The Brave New World of Celebrating Employee Milestones

Although this phrase is beginning to feel like a broken record, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a lingering impact on the American workforce. 

As of January 2022, only 31% of workers over age 25 had been with their current employer for at least 10 years. The mean employee tenure at American companies is down to 4.1 years. Three-fourths (74%) of companies are using or planning for a partially or fully hybrid workforce.

Needless to say, a restless and hybrid workforce is changing the celebration of service anniversaries and employee milestones. Plaques for the wall have gone the way of carbon paper.

Employees no longer join a company expecting to spend much or all of their careers working there. One could say that those who make it to 5 years or longer deserve even more recognition than their predecessors, as such achievements are no longer the norm.

Service anniversary and milestone awards remain essential to any cohesive recognition and engagement strategy. Here are ways companies need to revisit their milestone celebration policies going forward.

What to Recognize

More and more, employees recognize, appreciate, and respond to sincerity and individual attention in how they are managed and in how they are rewarded.

In the past, employee milestone rewards were often tied to specific achievements, such as meeting a particular quota or working for a set number of years. These traditional recognition triggers are becoming less applicable. 

This doesn’t mean that recognizing annual service anniversaries are a thing of the past. In fact, the rarer they become, the more meaningful they are, to all parties involved – the employee, his or her colleagues, and the company itself.

But companies are beginning to focus also on recognizing desirable behaviors as much as, or even more than, static achievements. Examples of recognizable behavior milestones might include:

  • Championing company culture
  • Demonstrating leadership or teamwork skills
  • Taking the initiative on projects
  • Employee personal milestones  

When to Recognize

To be most effective, recognition needs to happen regularly and with some frequency – especially now. As noted earlier, the workforce is restless. Given the costs of replacing the average employee, you don’t want to wait too long to make an impact.

According to CNBC, employees in companies that frequently demonstrate a culture of recognition are:

  • 73% less likely to “always” or “often” feel burned out
  • 56% less likely to be on the lookout for new job opportunities
  • 44% more likely to be “thriving” in their life overall

Craving recognition is human nature. We look for recognition from parents, teachers, and friends from an early age. So strong is our need for positive affirmation that neutral responses are often perceived as negative. 

This holds in the workplace as well. Job seekers cite recognition for work as one of the primary reasons they are attracted to a particular company. 

How to Recognize

There is no right or wrong way to recognize and celebrate employee milestones. How they are recognized depends to some degree on your company culture, but generally, it will be based on three tactics: being specific, being unique, and fulfilling. 

These tactics help demonstrate to employees that they are being heard, and employees who feel heard are 74% more effective at their jobs.


Recognition should be matched with a specific task or action that the employee has accomplished, not just a summary of something they participated in. Recognizing a specific behavior or accomplishment encourages the employee to repeat it.


The act of recognition should be an individualized experience demonstrating that the employer sees the employee as a unique person, not just a body. Ways to achieve this include offering personalized gifting options geared to the employee or supporting something that’s a special interest of the employee, such as donating in their name to their favorite cause or charity.


Recognition and reward should be presented as a celebration. The type of experience should be consistent with company goals and employee roles.

Where to Start

Rewarding employees for their contributions is highly beneficial to your bottom line and critical to the success of your business. This is especially true in hybrid and remote work environments – paradoxically, the same environments that create the most challenges in maintaining motivated and engaged employees.

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) benchmarks the average rewards and recognition budget at 2% of payroll, with a median of 1%. Companies that spend at least 1% are three times more likely to achieve a successful reward and recognition program.

Fortunately, companies that conduct well-structured recognition programs are 12X more likely to experience successful business outcomes, so you can be assured that all your efforts will be worthwhile in the long run.

The professionals of Xceleration are skilled in making hybrid and remote teams feel motivated, inspired, and appreciated. We’ve even created a patented, web-based recognition platform, RewardStation®, that’s used worldwide to provide employee recognition solutions. Get in touch with our team today to learn more about how Xceleration can help you get the results you need in your workplace.

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