Service Awards – Relevant or Passe?

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.

About the Author

Jennifer Payne

Jennifer Payne is a 20+ year human resources leader with a focus on researching, developing, and implementing talent management programs. She is a believer in lifelong learning and self-development who strives to stay current in HR trends, technology, best practices, and the future of work by sharing knowledge with and learning from HR colleagues and thought leaders across the country and throughout the world through writing, speaking, and involvement in various industry conferences and events.  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...


Jennifer P

Thank you both Dani and Larry for your comments. I’m glad that this topic and blog post resonated with each of you. I appreciate you taking the time to read and respond!

Dani Alden

This is exactly why we (MTM Recognition) do what we do. It is so fun and exciting to see the many types of service awards going out our doors everyday. They more creative every year too let me tell you!

I think something else that is becoming more relevant these days too are the ongoing online recognition programs. So, not only will you be getting recognized once every five years, but on a daily basis..and by your peers! We started one a couple years ago called Carousel, but there are many others with the same concept that are very successful and are actually very fun to be involved in, not to mention the morale booster that comes with it!

Loved everything you had to say about this topic, Jennifer, as well as the discussion coming from it!!


We just celebrated service awards for approximately ten percent of the people at our relatively small branch (125) of a relatively large (2,000+) company. Most of the 15 people we honored at the dinner received five- or ten-year awards. They picked the place — a Brazilian steakhouse — and each honoree could bring one guest. Most did.

There is nothing like sitting down to a meal together to bond people. The department and team managers introduced the honorees in their groups and told appropriate, usually humorous but mostly poignant, stories about those being honored.

This folks, is “engagement” at its simplest and best. I could not help but think of how Jesus used the communal meal so many times as the venue and vehicle for building an intimate and inseparable bond with His disciples. So, too, was I reminded of the powerful influence on my childhood of the almost sacrosanct family dinner every weeknight, and Sunday lunches together.

Long live the Service Awards dinner.

Jennifer P

Hi Paul – glad you liked the post, and thanks for the comments. I agree that service awards should be just part of an overall recognition strategy – and they are not right for every organization. Thanks for also sharing the link to the seminar….I will check it out!


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