A Complete Guide to Employee Service Awards

Everything you need to know about creating a modern and effective Service Awards Program.

LS05_Service-Awards-Guide_CoverWhy Celebrating Employee Anniversaries Is Important

Imagine the following scenario…

An important anniversary is coming up for you and your significant other.

But to your surprise, your significant other completely forgets about this important day. No card. No gift. Not even a verbal acknowledgement. Forgetting an important date like this would feel disappointing for most people.

Professionally speaking, forgetting a work anniversary can bring about a negative response as well — especially if the employee is celebrating a significant milestone, like a five or ten year work anniversary.

A universal truth: It feels good to be appreciated

Celebrating work anniversaries is a popular way for companies to express appreciation and gratitude to their employees.

We are living in a climate where short work tenures are the norm. As a result, it's never been more important to praise employee loyalty and commitment.

Acknowledging work anniversaries validates employee commitment. In other words, it ensures loyalty is recognized and not "taken for granted.

Glassdoor’s Employee Appreciation Survey revealed that over half of employees would stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciation from their boss. Yet only 22% of managers report feeling equipped to recognize their employees, according to PossibleWorks.

Additionally, up to 55% of employee engagement is driven by non-financial recognition, according to McKinsey. In fact, non-financial recognition serves as “the biggest driver of employee experience.”

Bottom line: Pay alone will never guarantee long-term employee loyalty.

Employees want to be recognized, not only for the job they do but who they are as people. It's this type of genuine recognition that keeps employee turnover low.

That said, Service Award Programs play an important role in acknowledging employee contributions.

These programs have been around in the corporate and professional world for a very long time. But the nature of work has changed over the past decades. The structure and value of a Service Awards Program have shifted as a result.

hands-young-elegant-businessman-with-packed-birthday-present-giftbox-passing-you-gift-blue-box-with-bow-made-up-silk-ribbon-2What Are Employee Service Awards?

But what exactly are employee service awards? Service awards are all about celebrating major career milestones and tenure. These years of service celebrations mark significant work anniversaries, such as 5, 10 or 15 years with an organization. The idea is to recognize and celebrate employees' long-term commitment while highlighting their contributions throughout the years.

If you’re wondering when service awards should take place, they are often integrated during annual company events, such as end-of-year parties or corporate anniversaries. The entire organization should be able to participate in the recognition, so these types of events are fitting for service awards.

Some companies put together large-scale events centered around employee anniversaries. For example, Walt Disney World hosts lavish service celebration parties for Cast Members (employees) who have reached at least 10 years of tenure. It’s an old tradition – and no expense is spared.

In a more formal setting, a service awards event usually includes some sort of ceremony where employees are publicly acknowledged by senior management or direct managers and presented with a plaque or other token of appreciation – along with other rewards.

In a less formal setting, recognizing employees during regular team meetings or hosting a team lunch can be appropriate and feel personal. The employee being celebrated usually receives a card and a gift along with a public shout-out.

Regardless of the context, creating a celebratory atmosphere is key. This can be achieved with something as simple as a catered lunch – or it can be more elaborate and take the form of a professionally organized event. Including a thoughtful, personalized gift or reward is important. It’s all about the meaningfulness of the gesture.

Big or small, service awards events are designed to honor and reward employees' loyalty while creating a positive experience that people will remember.

going-their-presentation-cropped-shot-three-colleagues-working-officeWhy upgrade your Employee Awards Program?

Traditional celebrations of employee loyalty looked very different from today.

First off, celebrating anniversaries felt transactional in nature. It was an acknowledgment for filling a seat. As such, employees often received a generic trophy or plaque by mail or during a team meeting. They received nothing more.

Over time, rewards became more diversified and appealing. Corporate gifting became a popular option. This style of celebration gave employees a choice to pick a gift from a catalog of options.

These programs were well-intentioned and beneficial to a degree. But, they lacked essential ingredients we find in the new style of Awards Programs seen today.

