7 easy tricks to improve employee long service awards

Most employee long service award schemes, if they even exist, are not great. And that’s us being polite.

They’re mostly poorly managed, badly executed afterthoughts. Very few companies give their service awards the proper attention.

Even fewer back that up with the right rewards.

No one really wants to hear that. But it’s the ugly truth of most longevity awards.

Whether you have no formal long service award scheme, or you have a feeling your scheme is lagging behind, you’re in the right place.

Read this blog and get a grip on how to schedule, structure and fulfil your employee long service awards.

Balance your service awards

A lot of long service award schemes were designed with a funny definition of “long service” in mind.

They don’t start until 10, or even 20 years. And the rewards are loaded closer to the 30 year mark of service.

The problem is, it’s much less likely these days that an employee is going to last 20 years or more in one business. That means it’s a bit of a baked-in defeat to start your service awards in multiples of decades.

Your employees are unlikely to be starting at your company with 20-30 years of service in mind. More than likely, they don’t think they’ll ever reach ten years with a company. Let alone 20.

And, what’s more, we know that modern staff are more hungry for immediate recognition than previous generations.

Young staff expect to hear some recognition after just one year of service.

Instead of hoarding your awards for the longest service, spread the same budget over five-year periods.

You’ll be satisfying the expectations of younger employees, and getting more short-term benefit from the scheme.

Equality in recognition

On a more serious note, spreading your rewards around avoids any suggestion of discrimination.

Older employees, closer to retirement, are unlikely to be in the company for 20 years. It would be impossible for them earn the same rewards as younger staff.

Focus on more frequent recognition for loyal service, and a more even distribution of rewards in employee long service awards.

Move away from cash

It’s always tempting to look to cash. Whether that’s a long service award, an incentive, or a general employee reward.

Good old cash is always there. Reliable, familiar. And kind of boring, if we’re honest.

Employees will often ask for cash, but try to look around that. They ask for cash not because it will be a thrilling treat, but because money is one of the most pressing concerns in just about everyone’s life.

We’ve written a longer explanation of this before, but cash just doesn’t do the same job as non-cash rewards.

It doesn’t grab us in the same way, and it doesn’t feel like a “gift” like rewards do.

Financial stress

Financial stress is a genuine problem in the UK’s workforce. It might seem counter-intuitive, but that’s a great reason to keep your rewards non-cash. Ask yourself – why would you choose the greatest source of stress in someone’s life as a way to show your gratitude?

A one-off long service award payment isn’t going to alleviate any problems your staff have with money-related stress.

In fact, more money might not address the problem at all – a significant amount of higher-earning staff have reported financial stress that effects their productivity.

Your employees’ long service awards are an expression of gratitude and joy. How you choose to reward staff has to reflect that intention.

By going with a non-cash option, your staff have to take up something that really feels like a trophy.

Rewards for employee long service

As we pointed out earlier, when you give out rewards for employee longevity, they become trophies. Once you put cash to one side, a whole world of possibility opens up.

Reward staff with:

  • Watches
  • Tech
  • Gift cards
  • Certificates
  • Reward codes
  • Special meals
  • Travel
  • VIP experiences

It should go without saying, but that list is nothing close to exhaustive. You need to make choices by considering what’s special to your employees.

Multi-choice rewards, like gift cards and codes, make it easier. They let employees choose for themselves. Our Love2shop Gift Card, for instance, offers your staff access to everything from high street shopping to an international holiday.

Put a price on the value of loyalty

Scaling the value of service awards over time is always a sticking point for an employee long service award scheme.

For a sense of scale, start with the simple pricing guide below.

It keeps things pretty simple, and it’s based on surveys of what other companies have used for rewards.

  • 3 years
  • £25
  • 15 years
  • £300-£400
  • 5 years
  • £100-£140
  • 20 years
  • £400-£500
  • 10 years
  • £150-£270
  • 50 years
  • £500-£1,300

As you can see, it’s extremely simple. Jostle and jiggle the figures to get what you want, and what suits your budget.

But remember that the money isn’t really the focus. Like we’ve said in other posts, it’s really more about the humanity behind the numbers.

