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Motivation for Every Generation

Have you ever wondered what in the world some people are thinking? While you're likely to have some idea where your family and friends are coming from, it's trickier when it comes to your co-workers.

While the guy in the cubicle next to yours might seem like he's from another planet, he might just be from a different generation. This issue is especially complex when it comes to motivation. How do you spark enthusiasm in someone 20 years younger or older? And what was your boss thinking with that last award?

The generation gap can, to some extent, explain the rift in preferences. For the most part, experts agree there are four relevant generations: Traditionalists (born in 1945 or before), Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1981), and Millennials (born 1982-2000).

Today, the workforce is composed primarily of Boomers and Generation Xers, and these generations each have a unique set of influencers. For example, Boomers grew up in a strong economy largely comprised of traditional families. They were influenced by Vietnam, the human rights movement and Watergate.

Later in history, the term "latchkey kids" was coined to describe legions of Gen Xers. They were the first to embrace MTV and PCs, and were influenced by divorce, missing kids and AIDS.

These influencers, and many others, have shaped the generations. Boomers, for example, are thought to be more idealistic and competitive; Gen Xers tend to be more entrepreneurial, skeptical and eclectic.

So how does all this impact motivation? Your efforts will be more effective if you appeal to the likes/dislikes and personality traits of each generation.

In general, think symbolically when recognizing Boomers. They value the title and a prestigious office. Create ceremony and publicity when recognizing, and give traditional gifts like leisure travel and quality watches.

Generation X values recognition over rewards, and appreciates timely feedback. Be supportive of training and career development and allow for creativity and autonomy. Give them independence, flexibility and incentives with choice, like gift certificates.

And just so you're ready for the influx of the more than 76 million Millennials into the workforce: they're more group oriented and idealistic, valuing challenging, meaningful work in a fun environment. Free time is a great reward.