This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
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, as 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.
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