Shout about staff loyalty

We’ve mentioned before that the recognition for employee long service should start after one year.

The table we showed you above only focuses on the big milestones. Every employee anniversary should come with some kind of recognition for their long service.

You should make an effort to recognise every year of employee service, not just the biggest milestones.

At the same time, when employees do stay with your company for five years or longer, make some fuss.

Acknowledge and thank them internally, whether that’s in a department meeting or an internal newsletter.

Presentation matters

It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it. Even the best employee long service awards need some context and a personal touch.

Your staff are humans, and the human touch amplifies the benefits you get from recognition and reward.

This is one of the reasons not to use a third-party outsourcing company to actually fulfill the rewards themselves. Being present when the recognition and reward are being distributed is valuable.

On top of that, when employees are passing milestones in double digits, your senior leaders should be involved in the presentation.

Not just as a feel-good gesture for employees, but as a demonstration of your company culture. To make it clear your leaders buy into the value of recognition too.

It’s not enough for employees to be important, you have to show employees they’re important.

Personalise rewards and recognition

Personalisation and care demonstrates your gratitude as effectively as the value of your awards themselves.

Taking the time to customise and personalise shows employees that you care. The thought, and the effort, really do count.

However you choose to approach your long service awards, take the time to make it personal.

Show, through words and deeds, that your staff matter to you.

Keep the tax man happy

Remember that your spending on recognition and rewards is subject to tax once it crosses £50 in a financial year.

Stay on the right side of HMRC. Talk to your finance department, or read more here if you don’t have anyone to hand with tax experience.

Measure the effects of employee long service awards

If you want to measure the benefits of employee long service awards, talk to your workforce.

Ask your employees what they’re thinking, and give your staff a chance to tell you how they feel.

Ask them if they think the company values loyalty. And ask if they think the company does enough to recognise and celebrate the company’s most loyal staff. This could be as part of a wider employee survey, or a quick pulse survey.

As a side note: You should be asking employees every year about their wider employee experience anyway.

Asking about your approach to long service should dovetail nicely with your other employee service efforts.

Read the results

Let’s keep it simple. Look for an improvement in sentiment about your internal approach to long service.

Remember what we said about service recognition being done, and the need for recognition to be seen. If you want to change how your staff think about their years of service, you need to make an effort to show your staff you value their tenure.

To see any significant changes, you will have to make sure your management get on board. They need to recognise and embrace the need for long service recognition. Then make the time to do it properly.

Retention is the big one

As we’ve pointed out before, poor retention costs thousands. If not tens of thousands. And employees become more valuable to a business the longer they stay.

Losing one skilled employee could cost your business up to £30,000, and in 2013 voluntary turnover cost the UK over £1bn.

*Oxford Economics, Brain Drain, 2014

Increasing retention by recognising long service is one of the biggest outcomes you can hope to generate with better employee long service awards.

If you’re not sure, ask

If you have questions about your long service awards, ask. We’re always happy to talk.

Call us with the number at the top and bottom of the page, email us, or use our live web chat.

service awards should start at year one

Service awards should start at one year. Here’s why:

Service awards are something we always advocate for. But most companies leave it a few years to get them started.

We see our clients waiting until an employee has five, ten or even 20 years of service before they start recognising their staff. In our opinion, that’s far too late.

Service awards should start at one year for 5 reasons

It’s a small but important investment in the future

A lot of the power of recognition is in demonstrating that you’re interested and invested in your staff.

The first year of an employee’s time at your company is an important period. It’s time of adjustment, learning, and bedding in to a new place. A place you hope will be their home for a long time.

Tracking their first anniversary, and recognising, improves employee perception of their role. That perception endures as the years wear on, so it’s important to take early opportunities to build it.

Service awards are effective

Recognition has proven positive effects on engagement, productivity, motivation, loyalty and more. You can read more about the nitty gritty of that here, but the jist is simple.

When there’s so much evidence of the positive effects of recognition, you’d have to be mad to not jump on your first chance to use it.

It’s often expected

“Employees expect that someone at least remembers they’ve been there a year.”

Employees aren’t going to expect to get a cash-value reward after one year. But they will expect that someone at least remembers they’ve been there a year.