Key features in modern award programs

If there is one key thing to remember, it's that modern Service Awards celebrations should be personalized.

The goal is to celebrate the unique skills and contributions of the employee. It's not a transactional acknowledgment for filling a seat for X amount of years.

You can give personalized gratitude by making sure you're focusing on expressing gratitude to the person behind the job title. For example, managers can highlight the employee's "soft" skills, like their contagious positive attitude and sense of humour.

Second, a modern Awards Program should offer the freedom to buy a gift that is meaningful to the individual. What counts as a "special" or "meaningful" gift will change from employee to employee.

For example, some employees will find value in an indulgent luxury item. In short, something they wouldn't treat themselves to otherwise. In contrast, other employees prefer practical and useful gifts — for example, a kitchenware item or a home appliance.

Bottom line: An outstanding Service Awards Program should offer a variety of rewards and gift options.

Lastly, an updated program celebrates "mini" milestones, not just the major ones. Traditionally speaking, companies celebrated the first milestone at the five-year mark. At this time, spending an entire career in two or three companies was typical, or maybe, even an entire career in the same place!

Times have changed. Most people will work at many companies throughout their careers. The median tenure for workers aged 25 to 34 is only 3.2 years. Celebrating the fifth anniversary as the first major milestone is now totally out-of-date. In short, recognizing employee loyalty at the two or three-year mark is quickly becoming the new normal.

excited-african-american-woman-unpacking-box-with-headphones-home (1)Benefits of a Service Award Program

When done well, service awards offer huge payoffs in terms of employee satisfaction and motivation. As mentioned earlier, being acknowledged is a human need. It makes people feel valued and appreciated – the opposite of a cog in a machine.

Service awards are a form of positive reinforcement. When team members are recognized for their long-term service, they are more likely to feel a sense of loyalty and stick around even longer. This fosters employee retention.

They also promote a sense of belonging and connection within the workplace. The act of celebrating milestones together fosters a supportive and inclusive culture. Employees feel part of a bigger whole, which can enhance collaboration and organizational alignment.

Moreover, service awards can boost motivation. Witnessing others being recognized can inspire employees to strive for long-term commitment and excellence. Plus, receiving tangible rewards can provide a sense of accomplishment and motivate employees to continue growing and bringing their best to the table.

Finally, service awards provide an opportunity to reflect and celebrate. Taking a moment to look back on achievements and contributions fosters a sense of pride. It allows the person receiving the award to think of their journey within the organization as a meaningful part of their career path as a whole.

In summary: Service Awards Programs have a positive impact on employees

Some people scrutinize Years of Service Programs; they claim that scheduled and predictable celebrations lack a spontaneous and personalized touch. In other words, they feel generic. Moreover, traditional-style celebrations are not based on actual talent or skill of the employee either. In the case of new programs, we can easily see, these claims simply aren't valid.

A well-rounded and thoughtful Years of Service Program undoubtedly has a strong positive impact on employee happiness and engagement.

Top 7 Best Practices for Recognizing Employee's Years of Service Download PDF Now

joyful-brunette-woman-demonstrating-her-friendly-smile-while-showing-her-present-per-videoKey Characteristics of Great Years of Service Programs

Great Service Awards Programs all have some common characteristics. In short, we can pinpoint a few universal best practices for recognizing and celebrating work anniversaries.

A few examples:

