How to Build Effective Incentive Programs That Motivate Millennial Employees

Hiring fresh, young talent means hiring millennials. There are more than 80 million of them, and, according to the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, they are not only the largest generation in history, but also the most widely studied — and the studies are often unkind.

They were overprotected by helicopter parents and, as a result, they are lazy, selfish, disconnected, narcissistic and — as a bonus for employers — notorious job-hoppers who are unreliable and hard to manage.

The reality, however, is that they are a loose collection of tens of millions of individual human beings who can only truly be categorized on the flimsiest criteria — much of which turns out to be positive under a more thorough examination. They are without question the most diverse generation in history as well as the most tech savvy (if not tech dependent).

Either way, for business owners and hiring managers, millennials can simply not be ignored.

Want to become a better manager to your millennial employees? Read the Epic Guide To Managing Millennials In The Workplace—it’s a free ebook packed full of actionable tips, tools, and processes on how to effectively motivate, retain, praise, discipline, and understand employees that fall under the generational umbrella known as millennials.

Managing Millennials Book Cover

Instead of trying to avoid an inescapable wave, establish incentive programs that are attractive to millennials. Lure and keep the best and brightest young people by establishing programs and policies that are attractive to the generation that will soon be dominating the workforce.

Look Past the Nine-to-Five Workday

Finding a work-life balance has always been difficult for Americans who were shackled to a rigid schedule. In many industries, however, technology is rendering the traditional nine-to-five irrelevant.

Everyone values flexibility in scheduling and the establishment of a work-life balance — but millennials are demanding it. Like all those who came before, the new generation understands that work is necessary — but millennials also understand that rigidity in scheduling is not.

Technology now enables our jobs to follow us home. Four out of five employees check their work email outside of work. We are constantly connected to our jobs and the people we work for and work with. Even those who aren’t “on call” have their jobs in their periphery during much of their free time.

Millennials want this perpetual connection to work to be tempered with the tradeoff of flexibility at work. Don’t ask me to check my email at 7pm if you’re going to insist I come in at nine and leave at five. The nine-to-five framework was developed before the Internet — a world millennials never knew or don’t care to remember.

Lure and keep the best young workers with the flexible scheduling incentives they crave in two ways: flextime and telecommuting.


Columbia University describes flextime as “a scheduling arrangement that permits variations in an employee’s starting and departure times, but does not change the total number of hours worked in a week.”

Unless you run a newspaper or a factory or some entity that genuinely requires everyone to be there at the same time, let the morning people come in in the morning, and let the late risers work in the evening. Some employees like to exercise in the morning. Others have to pick their little brothers or sisters up at school on Wednesdays. Others still are in a soccer league that holds practice at noon. Flextime is the embodiment of work-life balance. Everyone has their own priorities, which are none of your business or yours to assign value to. Workers who are at work because they have to be — as opposed to when they want to be — are always looking for something better.

As long as they get the work done, let them get it done when it’s good for them. Employees that don’t wish they were somewhere else are happier, more focused and more loyal.


Studies show that telecommuting is good for both the employee and the business. Like flextime, telecommuting reduces turnover, increases productivity and improves morale. It’s also cost effective (an employee who isn’t there isn’t consuming electricity, water, etc.) and it improves your company’s standing as a green business, which millennials love. Between programs such as Skype, collaboration software such as Podio and the proliferation of reliable, high-speed, high-bandwidth Internet, telecommuting can be reliable and inexpensive. When you can, let employees work from home once or twice a week, spare them their commute and keep them coming back.

Baby Steps: Invent “In-Between” Titles

There is no doubt that the Internet has developed a culture that craves instant satisfaction and has a limited attention span. Millennials don’t want to work hard every day just to hope that a promotion or some other recognition will come a few years down the line. Help millennials satisfy their craving for career progression by establishing “in-between” titles and positions that come before promotions — or even raises. Let impatient millennials hopscotch their way to promotions through advancements that come with extra responsibility.

Focus on Community Service

A philanthropy publication reveals that 73 percent of millennials did some kind of volunteer work in 2012. Nearly 83 percent donated money. One trait often overlooked by the litany of studies about the selfishness of the millennial generation is that they are — in overwhelming numbers — fiercely committed to community service, social justice, equality and outreach. If your business commits time, money or other resources to community service, stress that in your help wanted ad. Consider setting aside resources for employees to use toward community service or counting volunteer hours toward the accruement of vacation days or time off. Millenials want to work for companies that are actively engaged in healing the ills of their community and the world.

When people brag about having an awesome job, they’re usually not talking about salary. Benefits like health insurance are always in high demand, but “perks” that improve overall quality of life are more rare and often more coveted. Millennials want these perks, and when they get them, they will work hard to keep them.

Contrary to popular opinion, millennials are interested more about their communities and social justice than they are about themselves. They look at traditional scheduling (and the companies that insist on it) as antiquated and archaic. They want to work hard, but they expect recognition for their hard work. They’re less paranoid about their money, and more focused on enjoying their day-to-day routine. They are diverse, educated and tech savvy — and there are too many of them to ignore. Get the best millennials and keep them by instituting programs that benefit them, as well as your company.

About The Author: Marcela De Vivo is the CEO of Gryffin Media, an online marketing company that specializes in SEO, Social Media, Analytics and much more!

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