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4 Employee Rewards Trends We Expect for 2021

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As we all observed over the past year, the business world is inextricably linked to the larger world around it.  As we encounter new challenges, practices change.  As we adapt to those changes, trends emerge.  2021 is off to an interesting and optimistic start.  For many, a small light at the end of the long tunnel that is the Covid-19 pandemic is beginning to appear, and we’re learning more and more each day about how things might look in our “new normal,” when the worst of the pandemic is, hopefully, behind us.

For us at Xceleration, it’s critical we understand how the changing world practically impacts the lives of our clients and participants.  One of Xceleration’s competitive advantages in our industry is our curated collection of memorable, meaningful rewards we offer to our customers. Our Merchandising Team watches closely as trends emerge, so that we can offer rewards which are exciting, relevant, and make a genuine impact to recipients.  As everyday life in 2021 takes shape, here are 4 rewards trends we expect to see this year:

Putting a Premium on Life at Home

Perhaps the most significant change across the business world in the last year was the massive work-from-home migration.  While this first arose out of necessity, thousands of businesses and employees now see it as a value-add.  And as a result, people want to invest in their space.  Aymie Castner, our Director of Reward Operations, says, “Whether repurposing a room for business use or updating existing décor, people want to create comfortable, professional spaces to live and work.”  Rewards that support this notion have already proven to be in high demand.

The concept extends beyond the home office. Rewards that support other aspects of time at home hold immense value, as well.  Home fitness continues to be extremely popular, and with so many high-value items in that space, they’re sure to make for impressive rewards for your top achievers.  Additionally, we expect teambuilding events and virtual experiences like cooking classes or wine tastings to grow in popularity through the year.

Focusing on Brand Values

Another concept that has gained significant traction over the last year is give-back culture.  People want to support brands and businesses they know to be good global citizens.  Products that support sustainability, support a particular community, or contribute directly to important causes lend a deeper layer of meaning to an award.

Along these lines, small businesses struggled immensely this past year, and finding rewards that support small businesses or creators presents an exciting opportunity to deliver something truly unique. Allowing participants to make the same kinds of choices in their reward experience they might make while doing their own shopping is part of a thoughtful, impactful recognition strategy.

Returning to Travel

One thing most people expect to come back into their lives in some way this year is travel (more on that here).  Travel-related merchandise like luggage and accessories, as well as travel experiences, are starting to resurge.  “We are seeing an uptick in requests for travel-related merchandise as more people become comfortable traveling,” says Aymie. And while this has always been a popular reward category, we believe it will look a bit different going forward, with the addition of more products that encourage traveling safely.  People will be excited to travel and will very likely want to “gear up” for wherever their adventures may take them.  So, items which relate more to the destination than the travel itself will also be desirable – like ski gear, sports equipment, or destination-related clothing.

Options are Still Important

Gift cards have been popular for as long as they’ve existed – and for good reason.  Sometimes it’s simply a better option for recipients to have the additional flexibility.  Perhaps they want to purchase some clothing but would rather try it on first.  Or perhaps they want to use them to help with their own holiday shopping.  Whatever the reason, gift cards remain an important component of any reward offering.

In recent years, digital reward offerings like e-gift cards have also skyrocketed in popularity.  Perhaps the biggest benefit here is the almost instantaneous reward, since e-gifts do not need to be shipped.  In the last year, with fewer people shopping in stores, these have most certainly been an asset to recipients.

We are excited to see how these trends continue to develop into 2021 and beyond, so that we can build the best possible reward experience for our clients and their hardworking teams.  For more information about our reward offerings, or for any questions you might have, connect with us at

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