Unique, upscale and individualized experiences will factor significantly into businesses’ motivation programs in 2016. The Incentive Research Foundation’s (IRF) 2016 Trends in Incentive Travel, Rewards, and Recognition report points toward “experiential” rewards and luxury to play a big role in companies’ incentive programs.

“This study reinforces that we live in a time of extraordinary personalization,” says IRF President Melissa Van Dyke. “Every business needs to keep up with a fast pace and deliver on its brand promise if it wants to retain the best people—and keep them happy, productive and motivated.”

The IRF’s report revealed 10 key motivation trends:

  1. Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age, Gen X isn’t large enough to replace them and Millennials lack experience, spurring a need for training/retention/rewards strategies that focus on keeping the know-how of older workers in the organization and “training up” others.
  2. Budgets and oversight are both on the rise. The IRF’s latest Pulse Study found that 67 percent of planners will increase incentive travel budgets one to 10 percent this year, and 40 percent of respondents say the economy is having a positive impact. The increased scrutiny the larger budgets have drawn has also fueled demand for better analytics.
  3. Incentive travel destinations have also shifted, with the Caribbean tying with the U.S. for the first time as the leading incentive travel destination. Lead times to book the most desirable destinations is a critical factor, and while 41 percent of respondents are booking seven to 12 months out, 45 percent are booking more than a year out.
  4. Merchandise and gift card reward trends reveal increasing confidence in the economy and a return to luxury items. The top merchandise options include electronics (31 percent), open-loop gift cards (28 percent), luggage (24 percent) and watches (23 percent).
  5. The IRF Pulse Study shows more than half of the market is using social media to enhance their rewards programs, and nearly a third are using game mechanics and techniques.
  6. Employees increasingly expect organizations to be good corporate citizens. Incentive and recognition program planners are integrating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) opportunities in the form of culture-building volunteer days or incentive travel teambuilding events, while Millennials want “social impact travel” that offers fun and the ability to have a social impact.
  7. Millennials are redefining what “luxury” means and seeking “authenticity, singularity and social value.”
  8. When given the choice between cash and a reward aligned with their personal experiential preferences, employees often don’t choose cash, especially for large awards.
  9. For large awards, more than half of an employee's preferred experience is determined by the award presentation and professional development.
  10. Generational differences don’t play as big a role in successful rewards programs as other key factors. The weight employees give to the presenter of the award, how it is communicated and professional development implications are generally the same regardless of a person’s income, role, gender or generation. However, an employee’s work locale, life stage, past work experiences and current work environment have a major impact on their motivational preferences.

For more on the results and to read the full report, click here.