Departments - May/June 2014

>> the insider

Top Motivation
Study Reveals Key Factors for Motivation Programs

By Deborah L. Vence

Employee talent, social media and a recovering economy are top factors influencing how businesses are expected to approach motivation programs in 2014.

This, according to the Incentive Research Foundation's 2014 Trends in Rewards and Recognition Study that outlines research findings on 10 key trends as well as other 2014 indicators released earlier this year.

"The nature of the 'engagement' conversation is ever-changing. With more than half of businesses measuring engagement, but less than a quarter actually employing a strategy, the conversation is moving to the critical question of 'Engaged in what?' Reward and recognition programs do not answer the question, 'Are you engaged?' They answer the more complex question, 'Engaged in what?'" said Melissa Van Dyke, president of the IRF.

Some specific trends that came out of the study include:

Talent Wars and Leadership Squeeze: Companies are "ignoring the jobless as potential candidates and instead targeting their competitors' key employees." The study indicated that "this makes it more important than ever to recognize and reward top performers and bind them to your company over the long term. Likewise, a shrinking leadership pipeline has left organizations struggling to develop organizational leadership capacity. In response, many firms are using existing rewards and recognition platforms to align workforce skills and link behavior to the firm's broader business mission, as well as turning to incentive travel to bring top performers together to learn from one another and help solve key business issues."

The study also revealed that even though the ranks of people out of work are high, companies actually have shown selectivity by targeting the best employees of their competitors. This development places new emphasis on positive retention outcomes that are associated with employee recognition and incentive travel programs, and should give providers and planners additional rationale for their financial business cases justifying the investment in such initiatives.

'Holistic' Motivation Is Hot: The study also revealed that the integration of social media into rewards and recognition programs has become one of the most prevalent developments in recent years—with more than one-third of program owners incorporating gaming techniques or virtual elements. "Corporate social responsibility also continues to be a hot topic for planners, with nearly half integrating it into their programs. Likewise, just over 60 percent of program owners say they're either reviewing making wellness part of their programs, or have already implemented a series of changes to integrate it."

With regard to the addition of social media into the mix, Van Dyke explained that the downturn in the economy and concurrent climb out of the recession has made reward and recognition planners very savvy. "Optimizing relatively free, or readily available, tools such as social media in order to expand the communications footprint of a program was one of the ways that planners were able to contribute positively to the participant experience during this downturn," she said. "Even though planners now may have a bit more budget available to them, they still continue to look at the entire 'participant experience' and find similar ways to apply such concepts in ways that are lower cost, but still impact the total experience overall."

Expanding Budgets Improve Programs: The recovering economy is having a positive impact on motivation programs, with close to 40 percent of incentive travel program owners and 42 percent of merchandise and gift card programs increasing their budgets this year. Moreover, program owners are more likely now to say the economy is having a positive impact than they were two years ago, according to the report.

To boot, the study also indicated that more than 56 percent of respondents in the IRF's Pulse Study (Fall 2013) indicated that financial conditions were having either a moderate or significantly positive impact on their ability to plan and implement merchandise incentive programs.

"The recession made planners very savvy and forced them to look at the whole 'engagement' experience in new ways. Now that budgets are starting to come back again, it is no surprise that we see 'adding experiential items' as one of the main changes happening to programs at this time," Van Dyke said.

Meanwhile, two other trends discussed in the study include:

  • Connecting People to Profits: Businesses that have invested in building what some are calling a "culture of appreciation" now are looking for employee engagement to translate into more immediate, recognizable and revenue-related results. This represents a key opportunity for providers of non-cash award and incentive travel programs who can connect programs to the direct outcomes of sales, retention, productivity and customer satisfaction, according to the study.
  • Big Data: The opportunity to collect and analyze massive amounts of data produced daily is being seen as the next big opportunity for businesses of all sizes. Human resource departments and providers of rewards and recognition programs that "can capture, translate and integrate this data to more effectively support the company's desired outcomes will be better able to position themselves to outperform the competition."

For more information on the study and the IRF, go to