This Is How to Get Business Returns from Service Anniversaries

By Brenda Pohlman

Man climbing up stepsRecognize This! — Does your service anniversary program suffer from low expectations? Set loftier goals as the first step in adopting a modern approach that delivers results.

Service anniversary recognition doesn’t typically make the news. So the recent story involving an absentee employee in Spain who was exposed by a long service award got my attention. As reported by El Mundo, the employee had been absent from his municipal job for six years while still on the payroll. He’d only been caught when his 20-year service anniversary came up and his manager attempted to deliver his long service award. As a proponent of service anniversary recognition, I’ve never touted this sort of discovery as one of its merits!

The topic of anniversary program benefits is a curious one. For years it was widely assumed there weren’t many, frankly. While we can’t expect them to carry the full load of our organization’s recognition needs, we should expect today’s programs to deliver results – because with a more modern approach they can. The days of these programs languishing as historical “must haves” while delivering no tangible return are over.

If you’re one of those who’s scratching your head wondering about the value of your own anniversary program you’re not alone. Last year’s SHRM / Globoforce Employee Recognition Report found that only 22% of the HR leaders surveyed describe their anniversary programs as excellent. Almost a third rated their program as fair or even poor. HR’s underwhelming assessment of its own initiatives might stem from this historic lack of ambition. According to the same survey, the primary reason most employers offer anniversary programs is to show appreciation to employees, which is certainly straightforward but perhaps not ambitious enough. Less frequently cited as program goals were increasing levels of employee happiness, emotional commitment and engagement. And surprisingly, the most naturally aligned ambition, retention improvement, is among the least anticipated benefits, with only 45% saying that better retention is an expected outcome of their anniversary program.

Much of the HR community has succumbed to decades of low expectations with these initiatives, and research shows that the results achieved reflect the low bar that’s been set. When we asked employees directly about these same topics in a survey the year prior, the majority reported an underwhelming experience with their company’s anniversary program. Employees’ expectations for a rewarding and meaningful experience have outpaced HR’s expectations for business impact, resulting in a situation where we’ve left a ton of opportunity on the table. The good news is we can catch up.

Consider what you’re offering today and focus on improvements in these areas:

  • Reward choice
  • Consistency
  • Coworker involvement
  • Emotional impact and personal feel

A word of caution about letting the pendulum swing too far in the other direction. No matter how well your program ticks the boxes above, it will be most effective as a component of a comprehensive, global recognition strategy. As the service anniversary experience evolves to deliver more than it used to, it can’t substitute for a corporate-wide commitment to day-to-day social recognition linked to your business strategy.

While improvements in retention and engagement seem mundane compared to the outcome of the recent news-making service award, there’s proof positive that this is exactly what we should expect. Think big about what can be achieved with a modern approach to service anniversary recognition and watch it deliver.

Brenda Pohlman

About Brenda Pohlman

A senior recognition strategist and consultant for Globoforce, Brenda Pohlman might better be called a Recognition Detective. Brenda spends her days helping customers uncover and assess recognition practices and set new directions to achieve strategic goals. She has spent the majority of her career consulting with companies on a wide range of HR practices including employee engagement, performance management, rewards & recognition, talent assessment, and training. Brenda holds a B.A. in Psychology from Boston University.

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