Topic: Employee Experience


The 10 Best Tips for Celebrating Work Anniversaries

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Updated on 

April 5, 2024

Picture this: Aarti has worked for your company for 10 years. It’s time to celebrate her work anniversary. One random afternoon, her manager and a few of her coworkers gather in a break room for a hurried party for her work anniversary, where she gets a certificate and a gift card with a canned employee anniversary message. They eat some stale cake, and Aarti is back at her station 20 minutes later, wondering if her dedication to the company has really been worth it. Is she letting herself be taken for granted on her work anniversary?

Or how about this: It’s Steven’s one-year employee work anniversary. He opens his email in the morning to find an e-card, which he reads and deletes. Nobody on his team seems to actually know it’s his big day. At least they don’t mention it. He thinks: Is this how I want my service anniversary to be celebrated?

Work anniversaries matter. When you offer employee anniversary recognition in the right way, you tell employees they are valued and appreciated. Whether it’s a one-, five-, or 10-year anniversary, the best work anniversary celebrations create peak moments that recognize more than just the time a person has spent with your company. They are moments that celebrate their entire career.  

“The time has come to refocus attention on the human side of organizations,” wrote two longtime observers of workplace culture, “Without ritual and ceremony, organizations quickly become sterile and devoid of meaning and buoyancy. People have feelings, hearts, souls, spirits, and other qualities.”

So how do you do it?  

Here are 10 ideas to help you craft work anniversary celebrations to create lasting memories. Read on to learn how celebrating employee years of service can build a happier, more engaged workforce. Get started today.

And if you need some guidance, reach out to O.C. Tanner. We help hundreds of companies celebrate careers every day.

1. Create peak recognition moments for work anniversaries

Employee recognition for performance is important. But a work anniversary is different. It’s a chance to create a meaningful and motivational experience for the person being celebrated and for those who join in. We call these types of celebrations peak recognition moments. You might even think of them as workplace rituals, which researchers have found strengthens teams in workplaces around the world.

And that’s important—As a recent Rewards and Benefits Association article points out: “Workplaces that provide ‘peak’ moments (instances that are joyful and energizing) are 13 times more likely to have highly engaged employees and are three times less likely to have employees experiencing moderate to severe burnout.”

So how do you make a peak recognition moment during a work anniversary? Here are some ideas to consider:

Highlight accomplishments over time. Celebrate the person’s career accomplishments, not just their tenure. Leaders can connect achievements to the company’s purpose, highlight success stories, and express their gratitude to the person being honored.

Encourage others to participate. Often, employees have strong relationships with other departments and teams around the company. If the employee wants a big celebration, invite leaders and peers from cross-functional teams to share their congratulations.

Gather the team off-site. Gatherings can even be held in special locations, like the employee’s favorite restaurant or a local park. As a special touch, ask their family to join in!

The best work anniversary moments are created when leaders plan ahead and tailor the celebration to the individual.

Symbolic career anniversary pins that are gifted at milestone celebrations.

2. Make career achievement awards personal

Career achievement should do more than celebrate the number of years a person has been with your organization. It should also be personal.  

Consider highlighting memorable moments like:

  • Major accomplishments
  • Memorable and lasting contributions
  • The relationships that matter the most

Celebrate work anniversary presentations by complementing these personal reflections with a personalized award or gift. These might be gifts, but they can also be keepsakes (see below), a card with personalized notes, or a yearbook to share with family and friends.  

For more about harnessing the power of symbolism in awards, check out our guide to harnessing symbols.

The key is to make everything as personal as possible. As we said in our guide, “Symbolism effectively improves the outcomes of performance recognition, initiatives, and company-wide celebrations, too, because it enables employees to become a part of the organization’s ongoing story and success, rather than merely contribute to it from the margins.”

O.C. Tanner’s Yearbook allows leaders to collect work messages, photos, and videos in a way employees will treasure.

3. Offer keepsakes for years of service

Memorable keepsakes can nurture a positive corporate culture during work anniversaries. Personalized notes from coworkers, for example, can foster a sense of belonging.  

But encourage people to go beyond cookie-cutter messages, because meaningful notes create a powerful employee experience for work anniversaries.

One type of keepsake is O.C. Tanner’s Yearbook. It allows leaders to collect work messages, photos, and videos in a way employees will treasure. What’s a better way to remember where you’ve been and reflect on where you are going?  

Available as both printed and as an online experience, this keepsake gets leaders and peers involved, and it leaves the recipient with a tangible reminder of an organization and team that values their service. It’s one keepsake employees won’t soon forget.

O.C. Tanner's Yearbook and career anniversary numeral

4. Give the right awards to recognize employee work anniversaries

You shouldn’t use an everyday reward to commemorate an extraordinary achievement. (You can find more celebration ideas here.) Don’t let your years of service awards be like the ones at this Burger King — make sure your awards are valuable and that they show you care.

Employee appreciation awards for years of service and work anniversaries shouldn’t look the same at year one as at year 25. As employees reach higher levels of years of service, the rewards you offer should reflect their seniority. For three years, a piece of tech or homeware might be appropriate. For 25, a luxury gift or even a vacation might be more appropriate.  

As we wrote in A Guide to Years of Service Awards, “Over time, a person’s career goes through different stages. How employees feel about themselves, their work, and their organization changes over time. Years-of-service awards should reflect those different stages.”

Impactful awards may include items such as:

  • Jewelry
  • Travel vouchers
  • Sports and leisure items
  • Entertainment experiences
  • Electronics

But most of all, the award should match the level of achievement. Let employees know you care about them.

5. Consider time off, vacations, or sabbaticals when offering employee anniversary recognition

For longer-tenured employees, a peak experience might be the gift of time. This could be the optimal way to celebrate their work anniversaries.

