The project team had gone the limit, putting in several all-nighters and weekends to meet a demanding deadline. Management, in turn, put a lot of thought into choosing their way of expressing appreciation: an alarm clock with a big, gold company logo, and a $100-a-plate dinner at one of the city’s fanciest hotels.
They were therefore puzzled by the response of team members. Instead of responding with
gratitude, most of the people looked, well, disappointed. “It’s enough that I gave them my soul for the past four weeks, I don’t want to have to go to bed and wake up with them,” commented one 27-year-old team member. Another person enjoyed the dinner and the company of his co-workers, but said, “My idea of fun is not putting on a suit and eating in the kind of restaurants my parents go to.”
Across the street, a similar organization called together their staff to celebrate the outstanding quarterly results they had just posted. The CEO said, “I wanted to thank you for your superhuman efforts. I’m not going to take up much of your time. I just wanted you to know that you are each going to get a [check] equal to 5% of your salary. And you can choose an additional reward from a menu that includes extra vacation time, club memberships, or tuition for a course or conference.” People walked out with huge smiles on their faces.
These examples illustrate some of the ways in which rewards can go awry from intention to reception-and some of the ways in which rewards can delight individuals when they are customized to individual needs and preferences.
I am often asked, “How do you motivate the new worker?” But there is really no such thing as a single type of clearly definable new worker. Today’s workers do have certain shared experiences, attitudes, and beliefs, including an awareness that in an uncertain work world it is up to them to plan and manage their careers and keep their skills portfolio updated. But they also bring to the table a complex constellation of psychological motivators.
People are different, in other words-and this is hardly news. Still, the range of motivators driving today’s new workers is broader than ever. And people have become much more assertive in expressing their individual preferences.
Understanding your own motivational profile can help you identify what is most important to you in a work setting. For managers and organizations, understanding the profile of staff members can help in designing effective rewards and systems to attract and retain the best talent.
I have grouped what motivates the new worker into six idealized profiles. While each profile has its own defining characteristics, individuals may share characteristics from more than one.
INDEPENDENT THINKERS OR ENTREPRENEURS
Personal mantra: “I need to be free to choose and be in charge of what I do, for whom and when.”
The breakdown: These independent problem-solvers want to own or build their own work, whether working inside an organization on a project or in their own independent business. They are