Never Miss a Work Anniversary: Recognize & Reward Employee Years of Service 

By: Tim Schieffer
employees clapping and congratulating each other

How organizations handle a team member’s “workiversary” is an important element of the employee experience. Start dates are significant. An effective service award program gives employees something to look forward to. Service milestones are moments when many are reflecting on their careers and their role in the organization. 

Don’t leave it solely up to managers to remember and meaningfully acknowledge employee work anniversaries. Integrate anniversary awards into broader retention and recognition strategies, and make milestones about more than giving an off-the-shelf gift. 

Authentic appreciation matters. Today’s employee turnover trends point to employee perception of their employers as a significant factor in whether they stay or seek a new opportunity. 

About 50.5 million people quit their jobs in 2022, beating out the 47.8 million in 2021, according to Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey data issued Wednesday.

Investing in an effective service award program can promote positive perception, saving employers from the rising costs of recruiting and training new team members.

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How to Enhance the Award Experience 

Organizations with stellar service award programs create consistent patterns of employee recognition. They go beyond celebrating with cake in the break room or giving pins and plaques to aligning award options with items and experiences that bring real value to employees. 

Evaluate your service award offerings and consider opportunities to improve automation and personalization. 

1. Incorporate technology

Tailored platforms can automate communications at key milestones, and streamline award ordering, fulfillment and reporting. 

2. Refresh symbolic gifts with meaningful merch

Trophies and plaques have historically symbolized tenure and accolades, but it may be time to consider more creative options. Company-branded socks at year one, or custom embroidered vests to celebrate being “fully vested” tend to resonate more with today’s multigenerational workforce. These visible symbols are a signal of workplace pride that they can wear anywhere. 

3. Increase award levels

We see annual investments begin at $25/year of service and climb beyond $1,000/year of service in certain industries. Evaluate your retention data to determine which milestones matter most and invest accordingly.

4. Add milestones

Organizations should start the formal recognition cycle at the first anniversary, or at least by year 3. This is true for companies in a rapid growth phase and addresses generational trends toward shorter tenures. Consider adding a milestone between years 5 and 10 (a common exit point). 

5. Streamline gifting options

Expansive award selections can overwhelm employees. Create tailored catalogs for each country and consider curating a “pick-a-gift” catalog to offer 25–50 awards that meet employees’ diverse needs. 

6. Publicly promote “workiversaries”

Highlight service anniversaries on your intranet, in-office screens and/or during company meetings, so peers can offer congratulations and participate in the celebration.  

Related: Get ideas for how to share authentic appreciation that keeps your employees engaged and excited about their work.

Integrate Employee Feedback 

Even if service awards are already embedded in your company culture, it’s important to evaluate how effective elements of your recognition program continue to be. 

We took our own advice and recently revamped our employee sabbatical program based on data and employee feedback. Now, three-week paid sabbaticals kick in every five years. And employees receive a travel stipend that helps them take advantage of the time off. We’ve already seen more employees utilize this benefit. (And, yes, we’re hiring!)

Listening to employees is a key component of any employee engagement strategy, and our experience proves service awards are no exception. Get it right and you’ll be rewarded with improved tenure rates and happier team members. 

Interested in improving your service award program? Learn more about what a well-rounded employee experience solution can do for you.  

Tim Schieffer
Tim Schieffer

Tim is the Employee Experience Insights and Strategy Leader for ITA Group. With 20+ years of experience serving clients in multiple industries, including e-commerce, communications and finance, he offers a unique perspective on how to attract and retain top talent. His passion for delivering personalized employee engagement strategies helps create cultures centered on empowering people. Outside of work, you'll find him cheering on the Green Bay Packers as a proud part-owner. Go Pack Go!