Rewarding for Years of Service: We’re Glad You’re Here

Rewarding for Years of Service: We’re Glad You’re Here

August 4, 2016

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It’s considered a best practice to acknowledge service anniversaries. But there are some who would argue that we should be rewarding for accomplishments and behaviors, not for attendance.

Should you reward your employees simply for showing up, day after day? We answer a resounding “Yes!” Recognition programs celebrating day-to-day achievements are essential. But it is also important to mark the passage of time and the on-going commitment to the workplace with service awards and milestones.

Why Celebrate Service?

Americans spend an extraordinary amount of time at the office. With most employees declining to take all of their vacation time, and significant numbers working well past the traditional forty-hour work week, it is clear that most people are committed to their job. Some employees are engaged and inspired to see their organizations succeed. Others are concerned about staying employed, and so put in the time to be sure that happens.

The initial motive almost does not matter. Acknowledgement reinforces purpose.

Both service anniversary and recognition programs communicate to the employee that he or she is valued and that their time working towards organizational goals is well spent. Both approaches directly address the very human needs for purpose and appreciation. Not every employee will be a superstar who receives regular accolades, but every employee deserves to be acknowledged for on-going efforts on behalf of your organization. This is the most fundamental building block of appreciation.

By making it easy for colleagues and managers to remember and recognize these notable days, we reinforce the importance of the individual to the group. This builds community and a culture of purpose. By setting the expectation that leaders will acknowledge the anniversary, we institutionalize the idea that every person in the organization is valued and their contribution is appreciated. This is an essential component of engagement.

Changing Times, Changing Technologies

To ensure that a program is meaningful and relevant for all employees, it is important to update the program as the work environment changes. We live our lives on smartphones, tablets, and laptops. A personal congratulations or thank you is a must, but should be complemented by tools and rewards that managers and recipients can access electronically.

Online recognition platforms provide prompts and easily customized materials for managers to ensure that every employee is remembered in a way that is in line with your company values. Platforms also help to get the word out to colleagues via social streams or notifications. Online rewards malls allow employees celebrating milestones to select the award that is most desirable to them, linking your organization to the good feelings that are inspired by the award.

This also makes it easier to reach telecommuting employees or those working on the other side of the world.

Consider the Generations

Different generations in the workplace also will affect your program. As Baby Boomers retire, GenX manages, and the Millennials flood the market, there are new dynamics in the workplace. In order to maintain the stability of the organization, it is important to retain the employees who have institutional knowledge and to develop younger workers to grow into management roles in the future. Celebrating service anniversaries is one way to deepen commitment among employees.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2014, an employee’s average tenure at a job was 4.6 years, and among workers 25 to 34 years of age, it was only three years. Many employees are leaving before they would even reach their 5 year service anniversary and an important opportunity to engage – and by extension retain – them is lost.

Although tax laws still only allow for tax-free awards for milestones at five year increments, we recommend including service awards and celebrations earlier in a colleague’s tenure with the company. Research shows that Millennial workers value frequent feedback and waiting five years to say “We’re glad you’re here!” may simply be too long. Consider adding one or two year celebrations or awards, as an important part of an engagement strategy.

Take the Time to Celebrate

Whether one month, one year, or one decade, take the time to celebrate the tenure of your employees and colleagues.

There are many ways to acknowledge the milestone. A simple thank you and a small celebration in the office may be enough for a newer employee. A crystal award and points on the reward platform for longer-term milestones would reflect the growing appreciation for years of service.

The most important thing is simply to do it. Acknowledge the passage of time and connect individual purpose with your organizational vision.

Additional Resources:
A Roadmap to Engagement White Paper
Millennials in the Workplace. What’s Wrong with Them?