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Generational Preferences of Employee Recognition

There’s no question about it: recognition in the workplace is changing. But with all of the recent studies published on the hows and whys dictating the employee experience, MTM decided to test it out. We polled our workforce, composed of four generations, to see if our data supported the industry-trends we see in the news every day. We categorized the questions and calculated the outcomes, finding some very intriguing results pertaining to generational preferences for employee recognition. 

The four generations represented in this data are: 

  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)
  • Generation X (born between 1965 and 1976)
  • Millennials (born between 1977 and 1996)
  • Generation Z (born 1997 and after) 

Sampling a large selection of employees from various generations, we asked a variety of questions regarding recognition preferences and engagement.

The conclusion supported the data we have been seeing all along: generational lines truly do affect recognition needs.

The Question: Who would you most like to receive recognition from?

Our data shows that all four generations most frequently prefer recognition from a direct supervisor or manager. This research supports just how important it is for employees to feel recognized by their manager, especially considering that recent research suggests that a bad manager or direct leader is the leading cause of involuntary turnover. While all generations show greater recognition preferences for Direct Supervisors/Leaders, Baby Boomers also prefer Senior Leadership recognition equally to Direct Supervisors/Leaders recognition. This indicates that maintaining involvement among higher-ups is vital for the employee experience among Baby Boomers.

The Question: How frequently do you prefer to be recognized?

The data here shows what we’ve known all along: recognition frequency should be increased in order to engage the youngest generations in the workplace. While Baby Boomers preferred less frequent recognition, each of the following generations preferred more frequent recognition. While approximately two-thirds of Millennials preferred the most frequent recognition option offered (multiple times a week), all levels of frequency were present in the answers, indicating that Millennials may be the most versatile in their recognition frequency preferences. Contrarily, 100% of our Gen Z participants preferred recognition at the highest level of frequency – multiple times a week.


The Question: What type of recognition is your favorite to receive?

The results of this question were fascinating, as the data contradicted what we frequently see in industry trends. Recent industry research indicates that Baby Boomers & Gen X tend to prefer more formal recognition, such as annual banquet events, while younger generations prefer more monetary/social recognition. The results of polling our own employees did not support this trend. MTM’s Baby Boomers most frequently preferred social/points recognition, while Gen Z-ers preferred annual banquet awards at the same rate as social/points recognition. This indicates that while social recognition continues to play a huge role in the employee experience, the importance of annual employee banquets and large organizational-honors cannot be discounted.


The Question: On a scale of 1-10, how engaged do you feel with your work?

While the levels of engagement across the board were high for all generations, it was an interesting result to see Gen Z take the lead in terms of engagement.  The data regarding millennials often being the least engaged employees in the workforce was supported in our research. 



Thanks to growing research on the trends in the employee recognition & engagement sector, there is much research showing how to increase engagement, decrease burnout, and contribute to a positive employee experience.  

Have a question or want to see some more details on the research we conducted? Feel free to drop us a comment or question!

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