Departments - March/April 2016

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Get Your Motivation Up to Date
Latest Trends Include Experiential Rewards, Return to Luxury

By Deborah L. Vence


Top motivation trends were released in February by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), which showed that experiential rewards and a return to luxury are two key issues that are expected to have an impact on investment in human capital.

The report—titled the 2016 Trends in Incentive Travel, Rewards and Recognition—also showed that businesses will put emphasis on unique, upscale and individualized experiences in motivation programs this year.

"This study reinforces that we live in a time of extraordinary personalization," IRF President Melissa Van Dyke stated in a press release. "Every business needs to keep up with a fast pace and deliver on its brand promise if it wants to retain the best people—and keep them happy, productive and motivated."

The IRF report revealed 10 key motivation trends. Highlights of those findings include the following:

  • Budgets are up and so is oversight. The latest Pulse Study by the IRF had found that 67 percent of planners will increase incentive travel budgets between 1 percent and 10 percent this year. To boot, merchandise and gift card programs also are flourishing, with 40 percent of respondents saying that the economy is having a positive impact. As budgets rise, though, there is increased scrutiny of incentive programs, resulting in an on-going demand for better analytics.
  • Cash is not necessarily king. When given the choice between cash and a robust reward that aligns with their personal experiential preferences, employees indicated that they often don't choose cash, especially for large awards. The IRF's Participant Study found that the most preferred award experience for large awards is travel, presented by executives and communicated via a public announcement, including the opportunity for networking.
  • A shift in incentive travel destinations will affect planning. For the first time, the Caribbean tied with the United States as the leading incentive travel destination. That means that lead times to book the most desirable destinations is becoming a critical factor. While 41 percent of respondents stated that they are booking seven to 12 months out, a slightly higher percentage (45 percent) indicated that they are booking more than a year out. Stronger confidence in the economy and a rising demand for higher grade hotels with little new supply means that lead times will continue to grow and a supplier's market take hold.
  • Merchandise and gift card programs lean toward luxury. Merchandise and gift card reward trends from the IRF's most recent Pulse Study revealed increasing confidence in the economy and a return to luxury items. Top merchandise options include: electronics (31 percent); open-loop gift cards (28 percent); luggage (24 percent); and watches (23 percent).
  • Recipients want authentic, unique experiences. Millennials are redefining what "luxury" means and seeking "authenticity, singularity and social value." Incentive travel planners are responding with one-of-a-kind events, incorporating elements, such as locally authentic cuisine as a reflection of culture, and entertainment that reflects the feel of the destination.
  • A changing talent pool. As baby boomers reach retirement age, gen X isn't large enough to replace them, and millennials lack experience. Training, retention and rewards strategies need to focus on keeping the know-how of older workers in the organization and "training up" millennials so they are ready for the challenges presented.
  • Integrating technology. Emerging technologies are being integrated into recognition and incentive programs to keep pace with the technologies that participants adopt in their private lives. The IRF Pulse Study showed that more than half of the market is using social media to enhance their rewards programs, and nearly a third are using game mechanics and techniques.
  • CSR is a given, not a goal. Employees increasingly expect best-in-class organizations to be good corporate citizens. Incentive and recognition program planners are integrating corporate social responsibility (CSR) opportunities in the form of culture-building volunteer days or incentive travel team-building events. Millennials are demanding "social impact travel" where fun and sun meets the ability to have a social impact.
  • It's all about presentation. While the tangible reward still is an important part of creating a motivational experience, the IRF's Participant Study found that—for large awards—more than half of an employee's preferred experience is determined by the award presentation and professional development. Businesses need to invest as much time and effort in the total award experience as they do the actual reward purchase itself.
  • Success is in the details. Generational differences don't play as big of a role in successful rewards programs as other key factors. The weight employees give to the presenter of the award, how it is communicated and professional development implications generally are the same regardless of a person's income, role, gender or generation. However, employees' work locale has a major impact on their motivational preferences, as do life stage, past work experiences and current work environment.