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4 Employee Recognition Ideas from the IRF 2017 Trends Study

Jane Sarles Larson

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Last week, The Incentive Research Foundation released its 2017 Trends Study.

As a crucial indicator in the incentive world for the year to come, the study pulls information from the foundation’s extensive internal pool of data as well as from outside research to create a list of what’s in vogue in the industry.

The study yielded 10 trends—the full IRF 2017 Trends report can be read here—but four of them bubbled to the surface as the most important recognition ideas for the year to come.

Smart companies looking to advance their employee recognition efforts need to know and understand these trends in 2017.

     

1. The Demand for Non-Cash Rewards and Recognition Is On The Rise

Key Statistic: According to the report, the number of U.S. businesses using non-cash rewards has risen from 26% in 1996 to 84% in 2016.

In his recent book “Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations,” noted behavioral scientist Dan Ariely conducted a study where employees at Intel were offered cash, rewards and praise as incentives.

Surprisingly, the study found that cash—one of the key reasons people switch jobs—performed the worst.

Is cash king? Not quite. Tangible rewards need to be a part of your incentives and recognition strategy, and companies are starting to realize this.

The importance of using tangible rewards as an incentive can’t be underestimated, and industry changes will continue to support the growth of non-cash rewards.

“Compelling awards connect with the participant and encourage a change in behavior. It is critical that the award be tangible in nature—something they can share with friends and family that represents their achievement.

“Merchandise, travel and tangible awards create trophy value beyond compensation. They effectively create an experience and loyalty that lasts long after cash has been spent.”

— Andrea Ruddy, Senior Awards Specialist

     

2. Incentive Travel Is Growing, But Challenges Remain

Key Statistic: Nearly 40% of U.S. businesses now use incentive travel to reward and recognize their top-performing employees, salespeople and channel partners.

Companies are getting hip to the power of incentive travel as a way to motivate and align their people, and industry-wide budgets are one indication of this trend: over one-third of planners now have $3,000 to $4,000 per-person budgets, and over 40% boast $4,000+ budgets.

Incentive travel budgets are slated to grow in 2017, but challenges in the industry remain, most notably with lodging. As hotels are increasing in demand, many planners are resigned to pushing out their booking more than a year out or resorting to alternative accommodations, such as Airbnb.

“Companies are always searching out forward-thinking ideas to inspire their people. They still invest in and see value in motivating their people, which is why travel is growing in importance. It will be critical for companies to keep the influence of millennials and Generation Z in mind when developing their incentive travel programs.”

— Jill Anonson, Events Solution Manager

     

3. Individualized Experiences and Emotion Reign Supreme

Key Statistic: 42% of event planners are increasing the number of “experiential rewards” (e.g. spa days, concert tickets, expensive dinners, etc.) in their portfolio.

In no uncertain terms, the study finds that emotional engagement is critical to program viability: “Tapping emotional engagement through a strategic choice of rewards and incentives is a powerful way for businesses to motivate their stakeholders.”

From individual travel to merchandise experiences, the push toward individual experiences has blossomed throughout the industry, and there are no signs of that slowing down. 42% of program owners are increasing the number of “experiential rewards” in their portfolio.

Emotion is integral to a thriving program as well. When your audience falls in love with your campaign and your brand, you see the bottom-line result of an engaged team.

“Events should create an emotional connection to a brand. You want your attendees to feel special while they are with you, you can do this through customized experiences tailored to the individual.

“Find out what they like before the event and create special touches that show you know and appreciate them. That individual will always remember your brand because of how you made them feel.”

—Sarah Haines, Vice President, Event Management

     

4. The Design of Reward and Recognition Programs Will Evolve

Key Statistic: The Incentive Federation measures over 12 different reasons organizations are running employee reward and recognition programs and nine different objectives for sales programs.

If you haven’t changed the structure of your reward and recognition programs recently, you’re missing an opportunity for serious growth.

Not too long ago, non-cash rewards were used to primarily drive four outcomes: safety, service, sales and quality. Today, there are over a dozen different reasons companies create programs. As technology improves and the capabilities of these programs mature, program design evolves as well, offering real-time performance tracking, personalization and the ability to “pay it forward” to charitable causes.

Alongside reward and recognition, an expressed purpose and value in work is key to ensuring an engaged team. Managing both of these kinds of motivation—intrinsic and extrinsic—is crucial in designing a program that works.

That’s why ITA Group uses MotivologySM, our own brand of motivation, to give organizations an exclusive competitive advantage when it comes to aligning and motivating their people.

“Research shows that today, organizations use recognition to measure and encourage 12 different objectives. Combine that with the fact that everyone’s got a phone in their pocket, and that most everyone is addicted to updates on social media—why shouldn’t people be just as in tune with their progress on your program objectives?

“Use technology to make your programs trackable and agile and embracing of the new employee experience—meet them where they are, be where they are looking—and use the same motivation tactics as social media. In short, invite engagement; don’t mandate it.

— Rob Danna, Vice President, Sales and Marketing

Incentives and recognition are always changing, but one thing remains: a strategic, results-focused program must be designed with the diversity of your workforce in mind to help everyone excel at work and reach for more.

And with the right employee experience solution, you’ll move the needle.

Jane Sarles Larson's picture

Jane Sarles Larson

As the Research Manager for ITA Group’s Marketing Strategy, Jane is on the forefront of market research and thought leadership. Her interest in neuroscience and how it applies to human behavior and engagement has led to the development of ITA Group’s approach to motivation called Motivology. Her 30+ years of international advertising, sales and marketing experience is second only to her knowledge of dark chocolate.

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