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The multi-generational workforce — what a happy mash-up of perspectives, priorities and native talents, ‘thinking independently together’, spawning strong teams and creating resilient organisations. On a good day.


This ideal model of strength in diversity can be a potent force for competitive advantage, but bringing it to life takes some careful nurturing.

Harder than it looks

Segmentation of any sort comes with the inherent risk of simultaneously oversimplifying similarities and over-emphasising differences among people. At a superficial level, Generational theory has a paint-by-numbers simplicity that makes it easy to understand and apply in any number of business contexts. But sometimes a little too easy, and that’s the danger.

Born in 1952? You’re a Boomer: Idealistic, optimistic, status-driven, self-consumed, workaholic and bottom-line focused. Gotcha! Queue left.

Born in 2000? You’re a Millennial:  Confident, borderline arrogant, tech savvy, global citizen and ethical consumer. Check! Queue right.

Those tidy categories may be borne out by research, but remember that there are individuals behind the statistics. Real life is not quite so neatly demarcated and any useful application of Generational theory requires more refined interpretation.

Mind the dazzle

Life would be simple—and awfully boring— if people were so one-dimensional, but it’s difficult to resist the ease of identifying superficial differences while ignoring the hard work of finding similarities among people. British anthropologist Robin Fox calls this ‘ethnographic dazzle’ and it’s easy to trigger the trap.

Rewarding in real life

Generational segmentation offers just one perspective on the unique requirements and expectations of a diverse workforce. When it comes to rewards, consider cross-over factors like life stage, cultural traditions, religion and education, to name but a few of the real-life nuances that may skew any established generational formula.

So with those caveats in mind, here’s a high-level guide to rewards across four generations.

Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964), also known as the ‘me generation’, are all about prestige, luxury and conspicuous consumption. Rewards: Super high-end merchandise, luxury travel, extraordinary experiences and splashy presentation.

Generation X (born 1965 – 1980), characterised by fierce independence, are all about work-life balance, entrepreneurial pursuits, freedom, choices and immediate gratification. Rewards: Gift cards, shopping cards, vouchers (unlimited choice) or any digital reward (instant gratification) would suit.

Generation Y (born 1981 – 1994), known as ‘Millennials’, are the world’s largest living adult generation and dominate the current workforce. Digital, passionate, confident, arrogant and socially conscious. Rewards: Anything digital and preferably tagged to a social responsibility or environmental cause.

Generation Z (born after 1995), are future focused, digital natives and born gamers. Living with purpose, personal growth and creating a better world are high priorities. Rewards: Digital, of course, and experiences with purpose.

Rewarding with personal choice

Where are you in the generational line-up? Gen X? Millennial? Somewhere on the cusp? You see – generational profiles are a guideline, not a formula. When you’re thinking about how to reward across 4 generations, consider age group, sure, but also life stage, lifestyle, culture, income and other nuances that reflect more on human similarities than generational differences. Be expansive, be creative and mix the reward up with lots of personal choice.


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