  • Defines Company Values: A strong service awards program clearly aligns with the company's core values and celebrates work anniversaries in a way that reinforces them. Employees get to feel appreciated while also seeing how their contributions embody the company's culture and ethos.
  • User-Friendly and Simple to Administer: Complexity is the enemy of execution. The best service awards are simple and don’t add to the administrative burden of managers and HR teams. Tech tools, automated systems and clear guidelines help ensure that no milestone goes unnoticed and that everything runs smoothly.
  • Involve a Social Celebration: From formal events to casual get-togethers, a service awards program involves a social celebration of some kind. They bring the team together to honor the achievements of their coworkers while fostering a sense of community.
  • Offer High-Quality Gift Options: Good gifts are a hallmark of great service awards programs. Offering different choices allows team members to select rewards that they actually value, from practical gifts to high-end experiences.
  • Make the Celebration Personal, Meaningful, and Fun: Service awards celebrations should be personal, meaningful, and fun. Mentioning specific achievements, contributions or anecdotes is crucial – it’s all about connecting the celebration to the employee’s impact on the organization's success. And keeping things fun leaves a positive and lasting impression on all participants.
  • Celebrate Both Major and Mini-Milestones: Recognizing both big and small wins is important in a comprehensive service awards program. While you should absolutely celebrate longer tenures, they are also rarer and shouldn’t be the only opportunity for recognition. Acknowledging smaller milestones keeps employees motivated at every stage.
  • Anniversary Celebrations are Tied to a Larger Employee Recognition Program: An outstanding employee service awards program is always tied to a broader employee recognition program. Creating a recognition-rich culture should be your goal, so you can’t limit your efforts to service awards.

Service award providers, such as Applauz Recognition, include these modernized services.

For example, Applauz provides an online catalogue of thousands of brand-named quality gift options. Also offering employees an online shopping-style experience.

Moreover, modern Years of Service solutions are customizable. For example, companies can choose exactly which milestones they will celebrate. They can also manually input the dollar value of each gift depending on the milestone. In short, these programs are flexible and budget-conscious. Even small businesses can celebrate their employee's anniversaries!

In short, a Service Awards Program shouldn't live in a vacuum. The program should reflect the company's values and mission. The last thing you want to offer is generic gifts that will be stuffed into the back of a storage closet.

Remember the most important sign of a great program: employees expressing enthusiasm for their upcoming celebration.

Enthusiasm is the number one sign that you've designed a truly memorable and valuable celebration experience.

bigstock-Smiling-Multiethnic-Businesspe-263442232How to Find an Employee Reward Vendor That Fits Your Needs

If your business is looking to launch a Years of Service Program for the first time, this section is for you.

There are many award service providers out there. It might feel overwhelming to pick from a large number of options. So, here are some factors you should consider that will help quickly narrow down your search.

1- Determine the precise milestones your organization wishes to celebrate

The very first thing you must do is zoom out and imagine what you want your Service Awards Program to look like on a high level.

A practical exercise to perform: Calculate the average tenure at your company. Knowing how long people stay at your company will help you understand which milestones should be celebrated.

For example, if you notice that many employees churn around the 2.5-year mark, you'll want to emphasize the second anniversary. What implications does this have when picking a provider? Well, it's essential to make sure that you choose a provider that offers custom milestones, like Applauz Recognition.

2- What do you want the experience look like

Another critical factor to consider is the overall experience of work anniversary celebrations. Another practical exercise: get a basic demographic analysis of your organization. I.e. What is the age breakdown of your workforce?

Understanding the DNA of your workforce will inform this decision and help you pick providers that align with your brand.

For example, if it makes sense to select a traditional provider, or is it wiser to go modern and digital?

Moreover, what type of gifts do you envision as resonating with your employees? Some providers focus on tangible high-quality brand-name products. In contrast, others focus on a different product assortment like gift cards.

Pro tip: If your team is small and close-knit, you can send out a quick survey to ask what they would prefer. By doing this, you'll guarantee everyone will enjoy their anniversary experience.

3- Determine a budget

Like any product on the market, there is a wide range of price points available when it comes to Service Awards providers.

A simple exercise here: Ask yourself what you're willing to spend on each milestone that you determined earlier? For example, are you going to offer employees celebrating their fifth anniversary a 50$ gift of a 200$ one?

Unfortunately, there are no hard industry benchmarks here. It all depends on what is feasible within the resources and means of your organization.

4- Shop for a provider that fits your vision and budget

Once you have a solid idea on paper of what your Service Awards program will look like, you can start shopping for providers!

