10 Proven Ways to Engage and Recognize Millennials in the Workplace


Millennials —  a.k.a the “Me, Me, Me Generation”, individuals born between 19802000 (approx.) —  have often been described as being a bunch of lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents. In fact, Time Magazine actually, ran a cover story in 2013 stating as much. Really.


Millennials have also been described as “Trophy Kids”. This term defines individuals coddled by their parents, reared on false or undeserved praised for their mere participation in activities, who now feel entitled to receive unjustified rewards.

Despite being narcissistic, lazy and all, millennials still do want to leave their mum’s basement to, you know, start a life and stuff.

Given that millennials will represent up to 75% of the global workforce by 2025, it’s time to discuss the reality of millennials in the workplace. So, what do millennials really expect from their work? How can companies properly engage and recognize them?

Let’s debunk some myths, shall we?

Millennials in the Workplace: the truth behind the myth

While many researchers have attempted to prove how millennials have different working attitudes than any other generation that’s preceded them, most of them have failed. One research actually suggests that the only significant difference is to be found between Millennials and Baby Boomers (defined by the generation born between the 1940 and 1965 approx.) in how they interpret workplace ethics.

What’s more, recent studies show that millennials quit their jobs for the same reasons that any other generation before them have: that is to say, for more money, a better working environment, more job flexibility, and a strong respect for work-life balance.

However, millennials grew up during a massive technological shift. Born with the internet, raised on Ipads and iPhones… All these experiences have shaped the way they live and perceive the world around them, including work.

So when it comes to employee engagement, millennials tend to expect their companies to offer them incentives that are relevant to their sensibilities and their use of technology. The problem is that, according to Aon Hewitt and O.C. Tanner, 38% of millennials polled would like to see their company recognition program improved.

10 proven ways to engage and recognize millennials in the workplace

1 – Use tech-savvy incentives and rewards programs

A recent Colloquy survey of 1,000 loyalty-program members found that 18% of millennials stopped participating in a program because it lacked a smartphone app, compared with 13% of the general population. The same goes for employee engagement and recognition programs. Millennials want to be able to use tools they find useful to perform their work and access their work anytime from the comfort of their smartphone.

2 – Use gamification

That might feed the “Trophy Kids” rumour, but millennials understand the fulfilment that a good game provides. This generation grew up with Xboxes and PlayStations, mobile gaming and wearable activity trackers. 

The lesson to be learned here is if you’re working, you might as well make it fun! Colloquy found that of the millennials surveyed, introducing a competitive gaming element in a company loyalty or recognition program was welcomed and well-received. In fact, 27% of millennials actually participated in their company’s recognition program because it featured a game-like, or social component, such as badges, leaderboards, points attribution or a company newsfeed, while only 7% of baby boomers said the same.

3 – Offer exclusive and personalized rewards

Millennials like their loyalty and rewards program to make them special offers personalized to their needs and tastes. According to that Colloquy survey, 40% of millennials say they joined a loyalty program because it offered them member-only discounts and pricing.

4 – Humanize your recognition efforts

As much as young people love their technology, working millennials tend to also value personal, human connections and meaningful gestures. According to a 2016 Aon Hewitt and O.C. Tanner survey, organizations with effective programs for Millennials offer three key rewards types: handwritten notes, experiential rewards, like event tickets, and “thank yous” from peers, managers, or other leaders.

5 – Spontaneous celebrations

Companies typically celebrate employee milestones. However, a recent study showed that 51% of employees say that receiving a milestone award had no impact on how they perceived their job or the company as a whole. Perhaps it’s because those celebrations are conventional and sometimes lack the feeling of novelty that unpredictability provides. So build delight into your recognition program by way of spontaneity.

6 – Recognize outstanding achievement

87% of recognition programs at work focus on tenure, while millennials like to be recognized for their exceptional respect for time and punctuality. Indeed, 85 % of them primarily want to be rewarded for exceeding personal performance levels, according to the 2015 Blackhawk Engagement Solutions’ Employee Research. What’s more, they also want their stellar performance record to be considered as a basis for promotion.

7 –  Reward them with training and career  development

Growth opportunities are essential to millennial workers. In fact, according to Docebo, 35% of them believe that excellent training and development programs is what makes an attractive employer.

8 – Flexible  work schedule

While the old 9-5 work schedule has proven itself over the years, it can now be a little outdated and stifling to young workers.  Studies show that millennial workers would rather manage their own time. In fact, according to a recent research on the Cost of Millennial Retention, 45% of millennials choose flexibility over higher pay.  So if you’re looking to better engage with millennials, it’s important to consider remote work options.

9  – Give back to your community

Social responsibility is an important factor that millennials consider when they start working for a company. In fact, according to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, 87% of millennials have participated in a company service day. What’s more, a whopping majority of millennials (94%!) want to use their professional skills to benefit a cause. So, if you want to engage and retain millennials, why not give them one, or several paid charity days a year?

10 –  Freebies

Employee perks don’t have to always come in the form of tangible gifts. Experiential rewards and incentives are just as valuable. Increasingly, companies are now opting to offer their employees free Netflix or Spotify subscriptions, pet insurance, fitness classes, corporate library access and more.