Employers still showing loyalty to service award programs: Survey

Jewelry remains most popular form of recognition, green products least popular but almost no firms cut budgets for service awards during recession
By Danielle Harder
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/04/2010

Service awards remain a priority at many companies, despite tighter budgets and waning interest in milestone pins and certificates.

Nine out of 10 companies offer service awards and almost all (92 per cent) say the economic downturn has not caused them to cut back, according to a recent survey of 315 companies conducted by Canadian HR Reporter.

Jewelry, such as watches and rings, is the most popular form of recognition (53.3 per cent). It’s also the reward employees are most likely to choose on their own (62.5 per cent), finds the survey.

Otherwise, there appears to be a disconnect between what employees want and what they receive. After jewelry, companies are more likely to give engraveable items (49 per cent), decorations such as crystal vases and picture frames (41.6 per cent), pins and gift certificates (37 per cent each), office items such as pens and paper weights (30 per cent), sports gear (28 per cent), technology and company-created awards (23.3 per cent each), trinkets such as key chains (18.7 per cent), bags (18.3 per cent), clothing (17.9 per cent) and time off (12.1 per cent). The least common service award is a green product such as recycled bags or water bottles (8.6 per cent).

What workers really want

The latter is likely a good choice since none of the respondents rate green awards in the top three awards employees choose. After jewelry, recipients are most likely to choose sports gear (30 per cent), technology or gift certificates (25.6 per cent each) and decorations (23.8 per cent).

What do they pick least often? Pins and trinkets (1.9 per cent each), additional days off (five per cent), bags and office items (6.3 per cent each), company-created awards (7.5 per cent), clothing (8.8 per cent) and engraveables (15 per cent).

One survey participant says their company has stopped issuing gift certificates or reimbursements because the expense is taxable. Others say they had been asked for everything from a welding machine to hobby-related gifts.

The age of an employee also appears to be a deciding factor.

“The choice varies with the year level,” writes one participant. “For instance, younger employees choose more green awards whereas older employees tend to select more symbolic awards that feature the company’s logo. The most important aspect is to try and balance the award selection so that there is something that appeals to everyone.”

More than one-half (58.8 per cent) of all companies let employees do the choosing and most often the amount, no matter who chooses, is based on years of service. The more years of service, the more money a company generally spends on the gift.

Several participants say they spend less than $50 for newer employees, often more in the range of $10 to $25 or, in some cases, only give out a verbal or electronic reward.

Logos controversial

One of the questions that garnered the most feedback is whether to brand awards with a company logo. Almost 40 per cent say they sometimes add the logo to gifts, with 36.5 per cent saying they always do it.

“Why wouldn’t we?” asks one respondent, while others remark it “makes sense” and a logo “acknowledges their long service with our organization.” Other comments range from “We are proud of the company we work for and find our employees want that connection” to “Longer-term employees are typically proud of working for our company. Branding the award provides the employee and their families with a ­reminder of where they achieved their successes.”

But several companies acknowledge employees would prefer not to have the company logo emblazoned on their gifts.

“We have a very young workforce and while they are proud to work at our company, they prefer not to have their reward items branded and we respect that,” writes one respondent. “They appreciate the award they receive and they tell their family/friends who they received the gift from. We don’t feel it necessary to have our logo displayed on an item like an iPod or TV.”

When deciding who should present the award, most companies consider years of service. A manager is most likely to hand out the prize (34.4 per cent), followed by the executive team (27.5 per cent), especially for longer-term employees. HR is least likely to be the gift giver (7.3 per cent).

Service awards are most often presented at special ceremonies, both outside (43.5 per cent) and inside the office (36.4 per cent). Christmas and holiday parties are most frequently the venue, according to written comments.

Fewer than one-third of companies have an online service award program.

Danielle Harder is a Whitby, Ont.-based freelance writer.

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