Do we really need an adaptable reward and recognition system? (Part 2)

In my previous post, “Do we really need an adaptable reward and recognition system? (Part 1)?“, we explored the differences in motivation and the form factors of the rewards between the five generations in the workplace today. Now, I want to dive even deeper. I want to explore how those motivations and form factors play out in the current debate about going back to the office versus working remotely.

As I mentioned before, the Millennials and Gen Z view they are recognized if you give them time. So more time equals more recognition. PTO, flex time, autonomy are their choice of currency. So, as expected, when the bosses demand their workers to go back to the office, Gen Z in the US is resigning in masses. But are Gen Z-ers quitting in droves just a fight about remote work

Adam Grant, a Wharton Professor, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The Great Resignation is not a mad dash away from the office; it’s the culmination of a long march toward freedom. More than a decade ago, psychologists documented a generational shift in the centrality of work in our lives. Millennials were more interested in jobs that provided leisure time and vacation time than Gen Xers and baby boomers. They were less concerned about net worth than net freedom.”

According to another article in the New York Times, “the desires of younger workers were slowly shifting office policies toward offering a more nuanced balance between personal satisfaction and professional advancement. That’s how Millennials and Gen-Zers are playing the game. It’s not about jumping up titles, but moving into better work environments. They’re like silent fighters, rewriting policy under the nose of the Boomers.”

At the more recent end of the generational spectrum, we have Gen Z, who lives in relative peace. Gen Z talks about their contributions and the impact of their work, and cares more about their experiences. The generations in between (Gen X and Gen Y) are the gradations. The closer to Gen Z, the more the folks lean towards impact, contributions and experiences. E.g. Millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z view they are recognised if you give them time. So more time equals more recognition. PTO, flextime, and autonomy are their choice of currency.

So, the pandemic didn’t spark workers’ hunger for greater flexibility and meaning. It just poured gasoline on a trend that had been slowly kindling for years. It doesn’t look like this Great Resignation is a short-term phenomenon brought on by extreme circumstances. Instead, it seems to be a more lasting shift in attitudes toward work. Employees’ determination to find a better accommodation between their personal values and their professional lives doesn’t seem to die down anytime soon.

From another study, Gen Y & Z prefer going back to the office more than Gen X and Baby Boomers. This may be surprising until we dig a little deeper. The homes of the younger workers may not be equipped for proper home-working set-ups, so they may well feel that the office is a better place for them to be productive.

Along with logistics, getting face-to-face with colleagues plays a major part in where people want to work. In my previous post, “Watch out for inequality and bias to remote workers in the hybrid office”, I’ve already discussed that those who want to climb the ladder could feel compelled to spend more time in the office, so they’re visible to the powers that be. Even if workers are highly productive at home, they risk no one noticing that output. Employees who spend more time working remotely could feel that they might become undervalued, even dismissed, if they continue spending less time in the office.

So, this debate of going back to the office versus remote work versus hybrid model exposes what has been going on. It’s not about the stated policy. The underlying reward system is going to guide what people do. So, be creative! It’s time we put our heads together to figure out how to make the reward and recognition system adaptable and put together policies that support such an agile reward and recognition system.

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