How To Turn Your Career Milestone Event Into Something Memorable

An employee’s career milestone, whether in person or virtually celebrated, is a special event and very important to them. You need to show staff that this is a big deal to everyone else as well—their immediate manager and senior leaders alike.

Celebrating an employee’s work anniversary should be something that is easy to acknowledge. After all, you are thanking them for their length of service with the organization and expressing appreciation for their contributions. 

I will lay out for you the 4 P’s you need to follow so you will honor every employee’s career milestone the right way.

#1: “P” for Purpose

Think about what you really want to achieve. What is your purpose for celebrating an employee’s career milestone anniversary? Consider the following questions and work with others organizing the celebration to think about them too. It will be quite revealing when you collect everyone’s responses. 

  • Why are we honoring this employee?
  • What should we be remembering?
  • How do we want them to feel?
  • Have past presentations seemed meaningful to you? If not, why not? 

Keep in mind that a person’s length of service with an organization has been their life’s contribution to making a difference in whatever positions they filled. More than anything else, celebrants want to know you and others value them for all they have done.

Before any celebration, learn the attributes of the individuals to share them, if appropriate, in the presentation. Remember that the presentation is about each individual. It is not about the award which they most likely chose and already know what it is. 

Find out what is most meaningful to them in their work and honor them for it. Dig deeper and discover from managers and peers the stories that capture the difference the employee has made to people in the organization and to customers. What makes them an outstanding employee? 

#2: “P” for Plan 

Career milestone celebrations take longer to plan in our now hybrid workforce world and with the current supply chain issues affecting things. The biggest key is to organize and prepare well in advance to make the award occasion as successful as possible. Remember to treat this as celebrating each person with an anniversary versus presenting them with something tangible. Iron out as many problems as you can ahead of time. The more you find out about each award recipient and use the information wisely, you make this an extra special event for them. 

Consider the following questions:

  • Who should you invite? Past colleagues and managers? Family? Friends?
  • What would the honoree like to see happen?
  • Where is the best place to hold the awards event?
  • How can you make a virtual presentation more special?

Find out well ahead of time the award recipient’s preference for public versus private recognition. You might not know that research shows on average 20%—25% of employees do not want to receive an award or recognition publicly in front of others. This varies depending on their professional role, but it is important to respect this no matter what. 

There will be some employees who prefer a small private affair with just their immediate manager, and maybe a few colleagues. Some individuals are fearful of the limelight or being paraded in front of others, whether on a stage or through the computer screen. Respect this and see if time and resources permit a more personal experience.

Finding the right place and setting can add to the whole award moment. Don’t just drop the award off on their desk and have no personal interaction with them. This is not a mail delivery. This is a personal memory that becomes either a memorable milestone for the recipient or a deplorable millstone wanting to be forgotten.

Remind yourself to have someone on hand to capture this special occasion on camera and/or video. If this is video-conferenced, follow the checklist sheet to hit record before the celebration begins. Either way, you’ll have a recorded memory to send out to staff after the event.

#3: “P” for Personalize

A person’s time and service with an organization is a flashback of memories for each milestone employee. Milestones elicit feelings of gratitude and positivity that outweigh any upsets that might have happened along the way.

To make this milestone award event even more personal, remember to ask yourself:

  • Are you using their preferred name versus their given name?
  • What is their history with your company?
  • Do you know why they selected their particular award gift?
  • How will everyone remember them for what they have done so far? 

Do whatever it takes to get the “right” person to present their award to each employee. It will most likely be their immediate manager. But depending on relationships, the length of time working with their manager, or other meaningful connections over their work experience, there just might be someone else who is a better fit. 

Keep in mind the importance of an employee’s name. It is like music to their ears. Make sure you have the correct spelling of their name on any printed items. And find out the correct pronunciation of their name, whether it seems familiar or unfamiliar to you. Just today I heard a name that I would have pronounced incorrectly. Fortunately, I heard the individual say it when they introduced themselves. 

Your most important goal is to make this event the most memorable experience for each career milestone recipient.

#4: “P” for Present

Most career milestone recognition programs give the opportunity for each recipient to pre-select his or her award gift from a catalog of options. Keep in mind that this means once chosen, they know what they are getting. There may be some anticipatory excitement for what they chose. Otherwise, it is not the most exciting thing for them. Your job in presenting or facilitating the presentation will add the icing on the cake to the gift being given.

Think about these questions:

  • What is ONE thing you could do to turn this into a “celebration” and not just a “presentation”?
  • Can you connect this person’s contributions to the organizational values?
  • Are you prepared to sincerely and specifically thank them for all that they have done for the organization?
  • What do those who know them best say is their most outstanding quality? 

How are you and the leaders of your organization doing in honoring and celebrating career milestone recipients? Hopefully, you are presenting their milestone award the right way, which will make a lasting impact on employees. However, if the presentation is ill prepared and done inappropriately, you will ruin everything the recipient holds dear to them about working at your organization.

With every planned set up, invitation, communication, etc. make a positive memory of everything you do for each honoree. Treat them as a star celebrity, because on their special day, they really are.

Remember to acknowledge each person’s achievements. Tell them and everyone present about the incredible difference they’ve made working for your organization.

Recognition Reflection: How do you honor and celebrate your career milestone award recipients?

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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