The IRF (Incentive Research Foundation) 2021 trends report

The IRF (Incentive Research Foundation) 2021 trends report takes a look at some of the trends that have affected organisations. The Pandemic affected most if not all industries, some sectors saw a boom while others took an economic downturn. The uncertainty of 2021 will continue to make planning a challenge in 2021, with many industries’ recovery depending on the Vaccine.

The Pandemic and Travel bans

The Pandemic and Travel bans drove an increase in individual rewards in 2020. With travel incentive trips being affected, incentive professionals had to re-examine the value of individual rewards such as merchandise, points, gift cards and individual travel rewards. All powerful motivators for employees and used as alternatives an interim award substitutions for group travel.


Merchandise and gift cards

Both Merchandise and gift cards increased significantly during the pandemic with Merchandise rewards up by 68% followed by Gift cards at 26%. These rewards proved to be great motivators during the pandemic and be applied in 2021 and beyond. Engaging tiered programmes within an organisation eg. Top Tier Reward – Travel, second and third tier being Merchandise and gift cards, allows for a broad variety of gifts that appeal to all participants and potentially raise the overall performance of an organisation.


Personalisation of Rewards

Personalisation of Rewards also becomes important as “a curated, thoughtful choice of reward options is an important aspect of an effective reward and recognition programme.” Personalisation throughout the programme would make a significant impact and create a lasting impression on participants. Incentive rewards involving family is also another trend to explore in 2021.

The personalisation and choice of reward would also apply to incentive travel eg. One program owner reported that their groups self-select where they are going, so trips are in waves to multiple destinations. Other program owners noted that award winners opted out of travel and selected merchandise.


Contingency Planning

The report also covers the importance of contingency planning and the need to plan for disruptions would take top priority during the pandemic. Program owners and meeting planners need to be prepared to provide alternatives in case elements of the event are not able to proceed as planned. Virtual engagement was also a trend identified in the report as Many segments of workforce accelerated the move to working virtually during the pandemic and a growing remote workforce will affect how employees are motivated and how incentive programs should be designed.

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