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Long Service Awards: How to Reward Your Business’s Heroes and Veterans

22 February 2019 7 min read

employee long service awards

From fresh-faced start-ups to mature multinationals, businesses of all sizes need to recognize and reward the loyalty of their long-term employees.

These are the people who stuck with you through thick and thin. They trusted your judgment, and they patiently and dutifully looked on the bright side when things perhaps weren’t feeling so bright. When others bailed on you, these people believed in you.

Their hard work made your company. So how can you show them that their hard work’s paid off?

Can You Put a Price on Loyalty?


You might think that a generous salary and the satisfaction of a job well done are rewards enough for all of your employees. But long service rewards could provide an incentive for many employees to stick around. If you make it clear what sort of awards you offer to long-serving members of staff, you could see a boost to job retention.

But it’s important to put some thought into your awards for long service. This is one area where token gestures just won’t cut it.

We’ve all heard stories of people who essentially dedicated their whole lives to one company, only to receive a carriage clock, or a wristwatch, as a reward for their decades of effort. You don’t want the reaction to your long service award to be a weary “is that it?”

Similarly, you need to be careful if you choose to offer extra money as a long service award. This is putting a price on loyalty. So offer too little and your veteran employees might be forgiven for asking: “Is this all I’m worth to you?”

The Changing State of the UK Workplace


Another factor to consider when thinking about your long service awards: Today, “long service” does not necessarily mean the same as it did for the previous generation of workers.

It’s now common for employees to switch jobs multiple times during their careers. According to outsourcing experts BPS World, UK workers generally stay with one employer for an average of 4.5 years.

But in the same survey, 43% said they’d consider staying with their “dream employer” for life. Yet when asked how long they intended to stay with their current employer, just over 25% said more than five years. The average length of service quoted was 3.2 years.

It seems that many UK employees want the fabled job for life, but something’s making them restless. Maybe it’s the allure of another job. Maybe some factor in their current job is pushing them away. It’s likely a combination of the two.

This is why employee satisfaction matters. Take care of your employees and they’ll reward you with loyalty and dedication. Long service awards could play a huge role in delivering the job satisfaction many employees desire.

Yet the fact remains that “long service” is no longer the norm. People will change jobs an average of 12 times throughout their careers. Businesses used to offer long service awards after five, 10, 15, 25, or 50 years of service. In today’s working climate, where employees seem to be constantly on the lookout for new opportunities, it might make sense to reward even one year of service.

What Sort of Long Service Awards do Other Companies Offer?


We recently took a look at 7 of the best employee wellbeing programs. We thought that seeing how some of the world’s most successful businesses nurture their employees’ health and happiness might give you all the inspiration you need to craft an employee wellbeing program of your own.

Similarly, if you want to recognize and reward the loyal veterans in your business, you could start by looking at how other companies handle long service awards.

Xpert HR looked into the sort of awards UK companies offer to their employees. Interestingly, many businesses seem oblivious to the changing state of the UK workforce, where it’s common to change jobs multiple times in your career. Most companies that offer long service awards start to award their employees after 10 years of service, while 14% of those surveyed don’t recognise long service until employees have stuck around for 25 years.

But the rewards for 25 years of service can be supremely generous. For example, if you work at John Lewis for 25 years, you’ll get six months of paid leave. This is more than a simple break. Many employees use this as an opportunity to volunteer, to learn new skills, or to see the world.

Yet some companies have recognized that the working landscape is changing. It’s becoming increasingly common to reward employees for just one year of service. The rewards are small – most just offer a gift card or a box of chocolates – but it’s something.

As the length of service increases, so too does the value of the rewards. It doesn’t look like there’s any set pattern to what’s offered and when, but common awards include:

  • Some kind of token, such as a certificate, a badge, or a gold coin. It’s not clear how well these sorts of awards are received…
  • Meals with company directors
  • Champagne
  • Travel and childcare vouchers
  • One month’s extra salary
  • Four weeks’ paid leave
  • A generous donation to a charity of the employers’ choosing

Cash rewards are also common, of course. Whether it’s for 10 years of service or 20 years of service, most employers seem to offer cash rewards of between £150 and £300. It varies wildly, though. One organization offers £7,500 for 20 years’ service.

What Sort of Long Service Awards do Employees Value Most?


In 2018, Employee Benefits surveyed nearly 2,000 employees on work-related rewards. Their key finding was that employees are more likely to value bespoke, personalized awards over money.

The most popular work-related award? Time off. 43% of surveyed employees said that extra annual leave would make them feel most loved and valued.

The survey also revealed some valuable insights into how you should time long service awards. It seems that many employees view rewards given on set service landmarks as too arbitrary. 47% said they’d prefer to receive rewards spontaneously (because people love surprises!) and 38% said they’d rather receive awards in recognition of good work, regardless of how long they’ve spent at the company.

What Do Your Employees Want?


With so many different factors to consider, it might come as no surprise that almost half of UK employers don’t offer any form of long service awards. Many businesses see this as a minefield that’s best avoided.

But there are no downsides to rewarding your long-serving employees. You should readily embrace anything that might serve to boost job satisfaction and staff retention.

Employees value things that are going to make a difference in their personal lives or interests. Something thoughtful and genuinely useful will count for a lot more than a monetary reward or a token gift.

But as the retirement age increases, the UK workforce is aging. Increased diversity in the workplace means a wider range of ages, demographics, and interests in every workforce. What will appeal to one employee might not necessarily appeal to another.

So give your employees a choice. For every service landmark that you choose to reward (one year, five years, 10 years, 15 years, and so on), let the recipient choose between several different awards.

And remember that no matter what you offer, some employees will always prefer cash.

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Katrina Bennett People Director at edays
February 22, 2019

Katrina is edays' own People Director with significant UK and international experience in delivering people strategy and value-adding HR solutions across a range of organisations and sectors (including Arriva, Boots, Rolls Royce, the utility and charity sectors). Katrina has over 20 years of experience in Human Resources and is CIPD qualified.