The Employee Engagement Network

Millennials Desire Self Esteem Boosters over Sex, Do they want Recognition?

Here is a blog posting that I wrote today for my organization's blog, but I'd be interested to hear what other people interested in Employee Recognition thought.


The New York Times recently reported that college students are “Choosing Self-Esteem Over Sex or Pizza” and even an extra paycheck.

The research was conducted by Ohio State University researchers and recently published in the Journal of Personality.

In the study the subjects were asked on a scale of 1 to 5 to identify if they would prefer to eat their favorite food, engage their favorite sexual activity, or experience their favorite self esteem builder, such as getting a good grade or receiving a compliment.

The questionnaire had two parts.  The first part listed how much they liked each of the activities and the second part asked how much they wanted each activity.  It wasn’t surprising that all of the activities were liked, but wanting to receive a compliment or good grade was the most wanted desire.

The researchers conclude that we may have created a generation of potential narcissists that may have strong inclinations towards addictions.  From the comments on the New York Times article, many find the researcher’s conclusions to be unnecessarily alarming and inconclusive.  It may be that I’m an optimist but I believe the study is encouraging because the students are less driven by money, gluttony or hedonistic pleasure.

I asked the lead researcher Dr. Brad Bushman:

“Could the same data support a conclusion that college aged students are wanting what they lack? And instead of narcissism, because they picked the non monetary, non hedonistic, non gluttonous option [that] they are more ambitious and because they are young they require more feedback and recognition that they are performing at a high standard and making a significant contribution?”

Dr. Bushman responded, “I don’t think so. We controlled for this in Study 2.  Also, self-esteem scores are increasing over time.”

The lasting impact positively or negatively on society is for others much more qualified to answer.  What I am most interested in,  is how this will impact the workforce.  Some have suggested that by the year 2014, the Millennials will make up 50% of the workforce.

I believe the study suggests that you could build an organizational culture of “Thank You” and recognition that is not directly tied to prizes and money.

How will your organizations recruit, train, manage, develop and motivate workers that seek praise, recognition and visibility?  Will your current benefits and compensation structures, performance appraisals and rewards and recognition programs need to be redesigned?

What are your thoughts?

Tags: employee, engagement, esteem, generation, millennials, recognition, self, y

Views: 63

Replies to This Discussion

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This reminds me of the Mary Kay Ash quote from years gone by, "There are two things people want more than sex and money...recognition and praise".  The findings of this study are nothing new in the make up of a Human Being.  I believe that we've been wired by our Creator to crave the attention and affirmations of others, and belong to a greater community.  When recognition and praise are out of balance or absent, it becomes very evident.  In my opinion, the current culture in the US has become extremely self-consumed.  This independence and/or isolation, depending on how you want to look at it, does come with consequences when it opposes our natural design.  Perhaps what we see in this younger generation of "Millennials" is a mere reflection of all of us at that age, when we we were more in tune with the unedited state of being Human.  I realize that there are a number of other factors that affect this study, but I wanted my comment to focus on the 'human design' element.  Does anyone else have other perspectives to share?  There are some parallels from the most recent Forum for Workplace Recognition and the presentation titled Human Sigma.

Very good points you make!  Yes, Mary Kay Ash built a huge, successful organization around praise and adoration for her successful sales reps. And, I agree with the culture being self-consumed! Do the Millennial managers gie the recognition they so frequently desire?

I think this also has to do something with the kind of the cultural impact that society has on individuals. More competitive societies  rate academic excellence as one of the most important pareameters of success. Academic excellence thus creates lots of pressure on the individuals. It enhances self-esteem in such societies. On the contrary, the societies that promote "Don't care" attitude experience high college drop-outs and lower grades. I would like to see if someone has already done the survey on how the culture or society impacts our "desire for recognition/appreciation".




This research is really nothing new.  There have been multiple studies conducted on the same topic.  About three years ago, I sat with the OC Tanner company, Carrot Principle, and we discussed the research they had gathered on this topic.

In there research, it was suggested that employees need to be recognized at least once every seven days in order for them to stay engaged.  If you go back to the early days when Hawthorne conducted his research into job satisfaction and its relationship to productivity.  If you study the Hawthorne Effect and Maslow, I believe we'll see that all roads lead to the importance of thank you, and the importance of maintaining one's self-esteem.

This is a challenge (and reminder) for leaders and managers to be more engaged themselves.  I feel recognition is under-utlized in most organizations I've seen and should be given more regularly on an informal basis. I discussed this in my newsletter this month - and may be of interest. Just a little "thank you for a job well done" goes a long way and helps their self-esteem.

Here’s the link:

Of course, this does not replace the formal recognition and performance management programs.


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