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by Alex Palmer | August 14, 2015
Much has been written on the differing motivations of various generations in the workplace. But the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) has delved deep into the question of how to incentivize workers of varying ages with an extensive new report titled "Generations in the Workforce & Marketplace: Preferences in Rewards, Recognition & Incentives."

The report draws on 72 sources, including books and articles, as well as extensive interviews with reward and recognition experts, to paint a clearer picture of the priorities and "motivational triggers" for each age bracket.

The first part of the report sets out to firmly define the various generations, pointing out, for example, that as of February 2015, there were about 55 million Millennials (16-34 years old), 53 million Gen Xers (35-50 years old), and 44 million Baby Boomers (51-70 years old) in the workforce. It explores how the youngest generation may bring enthusiasm to the job, but that they may also be quick to leave a position if they feel they are not being fairly compensated.

The second part of the report examines the concerns that are commonly shared across generations, and how that shapes incentive programs. It points to a PwC report that found all generations desire flexibility in their work arrangements at about equal levels. Research from the IBM Institute for Business Value also found the desire for supervisor attention is not a uniquely Millennial motivation.

However, the report identifies enough distinctions between each group to put forward a series of recommendations in rewards and recognition. For example, even as Boomers delay retirement further than in decades past, they desire travel, sabbaticals, and flexible work options to allow them to spend more time with their families. Members of Generation X are found to prefer recognition that is delivered "without fanfare" and prefer practical rewards over something like a plaque or trophy.

"Knowing how the workforce break downs by generations, combined with a good knowledge of the general differences between the generations, can make program designers more effective in creating incentive programs and in engaging employees and customers on a day-to-day basis," said Melissa Van Dyke, the IRF president, in a statement. "However, to make programs truly responsive, managers need to combine this information with what they know about the life stage of their employees."

The final part of the report lays out actionable steps that incentive planners can take to reach these respective audiences, in addition to offering an appendix of case studies.

The complete report can be found here