Is your program ready for today’s challenges?

Is your program ready for today’s challenges?

January 30, 2024

Thoughts on the IRF 2024 Trends Report

The last few years have certainly been a time of rapid change from the pandemic to the prevalence of remote work, from inflation to industry-specific layoffs at a time of overall low unemployment. It’s enough to make your head spin! And it’s certainly enough to merit taking a fresh a look at your incentive, recognition, and rewards programs to be sure that you’re ready for 2024’s challenges.

A good place to start Is the newly released Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) annual Trends Report. Each year, this is one of the IRF’s most anticipated reports, as it brings together actionable research to shape programs, budgets, and corporate culture initiatives.

This year’s report is packed with interesting observations and statistics, but three stand out to me as particularly important to keep in mind for 2024: 

  • Incentives are not a nice to have. They’re a “need to have.” It can be tough to communicate to a dispersed workforce or customer base, let alone to connect individually with everyone, everywhere, and sometimes across the globe. An incentive program is a recognized competitive advantage that keeps all eyes on the company and provides a framework for communicating goals and rewarding employees or channel partners who achieve them. Don’t be left without a program, if you want to keep mindshare.

  • Inflation has outpaced budgets. Often, particularly when it comes to incentive travel, budgets are set at least two years in advance, and it’s often not possible to go back for more funding. It may be necessary to rethink some of the program components to stay on track:

    • Consider a tiered program. We know from other research, such as the Top Performer Study, that the most successful companies provide recognition and rewards programs with a broad reach. Tiered programs also are budget-friendly, as they allow you to continue to reward people at a range of price points. This can take the form of points platforms or even splitting a travel program into multiple programs at different goal-levels. This flexibility also allows you to shift the program’s focus as the needs of the business or overall economic conditions change.

    • Adapt program inclusions. The recent Attendee Preferences study showed a desire for more free time on incentive travel programs. What’s more, the Trends Report cites other research showing a strong desire for new destinations. Second-tier cities or off-the-beaten-track destinations often are budget friendly choices, and no matter where you go, it may be possible – or even preferable – to dial back the inclusions, giving people time to explore on their own or to enjoy their time with their guest. This addresses both the motivational power of travel and the pressure on budget.

  • The demographics of the workplace are changing. According to the Trends Report, “Together, Millennials and Generation Z (roughly aged 16-44 in 2025) are expected to account for about 60% of the workforce by 2025.” I first noticed the trend away from Baby Boomer attendees when instead of “Eye of the Tiger,” I heard Green Day and Flo Rida at incentive events. Things have definitely changed! These early- to mid-career workers and customers are sometimes not yet eligible for the big sales incentive trips, but it’s essential to connect them to your company’s mission just the same. The rewards mix should reflect their interests, including merchandise, gift cards, and experiential rewards.  

If you’d like to do a quick reality-check about your program and your options for 2024, we’re here to help with the research and the “boots on the ground” know-how to help you drive results.