How to set up an employee service award program
Service awards are an integral component of employee recognition, and the introduction of a service award program is a powerful way to recognize employees for loyal service. Most employees crave some sort of recognition for their work achievements, including years of service.
Some managers question why people should be recognized for simply coming to work, and they give little recognition when their employees reach milestones of service. But more enlightened managers understand that being on the workforce for years is a major investment in their life. And service recognition is easy to do.
Universally, employee surveys show that employees want more recognition. The State branch of a billion-dollar engineering company, where I completed a short-term internal consulting contract a few years ago, was no exception. The national employee survey found that only 34% of employees were satisfied with the recognition they received for the performance in their current job.
The company quite often fell short on making employees feel special. For example, one of the senior executives received his 15-year service pin in the internal mail because he hadn’t attended the annual Christmas party during which such pins are traditionally presented. Do you think this was a sore point with him? Two years after receiving the award, he still hadn’t bothered to open the little presentation box containing the pin!
Most organizations run a program to recognize their employees for their years of service, but most of them could communicate much better about their program to achieve more effective results.
In the old days, a 25-year watch was the traditional and only recognition of significant length of service. People move on far more frequently these days, and should be recognized for serving shorter periods of time.
Some may believe that recognizing employees for their time served only emphasizes quantity rather than quality – the chair warmers rather than the achievers. However, the fact is that any significant length of service represents a major investment by an employee from their life. This choice of investment is something to be valued, especially when there is a comparatively high employee ‘churn’ (and cost of turnover) these days compared with the past.
Service awards are traditionally an HR-initiated activity. But if HR are slow to act, the PR branch could easily set them up, which is what I did. As these programs have a high communication component, they are an area for the public relations branch to play a significant role.
In addition to gifts of a tangible value, many other acts of recognition can be accorded to employees for length of service. Some of these are outlined in the list below, which is the actual list used by the engineering company in its employee service recognition program. This type of list should be communicated to all employees so that they readily understand and expect certain actions to recognize their service milestones. The list is shown below as a helpful guide.
Most of these acts are low cost or no cost. The sheer act of recognition itself often has the most impact – the fact that the employer has remembered and has acted to celebrate the employee’s length of service.
A sample employee service recognition program could involve actions to mark every 5 years of service. It’s a bit pointless to recognize only the later years of service such as 20, 25 or 30 years, because so few employees reach those milestones. Most move on before reaching those milestones. Best to start at 5 years.
Typical actions in a program could include something like the following:
Engraved pen for 5 years of service
Gift to value of $500 for 10 years of service.
Gift to value of $1,000 for 15 years of service
Gift voucher to the value of $2,000 for 20 years and 25 years of service
Gift voucher to the value of $2,500 for 30 years of service
Other recognition for each milestone
- Letter, certificate and presentation from regional manager
- Letter from CEO and presentation if available
- Listing in newsletter
- Note in intranet
- Article in newsletter
- Organizational Facebook post
- Twitter message
- Morning tea and informal presentation
- Dinner with colleagues or family
- Honor Board/Hall of Fame
- End-of-year presentation + certificate
- Long service pins (ruby, emerald etc)
The problem of retrospectivity
When establishing a service award program, the problem of what to do about past milestones always occurs. There has to be a date set as an arbitrary starting point for the program. But what should be done about people who have passed previous milestones without any recognition?
To be fair to all, a starting date should be set for a service award program. Any people who have reached milestones before this date should be recognized in a low-key way for the most recent milestone. Anyone who is due to reach a milestone in the current year should not receive retrospective recognition for previous milestones because their award this year will supersede any previous milestones. Due to the increased number of people these days who move on quickly after starting a new job, the cost of recognising people for past service is not as high as you might think.
Most organizations conduct an annual staff survey. You can ensure employee recognition is included, with a question such as “How satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for performance in your current job?” The survey results will be a valuable guide to the extent to which employees respond to the service awards and later recognition initiatives. This year’s survey result will form the benchmark figure for employee recognition.
There are many ways to communicate about positive initiatives like these.