How to More Effectively Approach Milestone Recognition

Career milestone award or service award recognition programs have been around for many years.

Over those years there have been the customary plaques, symbolic crystal awards, and gold watches—and these used to start when a person reached 25-years of service.

But as tenure reduced significantly with economy and business changes, and retention of employees was harder to maintain, career milestones now begin at 5 years and 5-year increments thereafter. Today, you will find many companies now start career milestones at an employee’s first year of service.

The reality is, whether you give an employee something tangible or not, they always have a workplace anniversary every single year.

How do you plan to make the next round of your milestone recognition celebrations more meaningful and effective?

Bringing More Life To Your Milestone Recognition Program

In reviewing what I have heard from clients and employees over the years I have compiled seven areas for you focus on with improving your milestone recognition program.

1. You need to get organizational agreement on why you are recognizing employees’ milestone anniversaries.

Ensure everyone knows what the specific purpose is for your career milestone recognition program at your organization and that they clearly know “why” you celebrate milestone anniversaries.

  • It’s about honouring your employees for their long years of service and the contributions and difference they have made.
  • This should be considered a celebration of their anniversary and loyalty rather than simply a presentation of an award or gift.
  • Your organizational leaders have a chance to recognize the milestone recipient for how they demonstrate living the values and culture.
  • Leaders can share if time permits the specific ways the employee has impacted the organization.

2. You need to get senior leader endorsement to put managers on frontline responsibility for milestone recognition.

Make managers accountable for representing the company or organization in all aspects of the milestone recognition but especially on the actual anniversary day so that no employee goes home on their anniversary without being acknowledged. Raise the bar and make manager responsibility for milestone recognition a non-negotiable standard.

  • If there is one thing you can do to make your milestone recognition more effective, it is ensuring that an employees’ immediate supervisor and/or manager acknowledges their anniversary on the day.
  • There is pain and disappointment in employees’ minds and hearts when no one, especially their manager, says anything about their anniversary and neglects to thank them for their service.
  • Hold your managers accountable and expect reports back from them on what they did and how the employee reacted to their acknowledgement and possible presentation, if that is what is done.
  • Managers are probably the biggest factor in making or breaking your milestone recognition experience in the eyes of employees.

3. Milestone recognition is about celebrating employees so get employees involved in making your milestone recognition a success.

Get your employees involved in your milestone recognition program right from the beginning to ensure ongoing suggestions are received for improving the total recognition experience of your milestone awards program.

  • Hold focus groups with employees and ask them for ideas on one thing the organization and managers can do to make milestone recognition more meaningful and effective for everyone.
  • Draw upon the motivation and interest of employees to volunteer to assist with milestone or service award recognition programs and events.
  • Set some measurable goals that you want to achieve with each milestone award presentation and event and have employees involved give direct feedback to see how you did.
  • Invite a representative group of employees to give feedback and advice when selecting a catalogue of gift awards or types of symbolic awards.

4. Like most organizational recognition you need to make milestone recognition more visible to others.

Add the formality of the milestone recognition program to your informal social recognition program newsfeed to make the recognition more visible throughout the company or organization.

  • Besides using your social recognition newsfeed to notify of agreeing employees to their milestone anniversary you can use your digital signage and televisions to publicize them.
  • Ensure leaders use all staff meetings whether in person or virtual online to announce milestone anniversaries and acknowledge employees.
  • Use whatever online or on the wall bulletin boards available to publicize the employee milestones in your team or department.
  • Communicate when you have your milestone celebration events who the milestone recipients were on your intranet site along with photos and a composite video for people to view.

5. How well are you demonstrating good value with valuing an employee’s milestones?

Evaluate what you are giving to people to recognize their milestone anniversary so it is meaningful and properly represents the value of each individual’s service and contributions given to the company or organization.

  • Ask willing employees to come with their gift and open it up in front of you and an evaluation committee. Watch closely and see what their reaction is after they open it up and view it. Take notes and dialogue with them on what their reaction was from their point of view.
  • You’ll often find that lower year level gifts are of a lower monetary value compared with successive year levels. The award gift may be seen by employees as being of trivial value and thus not meaningful. They’ll be thinking, “Is this what the organization thinks I am worth!”
  • Perhaps you can’t afford higher monetary gift values of milestone gifts or award. At least you can take time out of work to acknowledge the employee and perhaps have personal sharing by peers and possibly some refreshments to celebrate with.
  • How well does your milestone celebration experience align with your purpose for milestone recognition? Does what you do and what you give reflect well on the organizational culture?

6. Strive to create a unique experience for your employees with their milestone recognition.

Design the milestone recognition experience and award to symbolically remind the recipient of the company’s culture and of the organization’s high regard for the employee’s contribution and loyalty.

  • Check with the award recipient first whether they are okay with their milestone recognition being a public event.
  • Many will prefer a one-on-one presentation or with a small group of close colleagues because they don’t like large events. Please respect their wishes because up to 25% or more of employees cringe and dislike public celebration events.
  • While many people may be receiving a milestone award on the same day, if celebrated as a group, capture some special memory by PowerPoint or photo display.
  • Consider who would be most meaningful to each milestone recipient to have present at a celebration event and even who would be the best person to present the award gift.

7. Cover all the bases of the milestone recognition timeline for your employees to capture the recognition moment.

Take time to orchestrate the communications and personal interactions you have with each milestone recipient before, during, and after their milestone anniversary day so you can maximize the recognition experience.

  • Beforehand you can find out desires for public or private presentation. Ask what their favorite food and drink items are that can be ordered in advance. Determine who they would like present at their milestone event so you can invite them.
  • During the event make sure you have a photographer and videographer on hand to capture not only the presentation but also the milestone recipient in action before the presentation for memories to share later on.
  • Personalize the experience as much as you can even down to the details such as giftwrapping paper that matches their favorite color or depicts items that fit the individual’s likes, interests, or hobbies, etc.
  • Afterward, have the president or CEO send a personalized letter of congratulations accompanied by a photograph taken of the milestone recipient.

I hope this sparks some ideas for you to consider when evaluating your milestone recognition program. Take just one area at a time and apply it to your organizational culture and what will work for you and your management team.

Recognition Reflection: How often do you evaluate and make quality improvement changes to your milestone recognition program?

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.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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