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Secrets to Effective Service Awards

Use each anniversary as a chance to renew your employees' loyalty.

Celebrating an employee's work anniversary is more than nice; it's good business. In one study, 87 percent of employees who'd been recognized meaningfully at work said their company brings out their best ideas--and that service anniversary recognition was especially motivating. Another study found that US workers stayed more than 40% longer with an employer if the company had a milestone recognition program. "Those who are most motivated are the ones who feel appreciated. They aren't as likely to jump ship at the first sign of a better opportunity," explains Pierre-Renaud Tremblay, director of human resources for Dupray, Inc., a leading maker of specialized steam cleaning systems.

Honoring employees for their service also creates a contagious kind of happiness. Integrity HR, which provides human resources outsourcing and other services, says on its website that recognizing work anniversaries can have a "domino effect around the office. It will get fellow employees excited because they know you will offer them the same celebration upon their anniversaries."

Promo Tip:

If you give the gift of a shirt or jacket, top it off with a company cap. If your employee regularly wears it, your firm's name and logo will be seen more than 3,000 times on average before the hat wears out.

How best to mark an employee's big day? "Think about what he or she needs and values," recommends human resources expert Laura MacLeod, LMSW, creator of From the Inside Out Project, which helps company employees with issues like conflict resolution and listening skills to improve behavior, attitude, and productivity. In most cases, this doesn't necessarily mean money. Money is something earned--not a gift for a special occasion. "When you are celebrating an anniversary, you are expressing appreciation for the employee's service," according to Integrity HR. If you can increase the value of a gift with the passing years, that's always nice, but the most important thing is to treat everyone equally.

It can be a challenge to make sure employee service awards are unique and personal, yet of roughly equal value. But it can be done. These ideas are all broadly appealing, yet easily personalized:

  • A commemorative gift with the company logo. This was one of the most desired gifts among employees, according to one recent large survey. It also can be a way to recruit new talent: If the recipient shows off the gift—say, a jacket or portfolio—to others, it signals that your organization is generous and appreciative.
  • A journal with the company's or employee's name. Have a manager write something on the first page about the employee's accomplishments since joining the team.
  • A special meal with top brass, and a personalized memento. Holly Wolf, chief marketing officer for Conestoga Bank in Chester Springs, PA, fondly remembers how a hospital she worked at handled employees' anniversaries. "Each month the president of the hospital hosted ‘Mike's Lunch Bunch,'" she says. "At the meal you could ask him any questions, and the answers were shared in the hospital newsletter. You also got a fun Mike's Lunch Bunch t-shirt. It was a small gesture that really resonated."
  • A gift of the employee's choice. Compile a brochure of personalized presents and allow the staffer to pick out a favorite. (Shopping on the job? Now that's a treat.)

Promo Tip:

Take a photo at the end of the occasion and present it to the employee in a personalized frame. It will serve as a constant reminder to your staffer that his good work hasn't gone unnoticed.

Whatever you give, be sure to let the rest of the company know who's being celebrated, and why. Don't just call attention to how many years the person has been there, though: "Focus on specific accomplishments," advises Tremblay. "Highlight that he increased web traffic by twenty percent, for example, or landed a lucrative account." You can do this in an email, the company newsletter, or as part of a toast at a celebratory gathering.

Above all, make it special. "We invest so much of our lives in work. Your work anniversary is like a birthday," says Wolf. "Without that day, you would never be at your job."

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