Even if it feels like it’s a small milestone for you, a year is a significant part of someone’s life to spend in one place.

Starting your service award schemes at one year makes that time feel well-spent. It also validates expectations from employees that their first first year get noticed.

You don’t have to pay for service awards

Recognition is as powerful, if not more powerful, than a cash-value item. You don’t have to put your hand in your pocket for an employee with one year under their belt.

Starting your service awards and recognition at one year only costs you a bit of time.

It’s good for your culture

Whenever you recognise someone in public, or hold up an achievement to the rest of your staff, you’re showing your employees something that you value.

In this instance, you’re showing that even the most modest loyalty is worthy of a celebration.

In turn, that’s a declaration to the rest of your staff to value loyalty and celebrate each other. Your leadership figures are the ones who need to take charge of that.

These things matter

Service awards are important. They drive quality relationships between staff, your leadership, and your company culture.

Starting at one year, you capitalise on the benefits of early recognition and set the tone for the future.

how much to set aside for years of service awards

How much should you spend on years of service awards?

Your business needs to recognise employees for staying with your company through years of service awards.

We’ve been saying it for years now: the milestones really do matter.

Even if you don’t think employees should get recognition for sticking with your company, your employees do.

A lot of employees think they should start being recognised for their loyalty after just one year.

They notice employers who miss their work anniversaries. That will affect how staff see their managers, how they see the company, and how they see themselves at work.

Cash-value rewards you dish out on top of that are trophies, persistent reminders of your appreciation for employee loyalty.

Trophies amplify recognition, but they don’t replace it.

With that in mind, we have a rough guide to scale years of service awards to cash-value rewards based on our experience with clients.


The loyalty to cash value scale:

  • Three years:
  • Up to £25
  • Fifteen years:
  • Up to £400
  • Five years:
  • Up to £140
  • Twenty years:
  • Up to £500
  • Ten years:
  • Up to £280
  • Fifty years:
  • Up to £1,300

So, there you go. A scale to operate to. But it feels kind of cold, right? Just numbers quantifying someone’s time into the value of a years of service award.

It’s not even like it’s a lot of money, it’s pretty reasonably priced. That’s because the recognition matters as much as the reward.

You have to put the effort in to make it spicy and exciting. Two things make a big difference: the manner of the award presentation, and what you use as a cash-value reward.


Humanising years of service awards with recognition

Recognition for loyalty needs to be personalised and public.

Leaders need to make the effort to personally show their appreciation for employees staying with the company.

Personalising recognition for loyalty shows managers are genuinely interested in their staff, making it more likely rewarding and recognising loyalty will have positive effects on staff.

Recognition for loyal service should be public. Open recognition has a greater impact on the employee, because it affirms the value of their place in the company.

Recognition being public also affects employees beyond the person being recognised. They see leaders valuing and appreciating other staff, and know in turn that both employees and loyalty are valued in the company.


Cash value, not cash

We’ve used the term cash-value, not cash, a few times in this blog. That’s no accident. We prefer non-cash for years of service awards.

That’s because cash makes a pretty poor employee reward. You can read all about that here, so we’ll spare you another slice of it.

There are a host of simple:

  • Choice – Let them pick a reward for themselves with gift cards, e-gift cards or a catalogue.
  • Training – Help employees reach their professional goals.
  • Time – Offer extra holiday days, or a sabbatical.
  • Trophies – Certificates, plaques and other trophies of service.
  • Control – If they’ve been pushing for a special project, let them spearhead it.
  • Experience – Organise an exclusive VIP experience for something they love.
  • Travel – Flights or accommodation to a dream destination.


Get started

If you don’t know your employees well enough to know what gets them excited, stick to offering choice.

Give employees access to a broad catalogue of rewards and let them pick something they can cherish at a cash-value level.

Don’t subject yourself to trying to maintain a catalogue of rewards for your own company. It’s a huge pain the in the neck. And you can rarely do as good a job internally as a specialist.

And a needless time-sink when you can use products like gift cards and e-gift cards to put rewards in the hands of staff.

You’ve got a guide to how to value years of service awards, now it’s time to put the effort in to maximise its positive effects for your business.