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The incentive Research foundation recently conducted and released their IRF 2022 Trends Report, and although companies are still navigating workforce challenges including continued uncertainty, some results may not be as surprising as you think. Incentive professionals will have to be adaptable and flexible in order to motivate an ever changing workforce, while also taking into consideration changing organisational goals.

The Remote and Hybrid working models are here to stay, with that being said, companies along with incentive professionals need to be creative as well as innovative in their approach when constructing an incentive solution. A survey conducted by Mercer found that 83% of employers will continue to provide flexibility post pandemic, and given the importance of retention, recruitment and engagement, incentives programmes will be more important than ever.

Although there is still uncertainty within the industry, some industry professionals are hopeful as they are expected to see an increase in budgets. “According to the IRFs industry outlook study 2022, in both North America & Europe, 78% participants expect to see strong financial performance within their business during 2022 and overall incentive budgets are expected to increase by 34% in 2022, with the per-person spend increasing to $806 from $764 the prior year. However with the optimism, comes a slight bout of pessimism as there was a large increase in cancellations in merchandise and gift card programmes in 2021.” 

Here are some of the Reward & Recognition Incentive trends to look out for in 2022:

Companies will be focusing on expanding reach and building company culture – While companies are focusing on retaining and hiring talent during “The Great Resignation”, Incentive Programmes are expanding their reach to motivate the maximum number of employees and partners. Programmes need to be designed with the aim of making participants feel more connected to their company, with an emphasis on post pandemic company goals.

In order to further expand reach and motivate employees at all levels, incentive programmes should look to include a combination of rewards that include travel, points, and merchandise. According to the IRF’s 2021 study The Psychology of Points, points reward programs can reach the majority of the workforce, making them very effective at motivating performance across larger groups. A point’s redemption programme also builds up the anticipation amongst participants as they plan which prize they will redeem, this motivates them to be further engaged with the programme and adds a level of excitement once the points are finally redeemed for the reward of their choice.

Incentive Travel will remain a priority – Incentive Travel will remain a top motivator despite the uncertainty it has faced over the last 2 years. The excitement that a Travel Reward yields during the qualifying period as well as the team and relationship building that happens during the event are some of the benefits of implementing an Incentive Travel programme. These benefits assist in shifting the behaviours and culture of performance amongst employees in a positive direction.

That why in 2022, organisations and participants are willing to navigate uncertainty, travel restrictions and shifting protocols for an incentive trip. “The IRF’s June 2021 study reported group incentive travel awards are considered ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ motivating by 80% of survey respondents.”

Motivating a Remote Workforce: With majority of people still working remotely, an incentive programme that focuses on fostering an environment of connectedness and inclusion is important. Incentive programmes would need to be constantly reviewed and revamped in order to meet changing working conditions and evolving company goals. According to the report “platform technology is key to providing a consistent participant experience” this should to be coupled with engaging marketing material & communications in order to keep programmes top-of-mind.

“Adding a personal touch in meaningful way when presentencing rewards to programme participants that celebrate the recipient is important as it would motivate and inspire fellow participants to achieve.” With so many changes to the workforce, incentive programmes should be designed with the intention to encourage desired behaviours and with a constantly changing workforce, incentive programs are more important than ever to help recruit and retain employees.

Providing New Dimensions of Personalization: there will be an increased need for customizing the incentive experience in 2022. The trend report mentions that “Individual preferences and comfort levels will need to be addressed for the remote workforce, employees returning to the office, and incentive trip winners who may have not travelled for many months.  Participants experience greater personalization based on their individual preferences in day-to-day shopping experiences, and they expect the same from their incentive programmes. This permeates into all solutions and capabilities, including points programs, travel, events, recognition, rule structures, and communications.”

Personalization will be infused into Incentive Travel programmes, Incentive Gifts & Events & Experiences through Itineraries, gifting experiences, free time off, Wellbeing coupons for in-person or remote workers. Curated reward selections, & Incentives Programme experiences will continue to deliver maximum impact. 

Workforce, Inventory, & Supply Chain Disruptions:

During the pandemic, incentive programmes were impacted by factors such as compression of hotel inventory, availability of merchandise, price increases, and a reduced workforce. With this reduced availability of resources, incentive programme owners are focused on setting expectations for programme participants and company leadership.

Supply chain disruptions and longer delivery times are impacting merchandise and event gifting programmes and the inventory programme owners need may not be available when they want it. Communication with vendors, suppliers, and partners is critical to knowing merchandise availability and realistic delivery times.

The labour shortage is impacting the full incentive travel experience, this includes the availability of flights, fleets, restaurants, local activities, and housekeeping. Reductions in labour have resulted in inconsistent service  not typical of an Incentive Programme and it is because of this, Incentive programme owners are looking at restaurant buy-outs, hiring extra staff and partnering with DMCs to maintain incentive-level experiences. 


The report closes in saying that “the vaccine did not yield the expected recovery we had all hoped for in 2021. We enter 2022 dealing with “The Great Resignation,” a significant virtual workforce, and continued uncertainty, therefore motivating employees and partners will be more important than ever. Incentive professionals will need to constantly adapt and apply new thinking and new strategies to recruit, retain, and engage a changing workforce.”

To view or download a copy of the full report, please visit The IRF 2022 Trends Report webpage.

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