Years of Service Awards for Employees: Your Guide to Milestones, Anniversaries, & Award Programs in 2023

March 7, 2023 Workhuman Editorial Team
years of service awards for employees

Throughout our lives, we celebrate anniversaries to remind us how far we’ve come and all that we have accomplished. It brings a renewed feeling of excitement and respect for the moment being celebrated. 

Because so much of our lives are spent working, this should apply to milestones in our careers, too.

When leaders take the time to commemorate service milestones in their employees’ careers, they are showing workers that they are seen as more than just a cog in the machine. They are seen as people who should be recognized and appreciated for their work and contributions.

And that recognition shouldn’t come in the form of company swag, trinkets, or trophies. Those kinds of “awards” become, at best, desk clutter. A dedicated program like Service Milestones® takes a more modern approach to all sorts of milestones in the workplace: onboarding, promotions, transfers, and, yes, years of service. 

Here, we’ll discuss why years of service awards are a category all their own, how they impact the employee receiving them and their peers, and what you should actually give employees as a reward.  

What are employee service awards?

An employee service awards program celebrates work anniversaries based on the amount of time an employee has been at the company. An employee service award program is a type of employee recognition method.

Typically, it includes awards for the length of employee tenure, like one, three, five, ten, twenty, and even thirty-five years of service, but organizations can customize this based on their needs.

In other words, it’s a milestone award. However, it’s not only about rewarding employees just for showing up to work every day. Instead, it aims to recognize specific and personal employee achievements during their working years.

Simply put, a memorable work anniversary award aims to celebrate the major milestones, accomplishments, contributions, and impact an employee has had on the organization.

For more information on how a culture of recognition can build up your employees, check out this Workhuman-Gallup report.

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What are the benefits of service awards?

service awards programs boost employee engagement and demonstrate strong company values

Employee service award programs offer a number of benefits to employees and employers alike. For starters, recognition in the form of service milestones improves employee engagement and retention, not to mention employee morale.

Service awards, when done in a peer-to-peer manner, are also an effective way for employees across departments and tenures to bond with one another and increase visibility around the great work being done.

With that being said, let’s take a look at a few of the specific benefits of recognizing service anniversaries:

Improve employee retention rates

Above all, a service award program can act as a strategy for employee retention. Around 75% of employees don’t plan to stay at their organization for long enough to hit the five year mark in their position. 

Awards for years of service can help make employees feel appreciated and seen, contributing to their desire to continue growing at their organization. When employees feel like they’re valued and recognized, they’re more likely to become loyal employees and are less likely to leave.

If they don’t feel that way, however, the opposite becomes true. 

Service awards programs are a perfect way to value employees’ hard work and achievements on a consistent basis, but that can’t be the only time an employee is recognized for good behavior over the course of a year.  With a comprehensive employee recognition program, however, appreciation is built into the culture of a workplace, amplifying the power it has all year long.

Bolster the employee experience

service awards program boosts employee satisfaction

An employee service award contributes to a more positive employee experience, as employees feel seen for who they are, not just what they do. With a positive recognition experience, you’re more likely to develop an engaged culture with higher levels of productivity.

Moreover, when you recognize employees for their years of service, it creates a feeling of belonging, helping employees to feel more psychologically safe in the workplace. Recognizing employee anniversaries also boosts employee morale, as employees are able to look back at all of the interesting projects and people they’ve worked on during their tenure.

Create connections and inspiring peers

Developing a service anniversary program can help create connections between employees up and down the business. It also helps to build connections between managers and employees, as managers have the best insight into what great work an employee is working on.

Not only that, but celebrating a major milestone like a work anniversary can inspire others to be more innovative and work harder. With peer-to-peer Social Recognition® and a Service Milestones® program, employees can congratulate their peers, share a memorable experience they shared with them, and learn more about other areas of the business.

Define the workplace culture and attracts top talent

employee awards program demonstrates meaningful recognition

Creating a years of service program can also help define your company culture. When you celebrate service milestones, you’re demonstrating what your company stands for and how important it is to appreciate your employees.

