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Keep these points in mind when recognizing millennials in the workplace

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A recent study conducted by York College of Pennsylvania's Center for Professional Excellence highlighted some alarming trends in recent college graduate readiness to enter today's workforce.

Of the more than 400 hiring professionals who participated in the study, more than half indicated an increase in the number of new employees who enter the workforce with an unearned sense of entitlement. Nearly as many reported that more than 50 percent of their new hires lacked professionalism in their everyday behavior. More than 44 percent of survey respondents reported a worsening work ethic among recent graduates, and nearly 38 percent reported an increase in the number of unfocused employees.

Numerous other studies, dating as far back as early 2010, warn that members of the next generation of workers, commonly referred to as "millennials," are dramatically different from their predecessors.

According to these sources, millennials demand instant gratification, place personal pursuits above work obligations, remain connected to distracting online activities 24/7/365 and don't take well to even the most positively presented constructive criticism, much less any workplace disciplinary actions. They don't buy into corporate financial goals, market positions or growth strategies — they buy into societal goals, environmental practices, cultures and public missions.

Much has been written about how to manage this new generation of workers between the ages of 18 and 35, which will constitute more than 35 percent of the workforce by the end of 2013 and more than 50 percent of all workers by the end of the decade. Most articles deal with how to align corporate recognition and reward programs with millennial expectations as a way to bolster their performance, encourage positive employee behaviors and reduce turnover within this often fickle, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately generation of workers.

According to current research and emerging best practices, managers should keep a few important points in mind when creating recognition programs for millennial members of their workforce.

Millennials expect immediate recognition

Emerging from an era of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, text messages and other forms of sending and receiving immediate "status" updates, millennials require immediate recognition for their accomplishments. Long gone are the days of annual employee evaluations, quarterly bonuses, Employee-of-the-Month awards or a round of applause at the biweekly sales team meeting.

Managers need to be vigilant in their efforts to identify positive millennial behavior and consistent in their immediate recognition practices. They need the flexibility to provide recognition items quickly, without multiple layers of approvals or waiting for human resource departmental approval.

Millennials value 'post-ready' recognition

The new generation of workers appreciates "post-ready" recognition that they can link their friends to, push to their Twitter followers or have their associates "like" on Facebook. Sharing their achievements and successes via the company newsletter, an inter-office memo or a staff pizza party is one thing — but posting them to the company website, the organization's Facebook profile or their supervisor's LinkedIn profile gives millennials something they can brag about in media that their friends and family can access. As an ancillary benefit, it can drive potential new hires or customers to those sites as well.

Millennials want customized rewards

Logo gear, a generic gift card, a typed company check and the corporate-paid team luncheon don't cut it with millennial employees. They want rewards customized to their lifestyle, their hobbies, their passions and their personalities.

Fortunately, they provide their managers with an abundance of clues regarding the kinds of rewards that they'll value. They join groups on LinkedIn to indicate their hobbies and pastimes. They "like" their favorite charities, sports teams or merchandisers on Facebook. They may even adorn their workspace with photos, trinkets or decorations that suggest what they value in life — such as their pet, their kid's soccer team or their garden. Employers need to access these avenues of expression to identify potential rewards that their millennials will value, and they need to think outside the box when buying recognition items.

It's not all about them

While millennials' sense of entitlement may lead many managers to believe that they are a self-focused bunch, when it comes to recognition, it's often not all about them. Studies show that they value forms of recognition that acknowledge their achievements but bestow benefits onto others.

Donations to charities, authorized time off to work on a community project, sponsorship of a church mission to a distressed community or country, the distribution of small flags at the local veterans' hospital, all done in the name of a high-performing employee, may generate more goodwill, loyalty and performance improvement than an equally costly item delivered directly to them. This, of course, depends upon the individual employee's preferences and value system, but it should be considered when recognition events are being discussed among managers.

While managing millennial employees and implementing generation-appropriate recognition systems may seem like a daunting task to many managers, several off-the-shelf systems, primarily software-driven, provide the structure and customization needed for companies of all sizes to create an effective recognition program.

Most of these systems are scalable to fit a company's unique recognition program budget, recognition frequency preferences, reporting structure and other factors. More advanced systems link directly to employee Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, scan the Internet for employee preferences, proactively send recognition reminders to supervisory staff and can even suggest recognition items appropriate for individual team members. Many are priced on a pay-per-use or pay-per-employee basis, allowing smaller companies to implement high-quality recognition systems at a very affordable cost.

Today's managers, with the help of advanced systems, can enhance millennial employee motivation, productivity and loyalty by aligning their company's recognition strategies with the needs, preferences and values of today's new professionals. They can also maintain those high levels of performance, and keep turnover to a minimum, at a cost that is practical for the company and, ultimately, provides a net positive return on the investment.

Eric Joseph Esoda is the executive director/CEO of NEPIRC, a private not-for-profit corporation that provides consultative services designed to increase the profitability and long-term competitiveness of manufacturing companies throughout northeastern Pennsylvania.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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