By Vicki Wrona, PMP:

There are many things that motivate. To a point, pay is a motivator. However, that is not the only motivator, and often not the greatest one. What other things are motivating? Well, there are several. Let’s explore them.

For many years, pay and status were the main motivators used to encourage a workforce. For many baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), this is the measurement stick they use to gauge their success and accomplishments. Hard work and sacrificing family time meant earning the corner office and the right position. But toward the end of the boomer generation and as Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979) entered the workforce, you started to hear people talk about work-life balance and balancing family needs with those of the organization. Previously, this was not discussed or pursued, at least publicly. However, the next generation questioned this obedience and put a much higher value on balancing the needs of the organization with those of the family. This started a change and success included balance.

As more Gen Xers entered the workforce and as Gen Y (born between 1980 and 1997) now enter the workforce, they have continued this trend by taking for granted the need for work-life balance and adding other dimensions to it. For them, they are motivated by learning, growth, development and by having some autonomy and flexibility at work. They want to be able to choose how they work, and often when. Often, younger workers in IT will show up to work later in the day but work long into the night. If they need some time off in the afternoon to go to their child’s event, they are motivated when they are able to take a few hours in the afternoon to attend the event and then go back and finish the day’s work.

They also want a sense of contributing to a greater good. Rather than just contribute to the organization’s profit margin, they want to improve society or the world. For these people, knowing that a portion of all sales or profits are going to charity can be motivating.

Another motivator is to allow those who grew up with video games, often called gamers, to be a chance to be a hero, just as they are in their video games. Give them a problem and let them find the solution. Gamers believe there is a solution, it just has to be found. To do that, they are willing to take more risks and to try multiple approaches. (see Failure – A Stigma or a Chance to Try Again?)

Yes, these are generalities, and you and I know people who fall in one category but act according to another. Even if you don’t believe the different labels by age, you have to admit that there are different ways of looking at work and of being motivated by it.

When it comes to motivation, the short answer is to tailor your motivation to the person. Accept that there are different preferences, whether it is driven by generational differences or personal preferences. You don’t want to give chocolate to a diabetic or publicly embarrass the very shy exceptional team member. Blanket gifts or awards designed to motivate may actually demotivate when done insensitively. On the other hand, giving a little thought to the award, such as providing a gift certificate for a family portrait to someone who is a family person or a spa treatment to an overworked, over-stressed employee, can go a long way. And remember that not all motivation needs to cost money, as earlier examples showed. Job assignments and inclusion also work.

What have you done to motivate different valued team members?

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