Feature Article - November/December 2020

A Closer Look

IMA Keeps Moving Forward

By Deborah L. Vence

The Latest Trends

In looking at the latest industry trends, Sadek said that on the merchandising side, there definitely is a trend toward "products that reflect the current work-and-stay-close-to-home environment," with some examples including home and garden items, health and wellness equipment, home office and family recreation.

"More incentive and recognition awards are being delivered directly to the employee versus handed out at the office," he said.

Connolly said that "Anecdotally, I think the industry initially witnessed some slowdown on new program launches in the spring of this year.

"Thankfully, those programs seem to have been re-engaged with later start dates. I think some organizations have ramped up the budgets for their employee engagement programs as they try to tackle remote workers and the changing environment," he said. "However, we have also heard of other organizations holding their budgets stable or even reducing them as they navigate the new normal. Our feeling is this will be re-instated as the dust settles and we become more comfortable with new ways of working."

Another trend has been "blending travel, merchandise and gift cards, especially as a proxy for group travel programs," said Jim Atten, vice president of business development, Wolff, LLC, and treasurer of the IMA. "Recipients of group travel rewards are being offered individual travel packages (for future use), bundled with a tangible merchandise reward and a gift card.

"With the increase in state-mandated 'stay-at-home' orders, and the workforce's move to remote offices, we are seeing higher demand for 'stay-at-home' centered rewards—things that help manage life at home and pass the time," he said. "In merchandise, it is things like toys, puzzles, games and office equipment. In gift cards, it is streaming services, online gaming, at-home food prep, food delivery."

Atten said that "While there have been disruptions in incentive travel, we have seen little disruption in the supply chains for incentive merchandise and gift cards." And, "Spot recognition programs are growing in importance and popularity to ensure remote employees stay engaged and motivated."

On the topic of travel, Alderman said that "Since the coronavirus pandemic there has been a shift in group travel to individual travel and from exotic destinations to travel close to home.

"How people travel has also changed, with less opting for flights and more traveling via car or even RV," she said. "Choices in locations and accommodations have also shifted with consumer[s] staying out of the cities and navigating more toward open land, mountains and beaches. Vacation home rentals have increased in demand, as well as more boutique-style hotels and resorts with plenty of open space for social distancing."

In response to the latest trends, Martocci said that "The 800-pound gorilla in the room is: What changes can we expect as corporations move to managing their workforce and building a healthy and productive culture remotely? The role incentives can play will prove crucial to creating that new broader environment successfully.

"Historically," he said, "incentives are valuable during both vibrant and struggling economies for both employees and customers. The emphasis and nature of the incentive can change, but the ability to persuade and coax change remains," he said. "As companies find that production is as good or even better from their remote workers, they will not necessarily be rushing to assemble in an office environment until a vaccine or other major suppressant of COVID-19 spread is readily available and accepted.

"But the culture typically created by everyone gathering can affect teamwork and other workplace components. That creates a major opportunity for an incentive program to provide inclusion toward a goal," he added. "The need to engage employees will be important to maintain that productivity and sense of belonging to the group as this way of working switches from a happenstance to a new norm."