Long-service awards still have value

If you read nothing else, read this…

  • Long-service awards are considered one of the most important forms of recognition because they reward staff for loyalty to the business.
  • Awards may be offered after three, six or 12 months at organisations that recognise staff may not be in a role for long and have high staff turnover.
  • Traditional gifts of clocks, pens and watches are still offered, but awards have evolved to include vouchers for travel and brand-name luxury goods.
  • To motivate and engage staff while reinforcing the message of rewarding loyalty, employers must offer an award that is meaningful to the individual.

Case study: Asda staff check out regular rewards

Asda ensures long-service awards are well celebrated. As well as celebrating one year’s service, the supermarket rewards staff at five year intervals.

After completing one to 10 years’ service, employees receive a certificate and a pin badge recognising their loyalty. After 15 and 20 years’ service, they are given a monetary voucher to the value of £15 or £20.

This year, Asda introduced the recognition of length of service on name badges for employees who have worked there for one year or more.

Asda also holds an annual ‘Big Anniversary’ event for all staff who have completed 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 years’ service. These employees are invited to a a party and receive £300 and an extra week’s holiday in their anniversary year.

Kevin Trott, colleague engagement team leader-recognition and incentives at Asda, says: “Long service definitely engages colleagues in our business and makes it their business as well. It has a significant impact on our motivation mechanism.”


Long-service awards might seem like a thing of the past, but they still have an important role to play in motivating and engaging staff, says Tynan Barton. The choice of gifts needs careful thought, however

As the UK employment market struggles, the idea of recognising an employee’s length of service might seem somewhat redundant. But even in challenging times, long-service awards are considered one of the most important recognition tools because they reward loyalty and commitment to the business.

Steve Baker, head of recognition and incentives at Grass Roots, says that although the jobs market has changed and people are much more mobile, the costs of recruiting and retraining staff are as high as ever, so it makes sense to retain your best talent. “Long service is one of those recognition elements that is still very highly valued by employees because it is a recognition of their ongoing commitment to the business and the fact that they are somebody the business values and wants to retain,” he says.

Long-service awards traditionally conjure up images of carriage clocks and companybranded scarves, but recognition has moved on a long way, in terms of what is awarded and why. Paul Calnan, managing director at reward provider Cottrills, says: “It has changed a lot because the way people work and the length of people’s service with a single employer has changed significantly.”

Previously, it might have been usual for an employer to present an individual with a long-service award after 25, 30 or 40 years, but now it has become common to recognise an employee for three, six or 12 months’ service.

Alex Speed, head of corporate sales at Love2Reward, says: “The levels have definitely reduced to try to keep key people in the business, as opposed to people expecting to stay in the same post for 20 years.”

Despite this short-term focus, long-service awards are still commonly given for five, 10 and 15 years’ service. But in these prudent times, the award must be seen to be of value to the employee in order to have the desired effect on motivation and engagement.

Symbolic value important

Dr Wilson Wong, senior researcher at The Work Foundation, says: “Long-service awards are helpful in engaging or retaining staff only when the award carries symbolic value. So, if the award is a big deal in the organisation and is designed to show appreciation and the value of that member of staff, then it does have meaning.”

When employees are deciding whether to stay with their employer, they look for clear messages of being valued, whether from line manager, co-worker or director, says Wong. “Long-service awards are an effective way of showing employees that they are valued and valuable, and in what way they are valued.”

Such awards can take many forms, but it is the reason for giving them that is the most important factor in motivating employees. Baker says it is also important for employers to personalise awards. This personal element can come simply from the way a gift is presented. If it is given in front of an employee’s peers, long-service recognition can have a greatly engaging effect.

Baker adds: “Some employers will recognise people for long service at company conferences or other landmark events in the company’s year. Some will organise a dinner with senior executives, for example. It is that recognition part of it that can be as important as the actual value of the award itself.

“We always encourage employers to add a personal element because it means far more to the individual if somebody takes the time to recognise the value that person has added to the business. It can really do a great job i ensuring they remain committed, positive and motivated with the business.”

Select a meaningful gift

Cottrills’ Calnan says meeting an employee’s individual needs means recognising that the way people shop for themselves has changed. They want choice and to be able to select a gift that is meaningful to them. “It has to be separate from standard remuneration, so it has to be something they can identify as having a specific point, and doesn’t get lumped in with a general part of remuneration,” he says. “It has to have a valuation, so it has to have a value higher than just its cash value. From a justification point of view, it is something that the recipient can choose that perhaps they wouldn’t buy out of their own pocket.”

What has changed over the years is that, traditionally, the gifts that employees received were quite symbolic, for example a carriage clock, pen or watch, but employers now recognise that it is hard to decide what will be an appropriate award for a particular individual. Darren Ziff, head of business development at reward provider Acorne, says: “If they can be seen as having a true value to staff, then generic gifts are great. A good example of this is that everybody knows once you have done five years, you are going to get to go on a holiday of a lifetime. If that is not seen as valuable to some staff, then a tailored approach is better.”

While a long-service award can act as a motivational lever for staff, it also strengthens the culture of the organisation, and shows that the employer values loyalty. Baker adds: “It is to recognise an individual and their contribution to the business, and to demonstrate to their peers that the organisation values people who are committed to the business, who live the values of the business, and add value to the business.”

So, whether it is a voucher, jewellery or an exotic holiday, giving employees an element of choice and a personal message demonstrates that the organisation values and recognises them as an individual. And whatever
gift is bestowed, it is important that the purpose behind a long-service award is reinforced in the presentation.

Loyalty reward gift selection

Popular long-service awards

  • Holidays, for example to Las Vegas or Paris
  • Electronic products, such as televisions
  • Jewellery
  • Brand-name luxury items
  • Personalised gifts, such as a subscription to a particular magazine
  • Choice of gifts/vouchers

Not-so-popular long-service awards

  • Tie pins for all staff (including women)
  • Krugerrand gold coin: often sold because of the high value of gold
  • Carriage clocks: love them or hate them, they are here to stay
  • Crystal ball/paper weight: a progression from the carriage clock
  • A pen

And finally

  • US employees at a UK organisation were offered handguns as a long-service gift choice

Read also Buyer’s guide to long-service awards