Vacations (a full-day, half-day and 10-hour vacation respectively) have become the most popular employee rewards in the US, even as the highest-value rewards for top-performing employees include a US$4,600 Orlando family vacation and a US$2,200 luxury cruise.

These insights come from CR Worldwide, which also found that the average US corporate spend on employee rewards soared by 67% in 2019. Spending on rewards for sales teams also has tripled from US$103 per head to US$353 per head in the past year.

There is also a trend of corporate rewards for employees being increasingly ‘experiential’ rather than tangible, and built around improving employee wellbeing by encouraging relaxation and social, family-oriented experiences, as identified in the report, The rise of corporate wellness 2.0.

This is based on data collected from employees building and managing rewards, recognition and incentive programmes for over 287,000 workers at over 120 businesses internationally.

Based off the report, we've highlighted three key wellness trends for HR professionals and leaders to look out for, going in to 2020:

1. Out of office and into the wild - nature, sports and travel incentives

Younger workers are more likely to experience stress and mental health issues and to expect employers to care about their out-of-hours wellbeing. CR data shows major employers responding to this by introducing team bonding exercises and travel incentives ranging from sports activity days to nature trips to improve health and wellbeing outside office hours. Financial rewards are being replaced by experiential gifts and extra vacation.

A surprising trend has also begun to emerge - corporations are offering travel incentives built around enhancing the ‘human-animal bond’ which has been found to have therapeutic effects on mental health.

2. Growing interest in sustainability and environmental conservation

As the environment has become an increasingly salient issue, Millennials in particular have different expectations to previous generations when it comes to the environmental practices of corporations, illustrated by the fact that 73% are willing to spend more on environmental products. This shift in consumer attitudes has trickled into the workplace and employees are increasingly expecting their employers to share or at least support their values.

An interesting trend is the growing corporate interest in sustainable travel incentives and events. Over half (56%) of corporate incentive trips tracked by CR in the past year included an element of ‘human-powered’ activities or nature tourism compared with 15% of trips in 2018.

Further, many businesses are changing culture by going paperless or implementing flexible working strategies to reduce their carbon footprint. By offering note pads made from apple peel, recyclable badges, biodegradable smoothie carts, as well as digitalised events collateral, UKISUG’s Annual Conference, Connect is tracking at a 63% reduction in plastic usage, for example.

3. Boosting productivity through mental and physical health benefits

Crucially, working longer hours has been found to be a major cause of unproductiveness. The OECD countries that work the longest are not the most productive while those that offer better work/life balance enjoy higher rates of productivity. For example, Mexico which has the longest average working hours in the OECD is also the least productive.

CR data reveals that an extra day off was the most common reward redeemed by US employees last year. This indicates that instead of equating productivity with extra work, companies are attempting to increase productivity by offering staff more time off.

As such, companies are offering new corporate benefits to incentivise improved productivity. Some US companies offer free life coaching and ‘nap rooms’. UK firms are increasingly offering ‘pawternity leave’ to employees with new puppies, while Expedia offers flexible hours and home working. Auto Trader UK offers the chance to buy and sell vacation days.

Companies are increasingly offering a range of mental and physical health benefits tailored to a young generation, from treadmill desks to subsidised gym memberships, mindfulness apps and extended leave.

Photo / StockUnlimited