How to Motivate Millenials at Work

Topic(s): diversity, motivation
Publication: Journal of Management 
Article: Generational differences in work values: Leisure and extrinsic values increasing, social and intrinsic values decreasing
Authors: J.M. Twenge, S.M. Campbell, B.J. Hoffman, C.E. Lance
Reviewed by: Lauren Wood

The U.S. workforce is primarily comprised of three generations of workers – Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964), GenX (1965-1981), and Millenials (1982-1999). Although empirical research examining differences in generational work values is scarce, understanding differences between these three groups is important for organizations attempting to recruit and manage the youngest generation in the workforce – Millenials.


The current study assessed generational differences in work values that motivate employees to perform on the job, such as leisure, social interactions, intrinsic rewards, extrinsic rewards, and altruism. The results reveal that organizations may need to implement different strategies in order to successfully motivate Millenial employees. For example, compared to Baby Boomers and GenX, Millenial workers are more likely to value leisure activities (time off, work-life balance, flextime) and less likely to value social interactions (work friendships, team work). When examining workplace rewards, Millenials seem to be more motivated by extrinsic rewards (tangible rewards) than by intrinsic rewards (intangible rewards). No generational differences appeared for altruistic values (helping people or bettering society).


Taken together, the results show that different generations are motivated by different work values. Therefore, organizational strategies used in the past to recruit and manage Baby Boomers and GenX employees may not be as effective for Millenial employees. What can organizations do to successfully recruit and manage Millenial employees? One way is to reward employees extrinsically (e.g., bonuses, raises, prestigious positions or project assignments) instead of intrinsically (e.g., employee development, learning opportunities, interesting assignments). Additionally, providing employees with more leisure time (e.g., work-life balance programs, telecommuting options, compressed work week schedules) may help increase motivation as well as decrease burnout.


Twenge, J. M., Campbell, S. M., Hoffman, B. J., Lance, C. E. (2010). Generational differences in work values: Leisure and extrinsic values increasing, social and intrinsic values decreasing. Journal of Management, 36, 1117-1142.