From Boomers to GenZ, Which Incentives Work Best? A New Study Has the Answer

Travel rewards are preferred above time off and flex time by all age demographics

The workforce continues to evolve with many of today’s workers raised on digital and working in hybrid or fully remote environments. A new study by Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), Generational Expectations of Incentives, examines the changing priorities of this workforce and which types of incentives and rewards motivate early, mid, and late career employees. The study looks at what resonates with employees by career phase and income group, then discusses ways programs can change and expand to maximize effectiveness.

“To prepare for a rapidly changing workforce, organizations should examine their reward programs to ensure that they motivate the ‘younger’ workers who will soon form the majority,” said Stephanie Harris, IRF President. “Generational Expectations of Incentives explores ways that incentive and reward programs can be re-designed to maximize their appeal to young professionals, while remaining relevant to those in the mid and late stages of their careers, whose motivation remains vital.”

The IRF surveyed 939 North American workers representing a variety of industries and over 25 occupational categories such as administrative, professional, and blue collar. Ninety one percent of respondents have received at least one cash or non-cash tangible reward at work in their career, including cash bonuses, gift cards, merchandise, travel, and time off.

Generational Expectations of Incentives presents the similarities and differences in reward preference across the age and income groups. Key findings include:

Gift cards rule. Gift cards for fun and enjoyable purchases (hedonic) and gift cards for everyday purchases like groceries (utilitarian) were selected in the top three reward preferences across all career stages. Combined, they are more preferred than cash.

Travel is still popular. Where cash and gift cards are removed as reward options, travel rewards are the most preferred, even above time off and flexible work. This holds true across all age groups and income levels.

Older employees prefer driving to flying. Late stage career workers (51+) express a much stronger preference for drivable domestic reward travel locations over those requiring flights.

Younger employees value free time. Paid time off (PTO) as a reward is far more important to early stage workers than to mid and late career workers. The lower the employee’s income, the more likely they are to select PTO over cash.

Charity begins at home. Across all age groups, more than 90% of workers would take a $500 bonus over giving $750 to a charity in their name.

Generational Expectations of Incentives was supported by IRF Research Advocacy Partner, One10.

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