Experiences. That’s what I’ve been looking for in my life. New experiences: at work, at home, on vacation, in relationships. Not only I, but many others of Generation Y. Nonetheless, organizations still keep offering employee incentives.

Experiencing is being alive. It’s doing something that makes you grow. Something that creates change. Impact. Certainly it’s not working overtime and getting rich. Of course this may be a natural consequence, but it certainly is not the focus.

Experience is not a benefit package. It’s not meal tickets, transportation vouchers, unlimited vacation or videogames in the office. Neither colored cushions.

If the new generations are looking for experience, what should the incentive be? More experiences or more rewards?

Realize that experience is usually something abundant and intrinsic – that is, I experience things while I work – not something scarce and extrinsic, like the money I get after doing the work. Therefore, if we work for experience, we don’t need an experience incentive, because we already have it.

Wanting experience doesn’t mean that you will work for free. We need money to live and want to be well paid. Yet companies insist in considering money (for themselves and for individuals) the ultimate goal. They don’t listen to what science is saying about human motivation.

This idea that humans are primarily motivated by extrinsic incentives is rooted in a deeper problem.

Employee incentives and the focus on the future

In the 21st century, organizations and individuals suffer from a terrible evil. It’s called lack of presence. Rather than living each moment fully, individuals are trapped in distant possibilities about what might happen in the future.

After I pass the entrance exam, my life will be different. After I finish college, I will not have any more problems.

It’s always after. I suffer from it, too. It’s deeply rooted inside us.

Organizations also fall into this trap, creating detailed plans, trying to predict the future. Strategic planning, risk management, budget plan, career plan, business plan and … targets. Several artifacts designed to predict what might happen.

Employee incentives fall into the same category. You get an incentive after you do something. Connecting your results with rewards only increases anxiety and makes you live in the future, dreaming about the promotion or the bonus that you could get.

And when you do that, the value of real experiences fades away. You get so attached to this future vision that you forget to live what really counts. The here and now.

Is visualizing the future important? Of course it is. But you don’t need employee incentives to push people towards it. Unless this future is something that only matters to a few. In that case, you can keep the targets. But know that your organization is in serious danger of extinction, because many don’t want to work for others anymore. They want to work for an experience.