This is the third post in a series on Embedding Recognition in the Everyday Life of the Company. In Part 1, I addressed integrating recognition into your onboarding strategy and practices. Then, in Part 2, I took up how you can weave recognition into your meetings and learning opportunities.
This post will cover more traditional recognition moments such as career milestones (length of service anniversaries) and retirement recognition.
As you read these ideas, evaluate how you are doing with recognition in your organization in these areas, and if there are steps you need to take to improve things.
One would think the most common of recognition practices and programs, career milestone or service anniversaries, would be integrated into the organizational psyche. But alas, it is not. Too often, career milestones are a lost opportunity for meaningful recognition, and when done poorly, they become a negative branding for the organization and lessen employee loyalty.
Put Careful Planning in Place
A key to effective and meaningful career anniversary recognition is planning. Unfortunately, it’s a lack of planning that ruins this formal recognition the most in organizations today.
Prioritize each person’s work anniversary date in the minds and lives of your managers. Have your Human Resources staff, or your third-party recognition program vendor, notify each manager by email for each of their employees’ special day. By creating this reminder, it acts as a prompt to cue managers to do the things to make their employee feel valued.
It is also important for managers to plan exactly what they will do before the anniversary date. Most organizations have special gifts or awards that employees select from an online or printed catalog weeks before their milestone anniversary. But what about non-milestone anniversaries—shouldn’t you acknowledge those too?
Find out what company policies allow you to do in using allocated or discretionary funds to celebrate all anniversaries, whether it’s quick refreshments or a simple drop by to acknowledge, or a lunch, or a larger get together for the significant milestones.
Always remember to honor a career anniversary by doing what the person prefers, not just what you would like. Not everyone likes public recognition. Find out employee’s recognition preferences ahead of time so you can deliver recognition privately or publicly according to the employee’s wishes.
Expect Managers to Represent the Organization
You can trace most failed experiences with career milestone recognition back to an employee’s manager. I have heard of many employees who received their selected gift but received no expression of acknowledgment from their manager. They never forget this negligence by their manager.
Set an expectation of all managers to represent the organization for all special milestone anniversary events and to acknowledge employees on all anniversary dates.
If you’re setting such a high expectation, then you must hold managers accountable for representing the organization. Create an accountability process to follow up with each manager to find out if they recognized employees on their anniversary.
Besides a check the box accountability, request that managers also give written reports back on how the employee reacted to their acknowledgment and to give their own perception of the experience. This will help managers to observe the feelings of their employees and reflect on how this was a positive experience for them.
Sharing Career Milestones with Everyone
While managers probably have the biggest impact on employee perception of career milestones and service anniversaries, it doesn’t mean you can’t share the load and responsibility to celebrate an employee’s big day.
Involve employees in honoring people on service anniversaries, whether the repeated annual occurrence or on special milestones reached.
Have staff work together on making members of their department or team feel valued on their special day. They may organize a pot-luck luncheon or chip in to take them out for lunch. Or they might involve an individual’s significant other or family to come up with ideas they could use.
The bottom line is for managers to share the load in recognizing milestones.
And Then Comes Retirement
When someone retires from an organization, your recognition focus needs to be all about honoring that individual. You must focus on the individual, and all they have done for the organization.
It’s a chance ahead of time to discover what has been the most meaningful part in this person’s work role. What are they most proud of having done or accomplished? How were they regarded by their peers? What will everyone remember them for?
When an employee retires, you are triggering the need to remember the good times and the bad times, but mostly the positive things about that person’s work life.
If photos have been taken over the years, then capture memories of the individual in their work. Especially collect pictures where they are with their work colleagues.
Invite others to share their reflections on the person by writing up short notes or submitting them digitally. You could even create video recorded messages and greetings to give to the retiree as a keepsake.
Most organizations have guidelines on what the organization does for retirees. They often have a monetary value assigned to what they can use to give to them. No matter whether it is something the retiree gets to choose or whether a standard gift or symbolic item, the key is to make this a memorable experience.
Celebrate the Retiree’s Contributions
The retiree’s last day is a significant event in their life. It is a closing of a chapter and the opening of a new beginning. Work hard at having senior leaders and other significant people present to honor them.
Makes sure there is someone assigned and prepared to thank them for living the organizational values, for the contributions they’ve made over the years, and for making a difference to the people they worked with, and for the organization.
This will be the last thank you they receive on the job. Make sure it is done with dignity and respect.
Look at how you can better embed recognition practices into the more formal career milestone recognition and retirement recognition in your organization.
Recognition Reflection: Are your managers held accountable for representing the organization with career milestone recognition?
Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.
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