Picture this. Amanda, a dedicated employee who is celebrating her 10-year work anniversary, receives a certificate and gift card at an impromptu ceremony with a few available team members. She is appreciative, but wonders if her significant investment of time in the organization has been minimized and her many accomplishments taken for granted.
Or perhaps Stephen, who just hit his one-year mark, receives an eCard with congratulations and a gift, yet nobody on his team seems to even acknowledge the occasion. This checks off the recognition box but automates the process to the point that it is not really celebrated.
How do you celebrate work anniversaries so that your employees feel valued, appreciated, and recognized for their specific achievements? Typically, celebrations include years-of-service recognition awards, also called service milestone awards. But whether it’s a 1-year, 5-year or 20-year anniversary, the best work anniversary milestones are those that also create peak moments that celebrate careers—not just time with the company.
Celebrating work anniversaries effectively in today’s workplace means more than presenting an award or monetary gift. Yes, that’s part of it. But the best celebrations include an experience that fosters a sense of belonging, honors contributions over time, and is built through friendships with colleagues and leaders.
But don’t worry. It’s not difficult to make milestone awards matter for the Amandas on your team. Following are 10 work anniversary ideas that will help you make them both memorable and effective.
Employee recognition for outstanding performance is important throughout each year of a person’s career. It’s a time when great work is rewarded through common vehicles such as an eCard, social wall posts, or with rewards points they can redeem for merchandise. But a work anniversary is different and should be celebrated differently. It’s a chance to create a significant experience that is meaningful and motivational for both the employee and their teammates. We call these types of celebrations peak recognition moments.
So what makes up a peak recognition moment? Work anniversary ideas that make milestones more meaningful include holding informal gatherings where team members and leaders can celebrate memorable moments and key accomplishments. Gatherings can even be held in special locations—often off site. A trip to the employee’s favorite restaurant or a local park can help create a unique environment.
Other components of a peak experience include leader presentations that celebrate career accomplishments, not only tenure. In addition to presenting special awards, pins, or keepsakes, leaders can connect achievements to company purpose, highlight success stories, and express sincere appreciation for the recipient. Leaders can also ask other team members to comment as well. The best peak moments are created when leaders plan ahead and consider some of their employee’s preferences and personal passions before the celebration.
A modern employee recognition program will recognize notable years of service in addition to recognition based on performance and effort. Yet these milestones in career achievement should do more than represent the number of years they’ve been with the company. Beyond a symbolic award, it should also be personal. So in addition to congratulating a valued employee for 10 years of dedicated service, you should express what the employee has accomplished and how their dedication helped propel the team or company to success.
The award becomes personal when it celebrates contributions, accomplishments, and relationships. Celebrate work anniversary presentations by complementing personal thoughts with a thoughtful and memorable award. This might include personalized gifts or merchandise appropriate for the career stage. But it can also include a personal keepsake (see below), a card with personalized notes, or a yearbook that an employee can share with family and friends. Read on for some ideas.
One way to create a thriving team culture with years of service awards is to provide a personalized keepsake. For example, a personalized note from a coworker can provide the type of meaningful appreciation that fosters a sense of belonging and accomplishment. These messages can mean more to recipients than a generic gift card accompanied by a smattering of cookie cutter text. By collecting these personal notes and delivering them to the recipient, you can help create a powerful experience.
One type of keepsake is O.C. Tanner’s Yearbook that allows leaders to collect work anniversary messages, photos, and videos from peers and colleagues in a book that the employee can treasure. Employee appreciation quotes and inspirational thoughts can also be included in the final deliverable. Available as both a printed book and online media experience, this type of keepsake is a great way to involve leaders, peers, and also capture the culture of an organization. On top of that, the employee is left with a permanent reminder of a company and team that valued their service.
Employee appreciation awards for years of service shouldn’t look the same at year one as year 25. Rather, they should match the level of achievement. You wouldn’t expect to award a 25-year veteran with the company a nice pen and expect a positive response. Simply put, avoid using an everyday award to honor an extraordinary achievement. Employees work for more than a paycheck. They want to be appreciated appropriately over time.
Inspire 3-year employees to continue on their career path with the company through an award that reflects their contributions. Likewise, reward a 25-year employee with a luxury gift or experience that communicates their total value and commitment to the organization.
In any case, celebrate work anniversary milestones with awards they’ll really appreciate. According to A Modern-Day Guide to Years of Service Awards, “Things like luxury items and experiences they may not normally buy on their own work the best. Cash, in particular, is not a very personal award, and most employees use extra cash to pay bills, groceries, or make other unmemorable, impersonal purchases.”
Impactful awards may include items such as jewelry, travel vouchers, sports and leisure items, entertainment experiences, the latest electronics, and more. But most of all, the award should match the level of achievement.
For longer tenured employees who may have been with the company for 15, 20, or 25 years, a peak employee experience may include the gift of time. Although cash and gift cards are not considered personal gifts, and may not be as meaningful or memorable as other gifts, a significant amount of time off can be a highly valued experience.