Having your plan on paper makes the purchasing process infinitely easier. Because when you speak with the sales representatives, you will be in a position to explain what you're looking for.

It will quickly be obvious which companies are a good fit for your business and which ones are not — the result: saving your time and the sales reps time as well.

To find providers, a Google search for "employee awards program" or "employee service award providers" will do the trick. You can also refer to your network of HR professionals and managers who already have a Service Awards program in place. Ask them who they are using and if they are happy with their service.

Begin by browsing all your options and selecting the companies you feel represent the image you've established. Collect your prospects on a spreadsheet and start making calls and booking demos.

This portion of the process is usually the lengthiest one. It can involve multiple calls and even presentations. However, be assured that diligence during this process will pay off. Choosing a provider that is a good fit for your business is the key to long-term success. Hasty decisions made here can result in bigger headaches later.

5- Promote the program among your workforce

Once the service is purchased and in place, it's time to announce the big news to the organizations. This is a critical point that many organizations will fail to complete. It's crucial to make employees (current and prospective) aware that you worked hard to get this program in place.

Modernize your years of service program to boost engagement Download PDF Now

bigstock-Wish-You-All-The-Best-Young-C-338301103Work Anniversary Celebration Ideas for Employees

With the help of an employee rewards provider like Applauz, you can automate all work anniversary celebrations. The system takes care of notifying employees and the gifting process.

Once the initial configurations are in place, heavy lifting from management is minimal. As a result, modern solutions are a huge benefit for managers, as they automate most of the tedious administrative work.

That said, a great Awards Program should be user-friendly, of course, but also personalized. Managers should remember personalized touches are instrumental in creating anniversaries that are memorable and meaningful.

Think about it like this; imagine you got a gift on your birthday. To your surprise, you received nothing else: no cake, no party, or face-to-face acknowledgements. The present is nice, of course. But a truly memorable celebration would have some extra touches.

Pro tip: For significant milestones, like five or ten years, personalized touches are even more important. If you want to create meaningful celebrations, consider these fun and easy work anniversary ideas.

1- Host a Ceremony

Hosting a ceremony is a common way to create a memorable experience for employees. For smaller businesses, host a ceremony dedicated to acknowledging work anniversaries. You can gather everyone every three or six months, for example. On the other hand, larger organizations can incorporate celebration segments into other company-wide gatherings. Such as a holiday party or yearly company presentations. This way, all the employees who celebrate significant anniversaries that year can be acknowledged at once.

2- A personalized written message

With Years of Service Programs like Applauz, managers can send personalized anniversary emails to employees. Tailoring the celebration can be taken even a step further with a personalized card, including a warm and thoughtful message. This added effort will resonate with your employees who will feel like real thought and effort was put into their celebration.

3- Acknowledgment from someone higher up

Consider having a more senior manager or executive thank employees personally. This particular gesture of appreciation always resonates with employees. It also makes them feel as though they aren't just receiving a generic anniversary gift. Pro tip: the acknowledgement should highlight the specific skills and attributes that make the individual so important.

bigstock-Happy-Family-A-Businessman-Fat-348903424How to Manage a Rewards Program for Employees Working From Home

The concept of working from home, otherwise known as remote work, is more popular than ever. An unprecedented number of organizations now recognize the value of working from home for employees and the business.

Undoubtedly, working from home boasts many benefits for both parties. But, if your entire workforce (or even part of it) works remotely, this adds a layer of hurdle in the context of honouring work anniversaries.

As a case in point: Imagine hosting a birthday party over a video call? It would be a nice gesture. But it wouldn't be the same experience as having everyone present in the same room.

The good news: There are some effective ways managers can overcome this obstacle and make work anniversaries meaningful — despite the distance. Here are a few tips!

1-Use a socially-driven recognition platform

Using a digital platform like Applauz Recognition is key to maximizing celebration experiences. Of course, this includes work anniversaries!

