Feature Article - April/May 2020

Recognizing Loyalty & Service

The Value of Service Awards Remains Strong

By Rick Dandes


Points of Concern

The problem of not acknowledging employees' career milestones in a personable and meaningful way appears to be on the increase, said Roy Saunderson, chief learning officer, Engage2Excel. "When employees do not feel valued, honored or celebrated by their managers for their career service, managers are jeopardizing that employee's engagement, level of motivation on the job and the employee's ongoing loyalty toward the company," he said.

By not acknowledging an employee on their anniversary date, Saunderson explained, you are showing a lack of respect. You are actually dishonoring them and their years of service. If you don't say anything or do anything, then employees might feel their years of contribution have not been valued.

"I can also guarantee the company will receive tons of negative word-of-mouth publicity," Saunderson said. "Each employee shares their disdain and disgust for the company they've given their time and effort to because of the lack of personal recognition. This means employees will not recommend your organization to work for to their family and friends if you failed to acknowledge their milestone properly."

Employees just want to be acknowledged.

"Staying with a company is a big deal these days," Saunderson said. "For those employees who like the public recognition, plan a get-together as a larger team or department. Whether you have cake and ice cream or not, the act of honoring and celebrating career milestones is the real icing on the cake. A manager could even take the employee out for lunch accompanied by some of their peers."

For employees reaching 15, 20 or more years of service, "all many employees want is the opportunity to connect and reminisce together with others who started work at the same time," Saunderson said. At a bare minimum, stop and take a small amount of time out of the workday to simply say, "Thank you!"

Highlight the important role managers have with milestone recognition. Invite senior leaders to set the expectation for managers to consistently recognize service anniversaries the right way.

Far too often, Saunderson said, "I've seen a lack of human connection. There was no acknowledgment by their manager of the years of contribution employees had made. Employees did not feel valued or celebrated. Interestingly enough, most employees stated that because their manager or supervisor did not even mention their milestone on their anniversary date, they did not feel recognized by the company either."

Get Managers On Board

With career milestones or service anniversary recognition, a senior leader must commission your managers with the assignment of representing the company, Saunderson advised. "They must be held accountable to that leader for representing the company well with acknowledging each and every employee's milestone."

Supervisors and managers can no longer think, "Well, they received their gift in the mail, there's nothing more for me to do." You might need to find out how managers currently view career milestones and see what you can do to address any negative attitudes.

Managers serve as the spokesperson for the company when they recognize service milestones, Saunderson said. "They must carefully plan what they are going to say. Give them speaking pointers and guides to assist them. Solicit what senior leaders would convey if they were unable to be present. Show the manager how to best represent their leaders and the company. Provide online video tutorials and digital downloads to teach and help them."

All managers need to do, he continued, is acknowledge employees for their years of service and highlight the employees' positive actions. In this role of recognizing career milestones, you're no longer speaking for yourself. You are actually representing the company and all that this means to the employee.

Show managers the open-ended responses from surveys to show how employees feel, Saunderson said. "Capture employee feedback about what managers do right or wrong regarding career milestone recognition on video. Use these tools to educate managers on the negative and positive impact of service anniversary recognition done poorly or given the right way."

Have managers make career milestone acknowledgment a priority. Expect them to schedule it into their calendars. Tell them to make the time to walk down the hallway and congratulate an employee. If that is not possible, then videoconference or record a video and send employees your greetings and congratulations on their special day. Others may consider sending a very personalized letter prior to the anniversary capturing some memories or noted contributions from over time.

The bottom line, Saunderson noted, is to thank each employee for their service and celebrate them in a way that respects their needs and wishes.