Taking a Quick Look at Career Milestone Awards

How are your career milestone or service award programs doing these days?

It seems the majority of organizations have tenure or long service award programs. According to WorldatWork’s 2017 Trends in Employee Recognition, length of service recognition remains the top ranked recognition program with 85 percent of organizations. 

Historically, and especially within the public sector, career milestone years were only acknowledged when an employee reached 25 years or longer. Today, most progressive organizations commence with at least 5 years and then celebrate every 5-year increment thereafter.

But when you look at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics the average tenure for salaried employees is 4.2 years. That average drops to 2.8 years for the mobile 25 to 34 year old employees.

So it should come as no surprise that at least 16 percent of organizations now start with one-year anniversaries, and 7 percent of organizations even acknowledge 3-year milestone levels (see Conference Board of Canada, 2017).

  • Do you acknowledge new employees during onboarding? Does your organization celebrate employees on their first anniversary, or third? 

Most organizations have some form of special event associated with career milestone recognition. This is often an annual calendared event and can be tied to other formal award events or celebrations. Smaller organizations typically do a more personal event such as a departmental or team lunch. Or they simply take a break and have drinks and treats to acknowledge the employee.

However, a recurring problem with career milestones is when managers or supervisors miss the opportunity of acknowledging the employee on their anniversary day, whether there is an annual event or local celebration. Missing a work anniversary can be a painful experience for employees. It makes them feel less valued and unappreciated.

  • Have your HR department notify managers of anniversaries in advance. Or arrange with your award vendor to send career milestone advisory notices to managers. These notifications can be emailed to managers or integrated with their online calendar to remind them.

Service milestones are an opportunity for the company and their managers to acknowledge and thank staff for their loyalty and all they have done over the past period of years. It does not necessarily require a tangible gift or award but most companies do.

Reports show almost half of all companies give a gift that the employee can choose from a catalogued selection. In total, 89 percent of organizations give a gift or points to redeem for a gift. Other companies give pins, trophies, certificates, and plaques. I have certainly seen in Western European countries where cash and paid days vacation are frequently given. About 12 to 16 percent of North American organizations give cash.

I loved my visit to Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer based in Las Vegas, Nevada in the U.S.A. a few years back. The majority of Zappos employees are Gen Z and Y employees, but not all. No mater the age, on each employee’s anniversary day their peers dress up and parade down call centre aisles and distribution areas, and come by with an anniversary sticker. Employees have a plastic vanity license plate with their first name on it hanging from somewhere in their office area. The sticker is that year’s date and is ceremoniously applied to the employee’s license plate. It is symbolic and meaningful to the employees and no one is missed with the crazy fanfare known to Zappos’ culture.

  • How could you uniquely celebrate a long-service employees that fits with your organizational culture?

Two Suggested Improvements for Career Milestone Awards

1. Managers represent their company.All managers need to be held accountable for representing the CEO/President of their organization when delivering congratulatory messaging and awards to each long-service award employee. This is a delegated responsibility to them and they should be expected to give a report on a monthly or quarterly basis on how they honored and celebrated their respective employees.

2. Measuring the milestone award effectiveness.Are you setting objectives for how meaningful the career milestone award experience should be in the eyes of your employees? Was the award ordering and receiving process an easy and positive experience?  Were they appropriately honored and celebrated by their manager, and by their peers? What goals do you set for your award events? How do you manage what happens before, during, and after an awards event? Identify what could be improved and determine if those suggestions can be affordably accommodated.

Recognition Reflection: What is the most challenging aspect affecting the success of your career milestone award program?

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