennials are professionals, but in the retail industry, work ethic went out the door years ago.

  3. avatar

    I think these comments apply to everyone, don’t they?

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