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Rick Blabolil

Convey Some Emotion in Service Anniversaries: 3 Ways to Make Service Awards Special

Service awards are in danger of losing their value. First of all, there has been an overreliance on the tried and true—the engraved plaque or piece of crystal. Second, we have a younger workforce that expects recognition early on and anticipating a 5-year service award probably has little or no impact on their current levels of engagement. (We realize that “tax deductibility” may drive the frequency of awards, but are you looking to make a positive impact on your employees, or a good deal? A topic for another day.)

It’s time to break away from service anniversary awards that are lackluster and uninspiring, and dispel the idea that “length of service” means “it takes a long time to get recognized.”

We recently did some examination of our own service anniversary awards and here’s what we discovered: although we’re a company that fully understands the value of service anniversary awards, we had fallen into a routine of acknowledging our own employees’ service anniversaries in fairly standard ways. For example, one of our own awards is a heavy glass mug, filled with goodies and engraved with our name and the year of the award. But we got to thinking: Over the years our employees were receiving a number of mugs, and do they really need a collection of mugs?

So we’ve completely changed direction. Our charge to managers is to really dig deeply when deciding how to recognize a direct report’s service anniversary. We encourage them to do this by taking the time to really get to know the employee. Talk to the employee, talk with their co-workers. The goal is to find out what is really important to that employee or what inspires them outside of the 9-to-5. It could be photography, wine, ice hockey, an upcoming trip or a charity that they support.

The thing is, we think we know the people we work with, but it’s usually just at a surface or social level. With a little digging we can come to know our colleagues at a more personal level. This enables us to discover what is important to them, and possibly associate that with the form their service anniversary award takes and its timing. The key is to break away from “one size fits all” service awards by finding what is important and meaningful to each individual employee and letting that guide your award choice.

Here are some examples of where this has taken us:

  • One of our managers found out that an employee and his wife wanted to be more knowledgeable about wine. The manager went online and discovered a wine-tasting experience for 12 people that fit within the service anniversary budget (particularly through a Groupon offering). So, not only were the employee and his wife able to expand their knowledge of wine, they were also able to share the experience with their friends.
  • Another employee was entering her 20th year with the company. She mentioned to some co-workers that she planned to travel to Italy later in the year. We used that information to find the perfect service anniversary award for her: a coupon for an 8-course dinner at a restaurant known for its excellent Northern Italian cuisine. Again, this aligned with the service anniversary budget. We presented the gift to the employee, telling here “Get yourself ready to go to Italy.” She was thrilled. Even better, this was a restaurant she had always wanted to go to.

There are enormous opportunities for being creative at both ends of the service anniversary timeline. You can acknowledge employees who have been with you five years or less with something that is unique. For example, nearly all organizations require ID badges for their employees. Why not provide cases for the badges in different colors, or have the badges printed with varying background colors, each color representing different years of service? A career spectrum, as it were. Or, why not order special lanyards indicating each individual year of service? The opportunities for celebrating a service anniversary are only as limited as your imagination.

Although their ranks are thinning, what about those employees with 15 or more years of loyal service?  They’ve given your organization a significant portion of their lives and their steadfast commitment. At this point they probably already have had several service anniversary awards and another branded product may not be that special to them. Here is another opportunity for creativity. Why not commission a signed piece of art—a lithograph, for example, or a piece of sculpture, or even blown glass—from an up and coming artist? Play off of the “art of life” and momentous occasions. For example, link the quest of an artist to the landmarks of accomplished pursuits. Or tie the mentor to the master. Is it reaching? It is—it’s reaching to bring emotion to an anniversary.  Not a bad way to show appreciation.

What has your company done that makes service anniversary awards special? Have you created new and unique ways to honor your employees’ journey with your company? Leave your comment below.

Looking for a custom service award? Check out custom awards that make an impact.