In a bid to end the dispute once and for all, HRM caught up with two industry experts who each take an opposite stance on the issue. Peter Hart, CEO of Rideau, is a staunch milestone supporter while Rick Patrick, CEO of Beyond Boardrooms, says it’s one of the least beneficial forms of recognition.
“The question isn’t how long have you been here, the question is what have you done with your time?” says Calgary-based Patrick. “That’s where I think we’re making a mistake.”
According to Patrick, milestone recognition not only fails to recognize actual contribution, it could actually encourage unpleasant and unproductive employees to stay around longer.
“I could be here for five years, I could be an absolute cancer within my workforce, I could be an unpleasant employee – I could be all those things but when I hit five years, I get my reward,” he said.
“When it’s a time factor only, it’s really not a very effective tool at all. It’s nice and I wouldn’t say don’t do it but what I do say is, as far as engagement and incentive, don’t count on it.”
Hart, on the other hand, disagrees.
“Milestone recognition is effective because people enjoy anniversaries and celebrating them,” he told HRM. “Employees want to know that they are valuable to your company and what better way to show them than on the date they started at your company?”
Montreal-based Hart – who’s been with the organization for an incredible 33 years – says milestone recognitions are so important that employers should make a point to recognize them more often.
“Of course the big milestones like 1, 5, and 10 year are great and they should be recognized with something special, but we should not forget the in-between years ( 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, etc.) Those are important too,” he told HRM. “I would venture to say most people leave their companies during those ‘off’ years than the milestone years.”
Hart says employers don’t have to spend a fortune to show their thanks on the “off years” and claims a note or ecard of appreciation is more than enough.
“All too often we associate recognition with rewards and it doesn’t have to be that way,” he stressed.
“Recognition begins with a name and words and you don’t always need a tangible reward to appreciate and recognize someone’s years of service.”
In fact, Hart encourages employers to mark employees’ personal milestones as well as their professional ones.
“Important milestones like birthdays, marriage, birth of a child (or grandchild), buying a first home, or retirement can all be recognized and celebrated by employers,” he said.
“But remember, in order to do this effectively, managers have to have their finger on the pulse of employees. There has to be consistency and you have to decide what milestones make sense for your culture to recognize and understand, in advance, how each will be celebrated.
“If done right, celebrating milestones can be a very effective way for employers to let their employees know that they truly care about them and the things that happen in their lives.
“The basic rule of thumb is this – anytime you can put a smile on an employee’s face, do it. Employee recognition is like a pebble dropped into still water. The waves ripple out and touch your customers and vendors making the whole organization better than it was before – and who doesn’t want that?”
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Is milestone recognition actually effective? It’s a question that can split HR professionals and leave employers wondering which approach is best – but who’s right?