You don’t reward generations

Jim Valenti, Raul Garcia

When it comes to rewards, an individual’s life stage dictates what drives them.

Google “Millennial generation” and you’ll get over 28 million hits. Business began thinking about Millennials long before they first entered the workforce around 2000. And with good reason, they are the largest, most diverse, highest-educated and arguably the most connected generation America has ever produced. Their impact on every aspect of every business, whether as customers, partners, employees or suppliers, will be monumental. Leaders ignoring this generation do so at their own peril.

But when it comes to incentives, you don’t reward a generation. You recognize individuals.

Every incentive program needs the right awards to engage and inspire their target participants. But looking at any group only as a generation is far too broad and general to build a compelling award mix. Life stage is a much more accurate predictor of award preferences. Life stage looks at the different phases in life.

  • Single
  • Independent
  • Married
  • Parent of young children
  • Empty Nester

What recipients’ lives look like

People at the same life stage generally have far more in common with one another than those simply of the same age or whose incomes are similar. That makes life stage a more useful and relevant indicator of reward preferences.

Which of these people would you expect to be most similar?

  • A married 27-year-old with a toddler living in their own home in Omaha and working as a manager in a manufacturing company.
  • A single 26-year-old working for a Silicon Valley startup who lives in a rented apartment.
  • A 45-year-old middle manager who owns a home in Charlotte and lives with a spouse and two young teenagers.

Although they are separated by a nearly 20-year generational divide and half a continent, the parents with their own homes probably have much more in common with one another than either would have with the lifestyle of the single, Silicon Valley Millennial.

Life stages tend to outweigh generational difference when it comes to incentive awards.

Homeowners will choose grills, lawn furniture and housewares to make their abode more comfortable, appealing and easier to entertain guests.

Apartment dwellers with less space may opt for awards creating memorable experiences. Parents always relish giving gifts to their children and might be very driven by a bicycle or gaming system for their youngsters.

Singles may be looking to give one of their rewards as a gift as well, but are more likely to be searching for adult gifts like jewelry for a significant other or perhaps even their own parents.

Thoughts behind rewards

This isn’t to say generational differences are completely irrelevant. After all, people born and raised in a given time experience a unique set of social, economic and political events, which contribute to shaping their generational culture, attitudes and outlook. Millennials, for example, have been described as the first “digital natives.” While this may be important in understanding how best to communicate with them, it has less to do with the type of incentives that appeal to Millennials.

The three best pieces of advice we can offer for choosing awards for your next sales incentive program are:

Choose a broad selection of awards appealing to a variety of life stages.

Look for memorable rewards. Durable items like home furnishings are consistent, lasting reminders, while experiential rewards like concert tickets create long-term memories.

Make the participant feel special with an award delivery experience recognizing their efforts. Changing the packaging just a little, like using a white shipping box or colored tissue paper, can make the rewards feel more like a present and accentuate the reward delivery experience.

Learn more about engaging, inspiring and rewarding incentive program participants at

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