There was a time, not very long ago, when service awards as part of most companies’ recognition strategy was the norm. Employees were regularly honored for a certain number of years of commitment to the organization with anything from a certificate, to a trinket, to the opportunity to select from a catalog of a variety of household or recreational items, depending on their total number of years of service.
Some argue that service awards are a dying breed; that in a world where loyalty (on both sides of the equation) is a commodity to be casually tossed around, where employee tenures are shorter and shorter, that there’s just no relevance in recognizing years of service. Instead of rewarding employees for the number of years they’ve put in, something that is becoming increasingly meaningless to employees, we should be recognizing them in other ways, such as for specific achievements, outcomes, and contributions to organizational success.
This idea that service awards are no longer relevant may be true in some companies and certain industries; I would suspect that, for instance, in high tech, Silicon Valley type organizations where talent is regularly recruited away by the next up-and-coming start-up, or where contract work is much more common, and where tenure is measured in months rather than years, service recognition likely holds little value.
But what about those industries and organizations where long-term employment is more the norm than the exception? And yes, these companies and industries do still exist. I work in the grocery retail industry and just recently we recognized over 300 (yes, 300!) employees who have dedicated 25, 30, 35, 40, and even 45 and FIFTY years of service to our company. And though this year was an unusually large number of honorees, it is typical for us to annually recognize well over 200. We do this through dinners in each of our operating regions, at which honorees and their guests are treated to a nice meal and a program which includes short bios of each of the honorees, personal congratulations by our executive team, and a small gift and token of appreciation.
I can honestly say, there is nothing quite like the look of pride and appreciation on the faces of these honorees; pride in making an life out of an honest day’s work from the simplest of beginnings in one of the simplest and most common places in all of our lives – a grocery store. Pride in a job well done, pride in simple service to a specific community and regular customers. You’d be hard pressed to convince me that service awards aren’t relevant…in our little corner of the world.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest trends in the HR space, as we should. As good HR professionals we should make it our business to be in tune with what those trends are. But it’s also very easy to want to just jump to conclusions based on what we read or by what various “thought leaders” are saying. But as good HR professionals, we also need to learn to take what we read or hear, assess it, and make decisions based on what’s best for OUR organizations. For me and my company, that means realizing that service awards are still VERY relevant. They are an integral part of an overall recognition strategy that also includes various other components and rewards related to performance and other criteria, and foregoing them for just the other pieces of the strategy would be detrimental to overall morale.
Read. Listen. Learn. Assess and apply your knowledge. Then do what’s best for you, in your company and your world.
About the Author: Jennifer Payne, SPHR has over 16 years of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, and learning & development, and currently works in talent management in the retail grocery industry. She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn.