In 2022, a fast-food employee who had never missed a day of work celebrated 27 years with the company. For his work anniversary, he received a backpack along with movie tickets, some candy, and chocolates. He appeared genuinely grateful as his boss and coworkers presented him with the gifts.
However, as a video of the celebration went viral, the majority of online viewers felt that the rewards didn’t quite equate to the 27 years of service and dedication he had poured into the organization. They felt he deserved much more.
As a result, the man’s daughters started a GoFundMe page in hopes of raising a few hundred dollars to celebrate their dad’s accomplishment and help wish him a happy work anniversary. But to their surprise, the overwhelming support from viewers led to a massive outpouring—totaling over $300,000 in donations!
This example demonstrates why celebrating employees appropriately for the length of time they've been with your organization is vital in order to help maintain a positive company culture.
One way to consistently recognize employees for their years of service is to implement a work anniversary awards program. Click here for everything you need to know to create a service awards program.
For great ideas on how to celebrate work anniversaries, read on.
How do you celebrate work anniversaries?
In our Global Culture Report, we noted how many organizations assume that their leaders and employees know how to show appreciation. But the research showed that they don’t always know the best ways to create meaningful recognition experiences—or how to best celebrate work anniversaries.
Nearly three-fourths (70%) of employees say recognition is most meaningful to them when it’s personalized.— O.C. TANNER INSTITUTE
Nearly three-fourths (70%) of employees say recognition is most meaningful to them when it’s personalized, yet only 54% of employees say their leaders even know what they do in their role. What better time to personalize recognition than when you’re literally saying, “Congratulations on your work anniversary!”
Your employees deserve a memorable work anniversary celebration that recognizes some of their specific accomplishments in their time with the organization. It’s a chance to thank them for the good work they’ve contributed in a way that feels special.
For even more work anniversary ideas, review these examples from seven organizations that deliver stellar work anniversary celebrations.
1. Deliver a meaningful message from the CEO
One of the most impactful ways to show employees how much their years of service are valued is by simply saying thanks. This sometimes takes the form of a heartfelt letter of congratulations from the company CEO.
A great example of offering an inspirational message, along with a symbolic gift, comes from Apple, where employees who've stayed with the company 10 years receive a square slab of aluminum featuring the Apple logo, a polishing cloth, and a signed note from CEO Tim Cook (Yahoo Finance). The 10-year-anniversary message reads:
“Congratulations on reaching this milestone moment. The work you've done, the challenges you've met and the breakthroughs you've made possible—they all add up to a profound and lasting contribution to Apple's mission to change the world for the better. On behalf of everyone at Apple, thank you for all you bring to our journey together."
2. Stage a graduation-style ceremony
At UK HealthCare, employees used to have to wait until the end of the year to celebrate their work anniversaries—along with everyone else. But this practice didn’t deliver meaningful, timely celebrations for company employees. Now people celebrate their work anniversaries in the month that they happen.
Not only are work anniversaries more timely, but each recipient is honored at a graduation-style ceremony where they can meet and take pictures with company leaders as they receive a personalized Yearbook with comments from team members and managers congratulating them on their work milestone. UK Healthcare continues to receive positive feedback from employees about their Career Achievement ceremonies.
3. Brand your employee anniversary celebrations
Work anniversaries happen at every organization. Yet that doesn’t mean they have to be cookie-cutter celebrations. To help make them more personal and branded, some companies brand their years of service celebrations by giving them a unique name. For example, Facebook calls their work anniversary celebrations “Faceversaries.”
When a person's Faceversary rolls around, coworkers can help celebrate their colleagues in many fun ways—like festooning each others' desks with customized balloons (Insider Inc.). Managers and colleagues alike can also post congratulatory comments on social media channels to commemorate the person's time at Facebook.
4. Celebrate first-year-anniversary employees at HQ
BDC onboards new employees in a way that connects them with the organization’s culture, mission, and purpose. Vice President Mary-Ann Wenzler-Wiebe notes employees are “constantly astounded at the efforts we put in to make people feel welcome and valued, and to help them be the best they can be.” One way BDC accomplishes this is by celebrating all first-year employees at their company headquarters in Montreal, Canada.
This special employee recognition event gives these first-year employees face-to-face time with leaders and a chance to connect with their peers across the country. They also receive their first anniversary Yearbook, which highlights BDC’s mission and includes personalized messages from their colleagues.
5. Provide an experience that matches your brand
At GE Appliances, a cross-functional team of IT, communications, marketing, and other areas worked together to create a collaborative, meaningful employee anniversary recognition solution with O.C. Tanner. The team discussed the company’s purpose and values, and how to manifest and reward employee contributions based on those values.
They launched the Recognize YOU program designed to look and feel like GE Appliances and embody its culture. For example, their Yearbook featured brushed nickel to replicate the finish of GE Appliances. The employee photos and personalized work anniversary messages made the branded experience even better.
“Your recognition solution should reflect who you are. The look and feel, examples, photos…it’s an extension of us at GE Appliances,”— NATALIE SNYDER, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS
“Your recognition solution should reflect who you are. The look and feel, examples, photos … it’s an extension of us at GE Appliances,” says Natalie Snyder, Senior Director of Compensation and Benefits. “Companies should make recognition a part of their value proposition and engagement strategy—make it about who you are.”
Enhance work anniversaries with symbolism
Including symbolic awards in standard years-of-service recognition (5, 10, 15 years, etc.) yields a positive effect on cultural outcomes. But O.C. Tanner found that including them with 1- and 3-year celebrations—and during the first 30 days of onboarding—is even more powerful. Learn about the power of symbols in the Harnessing Symbols chapter of the 2023 Global Culture Report.
6. Tell a career story with symbolic pins
BHP recognizes work anniversaries and retirement celebrations through a service awards program that features beautifully crafted custom pins. More than just pins, these emblems represent stories about significant aspects of BHP’s history and identity—where they’ve come from, connection to growth, and where they’re headed.
From the trucks they use every day to the tools invented by BHP employees, the symbols and stories really resonate with employees. For example, new employees receive their first pin to set expectations. “Everyone gets a hard hat saying welcome to BHP,” says Kirrily Lansdown, Head of Global Reward at BHP, “so they really feel connected to our business from day one.”
7. Make an impact with physical awards
Another way to integrate symbolism is through custom physical awards. Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) instills a sense of belonging and connection by celebrating employee careers and contributions with symbolic awards. Their “Vintage Awards” tenure recognition program gifts recipients with a beautifully designed company-branded numeral.
But the acrylic number is only one of the physical awards in their expanded suite of enterprise symbols. An expanded set of awards are also awarded to recognize and celebrate employees who best embody the organization’s focus on care, courage and inclusion.
Celebrate loyal employees and their great work
The best work anniversary ideas are about celebrating more than just a number or a year. They are about celebrating the people who do great work for your organization and honoring the time and contributions they have shared with the company.
To build memorable work anniversary experiences, remind leaders to make work anniversaries personal—and to celebrate in a way that connects employees to purpose, accomplishment, and one another as they thank them for their years of service.
To learn more about building work anniversary programs that create peak recognition moments through personalized messaging and custom awards, read about Culture Cloud Anniversaries from O.C. Tanner.