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Motivating + Rewarding a Younger Workforce

Brave new world.

By Grail Noble

The fastest growing and most confounding demographic in the modern workforce is Generation Y, also known as Millennials. These are people born between 1980 and 2000, so basically anyone 32 or younger. Many planners think that this young group is not the demographic that most often makes up the lucky recipients of incentive trips. But this is just not true. Some of the top performers in Fortune 500 companies are Gen Y’s. In fact, some of the most powerful companies in the modern economy have been run by CEOs who are under 40. It is not just about how many Gen Y’s are in a workplace that matters, but how this influential group affects their older colleagues. Their influence has been prolific on all age groups, but many companies are still running “old school” incentive programs, without taking this shift into account.

❑ Make it Meaningful
Millennials have a more global, charitable outlook than their older counterparts. They are far more motivated by giving back, and feeling good about what they are doing, than just monetary rewards or five-star experiences. Golfing in Texas may not have the same resonance as building a school in Jamaica or saving turtles in Costa Rica. Your organization must show support for their values to attract, motivate and retain these workers.

❑ Don’t Forget it’s a Reward
You still need to balance the feel-good component with the treat of a luxury reward. A common mistake companies make is to replace incentive trips with voluntourism. You need to find a balance between the two. Your younger workforce still appreciates a luxurious, fun experience.

❑ Their Tastes are More Refined Than You’d Think
They are savvy shoppers and travellers. So even though you have built time on the agenda to do something for the local community, you must balance that with an experience they couldn’t just buy for themselves through an all-inclusive vacation package. Give them something to talk about and share with their networks. They are foodies and love good wine, too! They know where the hotspots are everywhere they go, so you need to include these experiences in your programs if you are to truly reward them.

❑ Deliver on Sense of Place
Gen Y’s are well travelled and knowledgeable about the places they visit, thanks to the vast quantity of information available to them on the Internet. So if you are taking them to Hawaii, for example, don’t believe for a minute that hosting a luau is providing them with enough of a sense of place and local culture. If you bring in a spiritual Kumu teacher and talk about what they are doing to protect their dying aboriginal language, you will get attendees’ interest. Anything inauthentic does not work for Millennials and will evoke the word “lame” (insert eye roll here).

❑ Keep Them Connected
Also known as “digital natives,” people born in the age of the Internet don’t know a time when they weren’t connected. Being offline is not relaxing for them the way it might be for older workers. The number one question we get asked on programs is whether or not there will be WiFi access and what the cellular roaming rates are. The question is not motivated by whether they can get online to work (which is how older generations think of connectivity). Instead, it is motivated by their need to be socially connected. They need to be able to share their experiences on social media instantly and frequently. The upside is that this is widening the circle of influence and amplifying your ROI. When a friend comments on one of your attendee’s status updates sent directly from a program to say, “I can’t believe your company is with you there, doing that. You have the best job ever,” it reinforces their loyalty to that employer.

❑ Understand that They’re The New Influencers
When you develop customized experiences that truly resonate with a younger workforce, the surprising result is that oftentimes those programs resonate just as well with older attendees, too. Gen Y are the new influencers. Captivate them and the rest will follow.

-Grail Noble is the CEO of Yellow House Events and has been named by PROFIT magazine as the “The Gen Y Whisperer.” Follow her on Twitter
@grailnoble or @yellowhouseTO or go to

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