Employee recognition platforms announce work anniversaries (and birthdays) automatically on a social-media-style Newsfeed. All fellow employees, no matter where they are in the world, can send their positive words of praise to their colleagues. As a result, a socially-driven platform allows employees to celebrate their anniversary publicly. Recognition and appreciation can be received from everyone.

2-Send a personalized letter by mail

Using a web-based platform for redeeming service awards gifts is ideal for remote workers. Everything — from purchasing the gift vouchers to shopping the Marketplace and ordering a gift— is done online. But, in this context, the online experience may lack a personalized touch.

To create a sense of connectedness between employees and managers, consider sending a personalized letter. You read that right, a good old fashioned letter! You can type it out, or opt for a hand-written card. Bottom line: sending a letter in the mail will undoubtedly exceed your employee's expectations. It is the highest demonstration of effort and thoughtfulness a manager can make.

3-Follow-up with the employee

In an office setting, it's easy for a manager to walk by an employee's desk and follow up about a work anniversary. For example, asking if they found a gift they liked in the catalogue or about what they ended up purchasing. Checking in with an employee shows that a manager cares about the employee's experience. But, when workers are physically separated, it can be easy to forget about this crucial step.

Despite employees working remotely, managers should make a point to follow-up (by chat or email) a few days after a celebration. This way, managers can confirm the employee understands how the program works if it's their first time using it. And, more importantly, they can get feedback about the employee's overall experience.

bigstock-Young-african-american-woman-w-356762915How to Improve Work Anniversary Celebrations

A good deal of work goes into selecting a service provider and getting the program up and running, so if you've made it to here, congratulations!

The first few months will be a time to experiment and test different types of celebrations. In short, providing a meaningful and fun anniversary celebration is a work in progress. Moreover, as the positive impacts of anniversary celebrations become more apparent, you may consider expanding your budget. A more significant budget will open up different opportunities for your program.

That said, improving a Service Awards Program hinges on one critical element: employee feedback.

Simply put, we suggest that you survey employees after their first experience using the program. Obtaining employee input will allow you to develop the best experience that genuinely resonates with employees.

Surveying employees can be accomplished with countless free tools such as Google Forms and Lime Survey.

The data gathered will allow you to understand exactly where your program is excelling or where it needs improvement. For example, maybe employees aren't satisfied with the gift options. Or perhaps they feel that it's too impersonal.

Here are some key questions to consider when surveying your employees about their experience with your Service Awards Program.

Questions to measure employee satisfaction with anniversary celebrations

  • How satisfied are you with the Years of Service Award Program that we have launched?
  • Did you feel your work anniversary celebration was personalized and meaningful?
  • Were you satisfied with the gift options available to you?
  • Was the program simple and easy to understand?
  • How likely are you to tell a friend about this experience?
  • Do you have any other comments or suggestions on how you would like to celebrate your work anniversary?

Surveying your employees accomplishes two critical things. First, it helps gather valuable information that will serve to improve your existing program. And second, it demonstrates to employees that their opinion matters. Ensuring that employees feel heard is a crucial part of creating an environment built around trust and open communication.

How Applauz can Support Your Years of Service Initiatives Download PDF Now

Subscribe to:

A Happier Workplace

Celebrate Employee Anniversaries With Meaningful Gifts  Set your company apart with a modern anniversary experience. Learn More

Frequently Asked Questions

What are employee service awards?

What is the best way to celebrate service awards?

Service awards can be celebrated in several ways, from formal parties to company-wide meetings or gatherings like team outings. The exact format may vary, but the goal is always to recognize and appreciate the employee's contributions with public recognition, a meaningful work anniversary message and a gift or reward of some kind.

What are appropriate gifts for employee service awards?

Impersonal gifts such as company gear can miss the mark. When celebrating a service award, it’s important to offer personalized and thoughtful rewards. Ideally, you should give employees the choice to select from a range of gift options so that each person finds something valuable to them. These gifts can include tangible items, gift cards or experiences such as hotel or spa stays.

Offer a Memorable
Service Awards Program to Employees

Speak to an Employee Engagement Specialist

Book a Demo