When there’s a labor shortage, you have to get creative.
Job benefits, extra perks, better wages, job flexibility—all of it counts. Between attracting new employees, retaining the ones you have, and keeping employee morale up, you have your work cut out for you.
At some point, when it seems like everyone is doing the same thing, you have to get creative to stand out from the rest.
That’s where work anniversary celebrations are a great fit.
Everyone likes a reason to celebrate, but you can merge celebration with incentive when you focus on employee work anniversaries. And yes, we’re going to give you a list full of great ideas, but before you dive into that list, there are a few “prerequisites” to being able to celebrate anyone’s work anniversary.
First, you actually have to know when your employees’ work anniversaries are. Having them buried in some files, even if they’re digital, won’t help you remember. Ideally, you’d have a system that alerts you to the anniversary.
Second, you have to budget for this. You won’t be able to give gifts or have celebrations if it isn’t in the budget. Budgets drive action.
Third, you should know which work anniversaries you’ll celebrate. That is, if you’re going to use this as an incentive, will you celebrate all of them, or increase the benefit over time for milestone anniversaries?
Once you have all of this in place, you can choose some celebration ideas from our list (or come up with your own).
1. Office party
Who doesn’t like an office party? It’s the most natural thing to do.
Cake, treats, pizza—whatever it is your crew likes, set aside significant time so they can enjoy the party, either in the office or at another venue (and make sure they don’t have to rush back to work).
Word of caution: if you have a lot of office parties, there’s nothing special about yet another one. Either make your anniversary office party something special, or celebrate differently. If you have a large team, reserve the party for milestone years, otherwise you’ll be having a party every week. And that can get old.
2. Enviable company swag
There’s company swag that you give without much thought—pens, mugs. Red swingline staplers. Stuff you might hand out for free at a conference.
But then there’s serious swag. Tablets. Ski jackets. Tech accessories. Fitness gear. High-end coffee connoisseur items. Gift baskets or themed kits. High quality personal care items like fleece blankets.
Too often swag is seen as a promotional item where as long as you get your logo on it, it’s valuable. There’s no reason you can’t give a great gift instead, one an employee would actually love to get.
3. Help them grow
Why not give something that changes someone’s future?
Your employees have interests outside of work. They have dreams, hobbies, and things they want to accomplish. Sometimes work (or lack of funds) gets in the way. What if you could help them out? Pay for classes, give them time off or adjust their schedule so they could pursue those interests.
Find out about their hobbies and support their work or what they need to continue. Sponsor an art show for your artist employees. Showcase an employee-built app. Partner with the things they do in their free time.
Some employees might be more career-oriented, and would appreciate an opportunity to work with a mentor or career counselor. The idea is to help them grow in life, not just in their job. Exercising creativity and being free to do what you love helps improve your outlook on life; you want to encourage your employees to pursue their interests.
4. Give memorable moments
Make a memory for the employee, and no, it doesn’t have to break the budget.
Memories don’t have to be trips to expensive, exotic locations. Just a good, relaxing, fun day will do.
Prime parking spots, lunch with the boss, day pass to a spa, dinner at a fine restaurant plus theater tickets—anything that interests your employee outside of their budget or work schedule.
And don’t forget to give them the day off so they can enjoy the gift.
5. Boss (Or expert) for the day
It’s all too easy for employees to think they’re just a cog in the machine. Because of that, uncelebrated work anniversaries can become mile markers for drudgery.
It’s important to interrupt that process.
There’s a reason we loved show and tell as kids: it gave us a moment in front of everyone, a chance to show we were experts or had something interesting in our lives.
Have a meeting where the employee gets to share their expertise or experiences. Everyone wins on this one—the employee has a voice, and others get to learn from them.
If a public talk isn’t feasible, let them be boss for the day by having the chance to implement some of their ideas.
6. Highlight specific achievements
When a work anniversary rolls around, it’s the perfect time to highlight what the employee has achieved in the past year (or years). Perhaps it’s sales levels, or new customer sign ups.
Whatever it is, drawing attention to the achievement might also spur other employees to achieve the same.
How you highlight it is up to your company culture, as well as what the employee would be comfortable with. It might be an award, a highlight on social media, or a mention in your company newsletter.
7. Make it personal
A meaningful celebration should be personal to the employee.
You don’t need a huge budget to do this. Getting coworkers together to contribute to a video or podcast through interviews, footage, and other fun recollection, and then taking the time to package it up as a professional video or audio recording is a great tribute.
Not everyone likes to be the target of that much attention, though, and knowing that is part of how you make the gift personal.
You could also give to a favorite charity in their name, or personalize a gift so that it’s one-of-a-kind, anything from a T-shirt to customized artwork.
Here’s the thing: it’s easier to give generic gifts or have broad celebrations. It takes more time (not more money) to give something that is personal and matters to an individual. And that’s why it means more.
8. Follow a bucket list
What if you asked employees for their “bucket list” when they were hired?
As different work anniversaries rolled around, you have a lot of great material to work with. Even if you can’t send them to Mt. Everest, you could get them some climbing gear, or give them a season pass to a climbing gym.
9. Give time off
What employee doesn’t dream of a sabbatical?
Give the gift of time, and award an employee significant time off. Depending on their job, you could call it a sabbatical, or add an appropriate number of paid time off days to their account, something that goes beyond their standard benefits.
10. Financial gifts are always appreciated
Tangible gifts, like bonuses or gift cards are always helpful, especially when the economy is challenging.
If employees have to drive to work, a gas card is appreciated. If they take public transportation, a pass would be useful. For employees who have been employed longer, you may want to give stock options.
Be sure to work with human resources and give within company policies for financial gifts.
11. Create tenure-based rewards
We alluded to this at the start of the post, with the idea of creating rewards based on how long someone has been employed. Celebrations become an incentive to help keep employees on your team. Rewards would increase over time, with specific goalpost years to keep employees motivated. First year, third year, fifth year, and so on, with the rewards increasing over time.
You could also turn this into a kind of milestone program where employees can earn rewards through achievement so when their anniversaries roll around, their hard work helps determine the celebration.
12. Make their home office better
For employees who work at home or have a hybrid arrangement, their home office could use some sprucing up.
A new standing desk, new computer, or maybe just a room makeover would be appreciated. Plus it could make their job much easier, especially if their home office was the dining room table.
Whatever you choose to do, don’t turn this into some perfunctory task that you check off. Throwing some money at someone and then telling them to get back to work doesn’t mean much.
You’re celebrating employees who have been loyal, people who are your most important asset. It’s a mix of reward and incentive, and a mix of celebratory fun and a chance for an employee to grow and become better.
It’s all part of seeing your team as a team, and not as employees you have to merely find a way to “manage.”
Oh, there’s one more idea we forgot to mention in our list. And that’s the idea your employees have, the one you’ll find when you ask them.