It might be time off beyond their standard benefits. For example, try giving an employee extra time to spend on a vacation with family at an unforgettable destination. The memories can last a lifetime and will reinforce your company’s support for employees outside of work.

Sabbaticals are another way to structure a time-off award. Unlike a vacation, this set amount of time off may be taken for any kind of personal fulfillment. An employee could use this time to attend a conference, write a book, or fulfill a hobby. The important thing is that the employee is in control of how they use it. The way they choose to use the time will be more creative than anything you could come up with.  

As a recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests, one answer to worker burnout “is to take a sabbatical — an extended break from your job lasting long enough for you to truly distance yourself from your normal work life.”

6. Get other people involved to build a sense of purpose at work

Thriving is a multifaceted concept, one that involves both psychological and behavioral elements. That means it’s important to draw on many channels to help employees thrive at work.  

As researchers have found, social engagement leads to a thriving workplace. Work anniversaries are a great time to nurture that kind of engagement.  

For some milestones, it may be appropriate to invite the entire department — or even the whole company. You can also invite people outside the company to participate — family members, vendors, friends, and former employees.

Don’t forget that you will include more of the company by sharing milestones on social media or on an internal social wall. Get everyone involved!

7. Celebrate work anniversaries together, virtually

One thing we all learned to do very well during the pandemic is to talk on Zoom. It’s also a good venue to show appreciation for work anniversaries. As with all things virtual, trust is key.

In Best Practices for Virtual Employee Recognition Experiences, we explore how virtual recognition can be effective and fun. Some ways to do that are to get leadership involved, get creative, and keep recognition top of mind.

These tips apply to work anniversaries, too. One important tip when using Zoom or other virtual meeting platforms is to encourage everyone to turn on their camera. Seeing everyone’s faces and smiles goes a long way to set the mood and build connections.  

Another practice that’s even easier to do in a remote home setting than in the office is to involve family members. A spouse, kids — even pets! — can add personal depth. Round up everybody! The more, the merrier. It’s more fun to  celebrate that way.

8. Connect people and purpose with your organization’s culture

Purpose is part of what makes up an organization’s workplace culture. Our Global Culture Report found that employees who felt a sense of purpose at work had a 12% higher sense of community. Work anniversaries are the right time to build those connections.

Leaders who regularly build a positive company culture are aware of the importance of employee recognition. Make sure to start with an employee’s purpose as a person and build up from there.  

As a recent McKinsey podcast pointed out: “Individuals decide what their purpose is. It’s the organization’s role and opportunity to figure out how to help people bring that purpose to a finer point of what matters to them and to figure out whether or not they can create a role or an experience within the organization that helps meet that.”  

In other words, get to know the people you’re celebrating. At Apple, for example, employees receive a unique gift on their 10-year work anniversary: a polishing cloth, a square slab of aluminum (the same material used to make Apple’s products), and a signed note from CEO Tim Cook.

When sharing remarks for a job anniversary, leaders should be personal, specific, genuine, and purpose-aligned. This helps connect the accomplishments and growth of the award recipient to the organization's purpose.  

It also helps other team members to connect to the purpose and goals of the team and the company as a whole. Fulfilled and purpose-driven employees are happy employees.

9. Extend the anniversary appreciation to regular appreciation

After celebrating a team member’s service anniversary, it’s important to keep the appreciation flowing. Every day can be a day to celebrate! When leaders continue to show appreciation after the celebration, employees feel a greater sense of belonging and connection. There are plenty of ways to accomplish this.  

Leaders can spread the news of the big milestone over internal social channels, provide a personal keepsake, and continue to share success stories about the person being honored throughout the weeks ahead.  

Can’t you imagine how fun it would be to have a chance to celebrate regularly at work? Everyone should have a chance to feel that way.

10. Plan ahead to celebrate employee service anniversaries

Pulling off a successful and happy work anniversary doesn’t happen by chance. It’s not always an easy or natural thing for leaders to do. So how do you improve at this as a leader?

By planning ahead. You need time to create a special employee experience. Don’t neglect it. A few months ahead of the milestone, decide what your awards will look like and who will be involved in creating them. Get team members, peers, vendors, and family members involved.

Allow time for the production of keepsakes or awards. Set aside the time and place to celebrate the milestone a couple of weeks in advance and invite people to participate far enough ahead that they can plan on being involved. Finally, plan to have the gifts, awards, treats, and printouts ready for your presentation. Preparation pays off!

Does a team member have a career anniversary coming up? Check out our 7 ideas for elevating work anniversary celebrations.

Let’s celebrate those years of service and milestones

There are many reasons to celebrate work anniversaries. Anniversaries mark significant milestones in an employee's career. Celebrating them demonstrates recognition and appreciation for employees’ contributions, showing that the company and their colleagues value their efforts and commitment.  

Acknowledging work anniversaries helps:

  • Boost employee morale and motivation.  
  • Create a positive work environment where employees feel seen, respected, and encouraged.
  • Builds team camaraderie, connection, and a positive organizational culture.  
  • Establish a culture that values and appreciates employees' contributions.  
  • Improve employee experiences and performance.

To see the impact that a culture of recognition can bring, check out Treasury Wine Estates (TWE), which as reinvigorated its recognition framework.  

Together with O.C. Tanner, TWE implemented a program designed to create a consistent and modern recognition experience that enabled easy, frequent peer recognition, as well as meaningful celebrations of important career milestones. The program has been positively embraced, with 70% of the global workforce active in the program through everyday recognition. That’s a big deal!

The 10 tips covered above lay the foundation for peak career milestone celebrations. If you want to take these experiences to the next level, check out our guide to creating symbolic awards for work anniversaries.

If you’d like to talk to the employee recognition experts at O.C. Tanner about how we can help craft a solution for you, please reach out to us.

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