Back to Basics: What Are Career Milestones?

July 22, 2020 Aaron Kinne

7-minute read

Happy Anniversary

“Happy two-year anniversary. You are a valued employee.”

Yes, humans, that is an actual work anniversary email, sent to an employee at a healthcare organization. There is so much wrong with it, I’m not sure where to begin. But at the very least, it represents a missed opportunity to celebrate, inspire, engage, and strengthen the employee community – especially in times like these, when the need for connection and belonging within our work family is so important.

Whether they’re called work anniversaries, service anniversaries, or years-of-service (YOS), they’re too often designed with a narrow purpose in mind: to simply acknowledge the date an employee began working for a company. Taking a more comprehensive approach to the employee journey – a career milestone approach – is a chance to highlight and reinforce the connections that make an organization strong.

Every career milestone should be more than a simple thanks for past events. It should be a moment of reflection and a recommitment to the future. It should recognize the employee’s accomplishments – and look ahead to even greater success in the years to come. A true celebration of a career milestone should be a heartfelt invitation to remain connected to the workplace community and continue to succeed. 

In other words, a true career milestone program reimagines the work anniversary and transforms every career achievement into an occasion for celebration.

How do career milestones differ from simple work anniversaries? 

Career milestones go beyond a one-dimensional, manager-driven approach to the traditional “years of service award.” They make it simple for all co-workers to recognize and celebrate career achievements and other markers in the employee journey: from onboarding, to promotions, to transfers – all the way to retirement. 

It’s a progressive way to celebrate pivotal moments because it recognizes all the key events in your employees’ career – not just a once-a-year anniversary. It creates a deeply impactful community experience and allows the employee’s peers to share in and reflect on the past – while propelling the employee to the next challenge. That’s important in times like these as employees crave connection with their work family.

What defines a true career milestone approach?

Rather than simply recognizing an annual work anniversary with a perfunctory email, a true career milestone approach commemorates every moment of the employee journey and makes each one an opportunity for community celebration.

How? Many world-class organizations are turning to a flexible software solution like Service Milestones, part of Workhuman Cloud®. Such a solution enables organizations to move to an all-encompassing career milestones concept, with key features such as: 

  • Open invitations – Even though many employees are working from remote locations, everyone can still be part of career milestone celebrations.
  • Crowdsourced approach – Tap into the stories and memories of the people who know your employee the best – colleagues and friends – and make the moment lasting and memorable.
  • Personalized experience – Ditch the impersonal approach of formal letters and gift catalogues, and create a unique, human, and personal moment.
  • Flexible configuration – Organizations are as unique as the employees who work for them, so Service Milestones enables companies to customize an innovative approach that celebrates employees.
  • Tailored rewards – Celebrate career milestones with rewards that employees will actually cherish by giving them the power to choose their gift: gift cards, merchandise, or even charity contributions.
  • Administrative ease – With Service Milestones, your employees’ peers are automatically invited to contribute – so the task isn’t left solely to managers.
  • Highlight values – By tapping into the employee’s past recognition moments, Service Milestones celebrates past achievements and inspires the employee to meet the challenges ahead.

What are the benefits of a comprehensive career milestone approach?

Celebrating career milestones helps create a culture of celebration – one that is built on a foundation of belonging, social support, and social exchange. In the face of our current challenges, such a culture takes on a renewed importance. According to scholars, the benefits of a culture of celebration are significant and include the following:

  • Higher engagement: Social support from co-workers has been shown to significantly impact engagement.
  • Higher productivity: Employees who feel they are part of a group and are working toward shared goals report increased motivation, positivity, and overall productivity.
  • Reduced conflict and improved relationshipsSocial exchange has benefits that include “reduced conflict, improved performance, enhanced knowledge sharing among peer employees, increased affinity for employees, greater understanding of employee interests and values, and increased trust and tolerance of imbalance in exchange relationships.” 
  • Higher levels of learning and performance: A culture of psychological safety and inclusion leads to better learning and performance outcomes.
  • Reduced stress: When co-workers provide social support, it can ameliorate the impact of a large workload — buffering the impact of burnout.
  • Increased resilience and trust: A consistent flow of relational exchanges raises levels of commitment, concern for reputation of oneself and others, and levels of trust and resilience
  • Better health: When belonging flourishes, it contributes to improvements of the physical body system. Likewise, those who are deprived of the feeling of belonging may experience both psychological and biological illness effects and even a weakened immune system
  • Happier, more productive employees: According to one study, “participants stated that organizational celebrations made them happier in their job, improved diversity and workplace knowledge, reduced isolation, and cultivated relationships, which all contributed to their desire to be more productive in their job.”
  • Greater affective commitment: Reward and perceived social support are direct contributors to affective commitment (and boost an employee’s intent to stay).

How does a comprehensive approach to service milestones impact the bottom line?

As the research above proves, celebrating your employees’ career milestones helps create a culture of positivity and inclusion – the cornerstone of an engaged workforce. And employee engagement has a direct impact on your top and bottom lines – beginning with increased productivity. 

As Gallup’s Tom Rath puts it, “99 out of 100 people report they want to be around positive people and nine out of 10 report being more productive when they’re around positive people.” Higher employee engagement also boosts customer loyalty, sales, and profits.

And while the challenge of employee retention has eased somewhat during the recent – and heartbreaking – unemployment spike, forward-thinking companies will always want to keep great employees. It would be short-sighted to abandon this tenet now. Remember, it wasn’t long ago that many medium- and large-sized companies were struggling to retain employees, according to a SHRM/Workhuman Employee Recognition Report. In fact, just before the pandemic hit, nearly half (47%) of HR professionals cited employee retention/turnover as their top workforce management challenge – marking the third consecutive time retention/turnover topped the list.

There’s a reason why, even now, employee retention continues to be a concern for companies: cost. A Korn Ferry Hay Group study estimates the cost of replacing an employee is between 50% and 150% of salary. For specialist, senior, and executive positions, the cost per employee rises to up to 213% of salary. 

Creating a culture of celebration is a proven way to make employees feel they belong. And that, in turn, has a positive impact on employee retention. It not only creates a community atmosphere; it also helps HR professionals differentiate the organization in both retention and recruitment efforts.

Celebrating career milestones – now, more than ever

How do you suppose employees – like the one at that healthcare organization – feel when they receive emails that simply acknowledge their work anniversary. Listless? Demotivated? Demoralized? Or perhaps nothing at all? 

Now imagine receiving such an email at a time when you acutely crave and need a feeling of connection and community with your work family. The pandemic has intensified and accelerated the need to transform from work-life balance to work-life blending. And we do that by celebrating career milestones in a truly meaningful way. 

Because if ever there was a time when we should celebrate career milestones, that time is now.

Experience the power of Service Milestones in your organization. 

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About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.

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