Bonus points for service awards (Editor’s notes)

Traditional awards still popular, but flexibility is key
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/04/2010

In this issue, we’ve taken a look at how service awards are evolving (see article #7694) and published the results from our survey on how employers are using them (see article #7691).

In Danielle Harder’s story (article 7694), we hear a familiar refrain from HR professionals — young workers aren’t interested in service awards and they don’t like the gifts employers have traditionally handed out. Yet, when we look at the results of the Canadian HR Reporter survey, we find the most popular service award handed out by employers is jewelry. And, when employees are given a choice in their award, the most popular gift is jewelry.

Clearly, news of the death of traditional service awards has been greatly exaggerated, to borrow from Mark Twain.

But there’s no doubt they’re evolving, and that’s a good thing. Flexibility is a buzzword in the workplace today. Employees want choice when it comes to the hours they work and they want to customize benefits packages to suit their needs.

Giving them options when it comes to service awards is a logical step, because some employees still want the gold watch, grandfather clock or that piece of crystal to put on the mantle. Others have no desire for such trinkets but may be interested in “lifestyle” items such as televisions, electronic gadgets, sports equipment — the list goes on.

The point of service award programs is to say “Thank you” to the employee and if the gifts are missing the mark then the company’s investment is worthless. In fact, it could be doing more harm than good. Every HR professional has seen the cynicism that accompanies service awards — “I gave the company 10 years of my life and they gave me a pen.”

Some employees have expressed disdain for the idea of service awards entirely, chaffing at the notion of giving someone an award for occupying a chair for a long time. But these awards do matter, because it’s all about loyalty. Service awards should never take the place of other recognition, such as performance awards or merit increases. But they’re a nice add-on, a special way of saying, “Thanks for sticking around and helping the organization over the long haul.”

Clearly, employers think the awards are important — 92 per cent didn’t cut back despite the tough economic times (though that may also be a commentary about how small the budgets for many service award programs are to begin with).

So what does the ultimate service award program look like? It all goes back to flexibility. Every program should offer an employee choice. After all, you’re trying to say thanks — and nobody likes to receive a gift they don’t want.

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