Employee Recognition

5 Steps to Modernize your Milestone Program

Milestone Awards (also known as Employee Anniversary, Years of Service, Service Milestones, or Service Anniversaries) recognize employees for reaching a certain amount of time with the company. The most common milestones recognized are at the end of years 1, 3, 5, and every 5 years after that. More comprehensive programs can also include certain birthdays and other important milestones in employee lives (e.g. getting married).

Key anniversaries are often celebrated with some sort of public acknowledgement and/or a reward that increases in value based on the years of service. The value of rewards can vary, but commonly ranges between $25-$75 per year of service. For example, an employee might receive a reward valued $500 for their 10 year anniversary.

Recognizing employee milestone dates is a way to formally appreciate people for their contributions, accomplishments, and successes over the course of their career with the organization. When done right, a milestone program can produce tremendous benefits.


Why Run a Milestone Program?

Recognizing, celebrating and rewarding employees for hitting major milestones heightens their sense of pride for career accomplishments, and makes them feel appreciated for their efforts and contributions. This can help to boost their morale, engagement, performance, and ultimately productivity. In a survey conducted by Work.com, 69% of employees would work harder if they were better recognized in their organizations. Your people are your most important asset, and need to feel the love when they hit major milestones.

Anniversary awards can also play a role in  retention, as employees strive to reach milestones when they see their colleagues being publicly recognized and rewarded. Companies within the top 20% of “recognition-rich culture” see 31% lower turnover rates. Implementing a Milestone Program is the first step in building a culture of recognition, where people love coming to work and crushing it everyday!

With numbers like that, it’s no wonder the ROI for employee recognition programs is mind-blowing.


Pitfalls of Traditional Milestone Programs

Milestone Programs have been around for a long time now. Unfortunately, many service providers have failed to update their programs over the years. If you’re still using one of these older programs, here are some reasons it’s likely not cutting it anymore.


Traditional forms of milestone awards, like plaques, pins, pens, watches and certificates are lacklustre, and no longer resonate with most employees, especially millennials. Similarly, outdated points/catalogue programs offer a limited selection of products that do not cater to everyone’s interests, and there’s occasional fulfillment issues that lead to disappointment when the provider is unable to supply the employee’s desired item.

High Fees

Many large providers are used to getting away with charging an arm and leg for their service. Not only do they charge exorbitant set up and annual service fees to execute programs, there’s also significant markups on catalogue products (often 25-30%), and shipping fees for getting items delivered to the recipient's house or the company’s office. That's a lot of wasted money!

Not Timely

Without integrations that keep your employee data accurate in service provider systems, anniversary dates can sometimes get missed or simply forgotten. Similarly, shipped items can run into delays, resulting in rewards being issued days or even weeks after the actual work anniversary date. This dramatically reduces the impact of the gesture (imagine getting a birthday card 2-weeks late), and can even be counter-productive if the employee is left feeling their role does not have much importance.

No Awareness

Many Traditional Programs will provide a milestone reward to the employee, but fail to notify an employee’s manager in advance about the anniversary so they have time to plan something for them. These legacy programs also fail to notify the employee’s colleagues on the actual anniversary date, which would have allowed them to send a personal message or even stop by to offer a congratulations.


5 Steps to Modernize your Program

1. Find The Right Partner 

Your ideal  service provider is someone willing to help you create an amazing program that meets your organization's unique needs. A great place to start is through review sites like Capterra, which allow you to compare software providers to find a program that works for you. Your partner’s platform should address the 4 main issues with Traditional Milestone Programs:

  • Impactful - A modern program should allow employees to select from various reward categories (e.g. dining, retail, experiences) and merchants, so they actually get something they want. This will boost the perceived value of the reward and create more excitement on anniversary dates.
  • Low Fees - A modern program should have little to no set up or service fees, use digital gift cards for rewards to avoid markups and shipping costs, and monetize by charging all the merchant suppliers instead of you.
  • Timely - A modern program should integrate employee data to ensure no important milestones are missed, and offer a simple interface to schedule/automate digital rewards to be delivered on exact anniversary dates!
  • Inclusive - A modern program should notify key stakeholders (managers, team members) of the upcoming milestone, and offer public social feeds where everyone can see milestones being celebrated, and chime in!

2. Build Your Case

It’s time to convince the executive team that investing in a Modern Milestone Program will be beneficial. Try to provide some hard numbers - how do you plan on measuring engagement improvements? How much of a productivity increase do you expect? What’s the estimated reduction in turnover? 

Addressing these questions will help you convince decision makers. Check out our free ROI Calculator to help build your case.

3. Build a Team of Champions

Seek out support from someone who represents each group of stakeholders in the organization:

  • Leader: oversees program and results (decision-maker)
  • Admin: operates the program sending rewards
  • Manager: notified of upcoming milestones and rewards
  • Employee: receives milestone rewards
  • Finance: manage financial reports (eg: taxable benefits)

These people will help to anticipate any issues before the program is launched, and then get their teams behind the program when it goes live.

4. Communicate Launch

To make any new Milestone Program a success, it's critical to make sure all employees are aware of the program, and why it will be awesome for them. Different stakeholders will have different concerns about the program, so don’t be afraid to lean on your Team of Champions to communicate benefits. You’ll also want to provide an easy way for employees to provide feedback and ask questions.

5. Measure Results & Tweak

Finally, it’s important to measure if the program is actually working. Look at Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) like productivity or retention. Conduct surveys to see if employees are happy with the program, feeling more appreciated for their contributions, more engaged, and if they have any feedback. Hopefully, your service provider is one that welcomes feedback and works with you to create a program best suited for your people.



How Guusto Could Work for Your Company

Guusto's employee recognition platform powers thousands of corporate Milestone Programs across North America. It’s a completely free platform that is simple to set up, and makes scheduling 1000s of digital rewards a breeze. Gift cards sent through our platform are redeemable at 60,000+ partner merchant locations. 

Our customer success team can even also help automate the process with HRIS integrations. Built in manager notifications and engaging social feeds can make everyone aware of employees celebrating milestones. Finally, the system offers web, mobile and offline delivery options to ensure no-one is left out! 

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What’s Next?

Companies are often hesitant to roll out new software due to the high costs and risks involved. So, next week we’ll explore How to Use Agile HR to Build Employee Recognition Programs. It will cover the following in detail:

  • Why Companies are Stuck in Arrested Development
  • What is Agile HR
  • How to use the Build-Measure-Learn framework
Hope you’ll join us for the discussion. Have something you want to learn more about? Let me know in the comments below or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Muucho Guusto,


Skai Dalziel

Written by Skai Dalziel

Skai is the Co-Founder of Guusto. He leads the Customer Success Team, and loves helping HR leaders build workplace culture by sharing his experiences from working with thousands of companies.