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IRF Announces Top Trends For Incentive Programs In 2021

The Incentive Research Foundation is pleased to announce the release of its signature study, The IRF 2021 Trends Report. The report highlights key trends that will affect a workforce and sales landscape that have been dramatically changed by the pandemic. A pent-up demand for travel, Zoom fatigue, virtual offices, and new job seekers are just a few examples of changes to the workforce that companies will navigate in 2021.

“The incentives industry experienced massive shifts in 2020 that impact incentive program planning and execution in 2021 and beyond,” said IRF President Stephanie Harris. “The IRF 2021 Trends Report explores how incentive programs will need to be reimagined to motivate a changing workforce, accelerate recovery, and meet the evolving goals of post-pandemic companies.”

The top trends for incentive, reward, and recognition programs in 2021 include:

Increase in Individual Rewards: In 2020, incentives professionals had a unique opportunity to re-examine the value of individual rewards. Merchandise, points, gift cards, and individual travel rewards proved to be powerful motivators and this trend will continue into 2021.

Large Group Events Deferred – But Still a Priority: Organizations continue to value incentive travel award programs, and many are committed to resuming large group events, despite a series of delays in 2020 and into 2021.

Moving the Middle: Merchandise and gift cards proved to be effective motivators to broader audiences during the pandemic. Looking ahead, smaller reward amounts can be used to “move the middle” 60% of producers and raise the overall performance of the organization.

Personalization & Choice Increase Impact of Reward: Program owners are developing innovative ways to include personalization throughout their programs in order to make a lasting impression on program participants. Increased reward choice, curated selection, and rewards that align with the organization’s culture have maximum impact.

Contracting & Contingency Planning Are More Important Than Ever: The need for planning for disruptions took top priority as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether designing a large-scale incentive travel program or a local experiential reward, contracts need to be carefully reviewed and contingency plans expanded to anticipate new and evolving disruptions.

Digital Delivery & Virtual Engagement: Many segments of workforce accelerated the move to working virtually during the pandemic, and many people will likely continue to work remotely in 2021 and beyond. Many lessons were learned about the power of virtual engagement and digital delivery of rewards – and their limitations. Incorporating these lessons into communications strategies can help drive program adoption and success.

To view or download a copy of the full report, please visit The IRF 2021 Trends Report webpage.

Thank you to our Research Advocacy Partner

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NYSE:NCLH) is a leading global cruise company which operates the Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises brands. With a combined fleet of 28 ships with approximately 59,150 berths, these brands offer itineraries to more than 490 destinations worldwide. The Company will introduce nine additional ships through 2027. Whether you are planning an important annual meeting, a rewarding incentive program, or a milestone corporate celebration – our vessels are the ideal venue. You can also charter an entire ship for maximum exclusivity, security and flexibility.


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