Traditional Employee Recognition is Increasing Turnover

Anna Straus, CEO at Sparck August 14, 2019

The Scene:

Jack has been a dedicated employee with your company for 5 years!  This is his first job out of college and you appreciate the hard work and loyalty he has shown.  At the annual company meeting at the end of the year, you intend to acknowledge your employees who have reached a workiversary milestone.  For years, you’ve handed out company plaques. The congratulatory letters are already signed. You have invested a lot of time and money for this annual recognition moment for your team. 

Jack’s 5-year workiversary is in June.  It comes and goes with little fanfare; in fact, no one is aware.  Unfortunately, Jack was really looking forward to celebrating his milestone with his co-workers, who have spent many nights ordering pizza over the past 5 years while finishing late night projects. 

Seven months later, the day of the annual meeting arrives.  Jack along with a few others are asked to stand if they celebrated (5-year, 10- year, 15-year, etc) workiversary this year.  You lead a round of applause, hand out plaques and pre-signed letters as those being recognized make their way to the front of the room and take a group photo. 

While Jack does appreciate the gesture, a small voice in the back of his mind wonders just how much he’s valued and if the company really knows the late night and weekend sacrifices he has made to meet his goals.  And, dreadfully Jack finds himself wondering what else might be out there...I mean, every company celebrates these things at the end of the year; yet a buddy of his talks about the cool letter he got from the CEO on the day of his 6 year workiversary and all the shout-outs from his co-workers - he talked about it for a full week straight, his company is all about the people and knew exactly what would make his feel valued. 


Did good intentions unintentionally backfire? 

Let’s examine this further and see how that might have happened.  There is an art to recognition that most don’t know; it’s all about “The Right Time,” “The Right Perk,” and “The Right Way” for people to feel valued - and guess what, each employee defines that differently! Yeah, it may seem like a lot but it is the biggest differentiator in the modern workplace. 


It’s All About Timing:

  • The Wrong Time: Jack’s workiversary was in June, but the company meeting wasn’t until the end of the year, nearly seven months later. In June, Jack excitedly walked into work only to realize no one knew and didn’t want to be the one who shared the news, especially to his manager - it’s embarrassing. 
  • The Right Time:  Timing is everything; just as in your personal life you wouldn’t congratulate someone on a graduation or send them birthday wishes seven months later. A simple acknowledgement the day of shows Jack you care and that he is a valuable part of your team and someone whose hard work and time matters.


It’s All About Personalization:

  • The Wrong Perk: A plaque is loved by some, but not everyone. And the only difference in the pre-signed letters is the name on the envelope.  This method has become a staple though it’s not a very memorable way to celebrate a very meaningful event for the long-term.
  • The Right Perk: Here’s where you can really shine!  How well do you really know Jack? You would find that he’s a passionate Giants fan.  In fact, he has been dying to go to a game but hasn’t had the time with how busy work has been.  Perhaps in combination with the plaque, it would be much more meaningful to Jack if you provided some additional PTO time so he can get to a weekday game or in place of the $100 plaque put that towards Giants tickets. It’s the thought that shows that you care and you know who your employees are!


It’s All About The Experience:

  • The Wrong Way:  Did you know that the experience is equally as important as the physical reward itself?  Recognizing everyone celebrating a workiversary en masse tends to make it seem as if you don’t care enough to take the time to recognize your employees as individuals, even if you do.  And, while we would never want to belittle anyone’s dedication to your company, let’s face it, a 10-year workiversary is a bigger milestone than some others in today’s job market.
  • The Right Way:  While we’re not saying you shouldn’t recognize your employees at your annual meeting, perhaps personalizing the experience on the day of and taking pictures of those experiences and sharing them while calling people to the front of the room at the end of the year.  Picture Jack at the Giants game with his jersey on and huge smile on his face. This may be a great way to save time as we all know that annual meetings tend to run on FOREVER; however if pictures don’t work what about a quick one sentence acknowledgement of how that person has impacted the company as they walk up.  Depending on the number of people that are present at the annual meeting a smaller venue, such as departmental meetings are always a great place to provide a more personalized, meaningful experience for these dedicated individuals as well. 

Personalizing the interactions with your employees is one of the most powerful retention drivers that most employers are missing out. Capture the entire recognition experience! 


Quick Tips for Personalized Recognition:

  • Be on time! Acknowledge your employee as soon as possible. 
  • Be specific!  Generic letters and statements won’t make your employees feel valued
  • The Bigger Picture!  Acknowledge how your employee has personally contributed to the overall success of you and your business.
  • Size does matter!  Over doing your praise will often come off as being ingenuine.  Keep it brief, but meaningful.
  • Ask questions!  Get to know the human behind your employee; perhaps the FROG method, ribbit... (Friends/Family, Recreation, Occupation Goals, Goals (personal)) 

Former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara once said “Brains, like hearts, go where they are appreciated.”  There is nothing more discouraging than pouring your heart into your job, only to feel undervalued by your manager.  Over 80% of employees admit that feeling undervalued is a main motivator in looking for a new job. Don’t be part of the problem.  Take the steps necessary to effectively recognize your employees, create a meaningful workplace and foster an environment where both their brains and hearts will remain. 

For more information on how to capture, maintain, and create these personalized experiences for each employee visit We are here to help! 


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