If there is one thing I’ve generally never been a fan of it’s the “Employee Service Award.” For far too many organizations the extent of their employee recognition is the Annual Service Awards lunch/dinner/banquet wherein the CEO descends from his glass tower in the sky, mingles with the commoners for a bit, and insincerely hands out awards (in alphabetical order) to all the employees he’s never heard of before. Ideally, at the very least, Sally in HR will have phonetically written out the correct pronunciation of the honorees’ names so that Mr. CEO can pronounce “Martinus Bydgosczc.”
Now I do admit that I’ve seen the good and the bad in these Service Awards Programs over the years and when they work well it’s due to 2 things:
- The Service Award is not the only time (“once every 5 years!”) that individual employees are recognized or celebrated, and
- The Service Awards Program matches the overall culture of the organization
So I’ve seen them fail. Once upon a time, at large Company X, employees received a treacly greeting card (via interoffice mail!) signed by the CEO and their direct manager along with an enclosed gift card (5 years = $100; 10 years = $250, etc.). “Thanks for toiling with us for another 5 years. Now get back to work.”
But I’ve also seen them work.
- At a very traditional/conservative organization I worked at years ago we held an annual Service Awards banquet for employees with 5 years service and above; once an employee hit that milestone, they, and their spouse/partner/guest were invited to attend every year. It was a fancy event with an open bar, voluminous hors d’ouevres, sit down dinner, and dancing. Transportation was provided for any and all who didn’t, or shouldn’t, wish to drive after enjoying the open bar. As the organization had less than 400 employees, the CEO knew everyone and usually had a very personal story to share about the employee when he called them up individually to recognize them.
And while we had handed out some watches and crystal trinkets we also provided highly personalized gifts. One year a 30-year employee (can you imagine?!) was being recognized and happened to be a mega fan of the soap opera “As The World Turns.” And everyone knew it. So, as part of the planning, I mailed off a request to the producers of ATWT and asked if they would send some autographed memorabilia from the cast which we could present to the employee as part of the surprise. Which they did. The CEO told a funny story tying the longevity of the show into the longevity of the employee’s tenure and then presented the cast-signed photo which also included messages such as “Congratulations on the 30 year anniversary.” And the employee – his name was Don – broke down. It was magical.
- At another organization, where there were limited funds, the Service Anniversary celebration had a different flavor. Rather than the organization providing a gift or cake or balloons, the service anniversary was flipped on its head as the employee, rather than receiving thanks for continuing to work at the organization, instead provided “thanks” to their team members and fellow employees for supporting them in their time in the job. The employee brought in a cake or doughnuts or snacks and gathered others together to celebrate with them. It was something that worked because – and only because – it matched the values, mission and culture of the organization.
So yeah – I’ve generally never been a fan. These programs (for they do turn into PROGRAMS) are often insincere attempts at checking something off the annual HR to-do list in a failed effort to ‘engages’ (gag) employees.
Is it appropriate to celebrate – and recognize – the tenure of employees? It surely can be…IF it’s something that matches the organization’s values and culture. And I mean the real values and culture…not the drivel that’s posted on the company website or listed in the Employee Handbook.
And that’s how the world turns.