Additionally, this can be a way to attract talented workers. Having the program is one thing, but actively promoting employee recognition and years of service awards will show potential candidates the company culture as well as how their hard work will be appreciated.

Develop skills and competencies

A service award program not only benefits your recruitment strategy, but also your current employees’ growth and development.

Having room to grow in your organization is one of the main reasons people stay where they are. Not seeing that opportunity, on the other hand, is one of the largest reasons people leave. Consider building out a path for growth within each of your organization’s departments based on years of service. 

Some employees may develop faster or slower than others, but having a general guideline as to where employees should be when they reach their one, two, or five year mark can help to ensure all employees are getting opportunities to grow.

Years of service milestones

An employee anniversary award program isn’t complicated. It’s rooted in the fundamentals of employee recognition with a specific focus on yearly milestones. Whether it is a one-year or 15-year service milestone, the goal should be the same: make the award meaningful. On one hand, that means ensuring that the message you send to the employee matches the gravity of the moment. You’re naturally going to have more to say about someone at the organization for fifteen years vs. one and that’s ok. But both deserve appreciation. 

service programs build employee loyalty and increase average employee tenure

While you want all employees regardless of which service milestone it is to feel appreciated, its important to consider the context of the milestone. Employees five years in are likely to be experts in their areas and have grown substantially since they joined the company. By this time in an employee’s tenure, they may be managing one, two, or more people. This anniversary is especially important, as the median tenure for a U.S. employee was 4.1 years as of 2022. A lot can change over the course of five years: the culture of the workplace may have shifted, a promotion may be stalled, a new manager may have joined the team. Any number of things can happen to make an employee feel undervalued. 

So, it’s at five years where the employees that stuck around may give up on believing things will change. It’s common for employees to think that they might find a place where they’ll be more appreciated and valued. If the goal is to retain employees in the long run, this is a crucial part of the program.

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Ideas for years of service awards for employees

When it comes to celebrating years of service, the goal should be providing options. 

recognition letter for milestone awards as part of comprehensive recognition strategy

Service Milestone Gifts

It’s crucial that the actual reward the employee gets is something they want. Workhuman’s Service Milestone program gives employees that option. They can choose from a suite of options that include gift cards to restaurants and hotels, personalized gifts for their hobbies and interests, electronics, kitchen gadgets, books, and, well, you get the point. The more options they have, the more likely the reward will be appreciated. 


Time off is an exceptional bonus for a service milestone. It does wonders for lowering stress and boosting wellbeing. Giving an employee a surprise day off in addition to a service milestone award would be a very impactful way to show your appreciation for everything they have done for the organization. 

The most impactful way to celebrate service anniversaries

Celebrating an employee for their commitment to your business is not just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do. When employees feel seen, appreciated, and valued for who they are, they are more engaged, productive, and likely to stay in their role longer.

And while the service milestone ideas above are great ways to get started, anniversary awards will only be so impactful. Which is why forward-thinking business leaders are integrating their service awards into comprehensive employee recognition programs. 

By having these tools connected, employees only have to go to one place to recognize and congratulate their colleagues, making the culture shift easier to adopt.

And, with an integrated program like Social Recognition and Service Milestones from Workhuman, you can also gain invaluable insights around how employees are connecting with others, their overall performance, and their most celebrated characteristics. 

These insights can be used to fuel service awards, as you are able to access all of the great work an employee has done at the touch of a button.

For 10 more reasons why organizations should celebrate service anniversaries and other life-affirming moments, check out this white paper.

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Wrapping up

A years of service award is a milestone celebration for the length of service an employee has been at a company. It’s a program to recognize an employee’s achievements and efforts.

The program can help increase employee retention and overall experience in the workplace. Additionally, it creates strong connections between employees and managers. Moreover, it can inspire peers to work harder and achieve bigger goals.

Not to mention how the award can make the employee feel valued and create a sense of belonging. In addition, it defines workplace culture and can attract talents.

The years of service award is one of the best ways to recognize your employees’ efforts and achievements. So, make sure to plan it out thoroughly!