First, it might be an additional amount of time off beyond standard benefits. An employee who takes two extra weeks to vacation with family at an inspiring destination won’t soon forget the gesture. The microexperiences of the service milestone presentation itself, combined with a major time-off award, can make for an extremely successful milestone.
Another way to structure a time-off award is in the form of a sabbatical. 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.
It’s a good practice to include an employee’s immediate team members in a work anniversary celebration. This helps to encourage team bonding and a sense of belonging. But the participation doesn’t have to end there. For some milestones, it may be appropriate to invite the entire department—or even the whole company. But besides peers, leaders can also invite others to participate, such as family members, vendors, and friends.
When deciding how to celebrate work anniversary milestones, there are many ways to involve others in the fun. Besides a physical celebration with teammates, don’t forget that you can include more of the company by sharing the years of service milestone through social media or by posting on an internal social wall. This type of sharing may already be available with the recognition tool your company currently uses. It’s a feature you’ll want to make sure and use. Doing so allows for many more congratulations and heartfelt comments from across the organization.
One thing we all learned to do very well during the pandemic is to participate in meetings through video conferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, connecting with each other virtually in times that we can’t physically conduct business face to face. But remote work has forced us to get more creative for other types of get togethers too—like when showing appreciation for team members.
In 8 Best Practices for Virtual Employee Recognition Experiences, we explore some great tips on how virtual recognition can be effective, creative, and fun. These tips apply to work anniversaries, too. One important tip is to turn on your video. Seeing everyone’s faces and smiles goes a long way to set the mood. Another practice that’s even easier to do in a remote home setting is to involve family members. A spouse, kids—even pets—can make an appearance that can add a personal depth to the meeting.
A final tip we’ll note is to leverage unique Zoom backgrounds. Especially during a celebration, team members can turn on fun backgrounds with pictures of the person being honored, or images that represent one of their favorite foods or pastimes. It’s a great way to keep all participating employees engaged as they take part in the milestone.
Purpose is part of what makes up an organization’s workplace culture. The O.C. Tanner Institute’s 2019 Global Culture Report found that “employees are 121% more motivated to do their best work when recognition is tied to their organization’s purpose.” This is not only true of everyday performance recognition, but of years-of-service recognition as well. Leaders who regularly build a positive company culture are very much aware of how recognition can contribute to the effort.
When sharing remarks for a job anniversary, leaders should be personal, specific, genuine, and aligned with the organization’s purpose. This helps connect the accomplishments and growth of the award recipient to the purpose of the organization. It also helps other team members to connect to the purpose and goals of the team and company as a whole.
After that special day of celebrating a team member’s work anniversary, it’s important to keep the appreciation flowing. In Create a thriving team culture with years of service awards, we learn that only 56% of employees feel a sense of belonging at their organization. Yet when leaders are mentors to their people, advocates for employee development, and connect employees to others, the odds employees feel appreciated increase by 582%.
In cases where leaders continued to inspire and show appreciation after the celebration, employees felt 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.
Pulling off a successful and happy work anniversary doesn’t happen by chance. It’s not always easy or natural for leaders to officially show appreciation and make a formal presentation. That’s why employee recognition is subpar about a third of the time. This is especially true when it comes to celebrating work anniversaries effectively. So how do you improve at this as a leader?
Many of the work anniversary ideas mentioned above simply cannot happen without planning ahead. To deliver a special award, or create a memorable keepsake, you need time. Set your calendar or take advantage of recognition tools that flag upcoming service recognitions for you. A few months ahead of the milestone, decide what your awards will look like, who will be involved in creating them, and get team members, peers, vendors, and family members involved.
Allow time for the creation of keepsakes or the production of awards and start the process early. Set aside a time and place to celebrate the milestone a couple of weeks in advance and invite people to participate. Finally, plan on having the gifts, awards, treats, and printouts ready for your presentation.
Hopefully, you now know a little more about how to celebrate work anniversary milestones more effectively. Going forward, you can ensure that you celebrate anniversary milestones for the Amandas and Stephens on your team in ways that celebrate their valued contributions and their very careers with the company. Doing so will not only improve the recognition experience for your team members, but will also help them feel more satisfied in their work and prolong their time with the organization.
As you build memorable experiences by involving peers and other connections in the process—as well as providing a gift and/or award that is worthy of the years of service the employee has given the organization—you’ll create a stronger, more resilient culture of appreciation and enthusiasm.
More Employee Recognition Resources
There are so many different ways to recognize, appreciate, and celebrate your employees. Here are more resources for guidance:
• Guide to Employee Recognition Programs
• 11 Employee Recognition Ideas
• 22 Awesome Employee Recognition Gift Ideas
• 9 Tips for How to Choose Employee Recognition Software
• Heartfelt Employee Appreciation Quotes to Say "Thank You"
• Benefits of Peer to Peer Recognition
• Best Practices for Virtual Employee Recognition
• Guide to Years of Service Awards
• Tips to Celebrate Work Anniversaries
• Employee Recognition in the Modern Workplace
• Victories: Modern Recognition Software
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