June 20, 2024
March 1, 2024

Celebrating Employee Milestones: the What, When, and How

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Life is full of milestones, both professional and personal. First jobs, graduations, marriages, tenure anniversaries, first homes, first children, work promotions—we all go through a lot in our lives. Regardless of the path life takes, you’ll pass milestones as you move forward, and the same is true of your employees.

92% of employees expect support and care in their work life, which is to be expected. However, 80% of employees expect care and support from their company in their personal lives, too. Celebrating employee milestones at work is one of the best ways to show your people that you care about them, not just as employees, but as people.

And considering that feeling cared for is more important to employee retention than compensation, every HR leader should find ways to celebrate milestones.

Why Should You Strive to Make Employees Feel Cared For?

Supporting employees’ work-life balance and caring for their personal well-being shouldn’t need an ROI—it’s simply the right thing to do. However, since celebrating employee milestones may take a chunk of budget, it’s best to be familiar with some benefits you can expect.

As mentioned above, when employees feel supported as people, they’re much more likely to stick around, saving you money and headaches in turnover. But cutting down on turnover isn’t the only benefit.

Harvard Business Review reports that when companies support employees’ work-life balance, it promotes productivity, boosts retention, and improves employee mental health and physical health. Employees who feel supported in their mental health are less likely to underperform, less likely to miss work, more satisfied with their job overall. Happy employees are 13% more productive, too.

By creating a culture where employees feel like individuals who are cared for, supported in their personal lives, and appreciated, they respond with greater work and loyalty.

What Employee Milestones Should You Celebrate?

In order to really capture the benefits of a workforce that feels valued and cared for, celebrate as many employee milestones as possible. 

Professional milestones include:

  • Onboarding milestones. When each employee first starts at your company, have a 30, 60, 90-day recognition plan. Strategize how to support and care for your new people throughout their first months.
  • Service anniversaries. Celebrate every employee work anniversary. Period. Not every year needs a big gift or bonus—even a handwritten card shows employees that you care.
  • Promotions. Whenever an employee gets a promotion makes a lateral move at the company, ensure the company and their manager celebrates that exciting milestone with them. Show them you care about their success and value that they bring to your org.
  • Finished projects. When an employee takes on a new responsibility or project and does their best with it, celebrate their work when they finish it. Express your appreciation for their willingness to take on new work.
  • Accomplished goals. When employees accomplish a work goal, that should be a huge deal for both them and the company. Whether they hit a specific performance target, learn a new skill, or anything else, celebrate their accomplishment with them.
  • Retirement. When employees are ready to retire, celebrate this awesome milestone. It’s a significant milestone for anyone, and celebrating with them will build a culture of positivity and continuity.

Employee personal milestones include:

  • Birthdays. Each year, make sure to celebrate employees’ birthdays. It’s a special occasion, and it's one of the best ways to show your people that you care about them as more than just a cog in the corporate machine.
  • Graduation. Whether they’re 20, 60, or anywhere in between, getting a degree is a huge accomplishment. Show employees that you care by celebrating their graduation with them.
  • Marriage. Getting married is one of the most life-changing events in anyone’s life. Celebrate this milestone with any employee that gets married and share your congratulations.
  • Growing their family. Having a baby, adopting, or offering foster care is another big life change for employees. Celebrate this milestone and support employees with their evolved needs.
  • Buying a home. Such a huge financial investment can be scary—show your support for employees by celebrating with some housewarming gifts.
  • Personal achievements. Whether employees wrote a book, won a sports competition, made it into an exclusive club, or anything similar, it’s important to celebrate their accomplishments to show you care.

How to Celebrate Employee Milestones at Work?

You know why celebrating employee milestones is important, and you know which milestones to keep an eye out for. Now here are some tips for actually celebrating milestones at work.

How to Celebrate Employee Onboarding

The key here is to make employees feel cared for and seen from day one. Recognize them on their first day, give them a personalized gift, and plan an activity or meal for their new team to get to know them. Then, both company leaders and their manager should recognize their efforts frequently throughout their first 6 months or so.

Want more specifics for onboarding best practices? Check out our blog!

How to Celebrate Employee Work Anniversaries

Like mentioned above, every single work anniversary should be celebrated. For big years (1, 5, 10, etc.), the sky's the limit. Set aside a good-sized budget for these, and then give employees a choice in what they get.

For the other years, if you don’t have the budget to give a big gift or throw a party, consider handwritten notes from the employees’ manager and coworkers, a gift card to their favorite shop or restaurant, or another personalized gift that shows them you care.

Learn more about Awardco’s personalized MemoryBook feature to make service anniversaries simple and effective!

How to Celebrate Employees’ Workplace Accomplishments

Whether employees reach their goals, hit a sales target, or finish a big project, it’s important to show them that their work is noticed and valued. Depending on how big the accomplishment is, you can do anything from a meal with the executive team to a heartfelt compliment from their manager. 

Something as simple as a public shoutout in a company meeting or on social media can really brighten an employee’s day, too.

Learn more about how Awardco’s recognition platform can make celebrating accomplishments, both big and small, simple.

How to Celebrate Employee Promotions & Retirement

If an employee gets a new job in the company, gets a new job at a different company, or plans to retire, that’s a big step for them. Celebrate their accomplishment with a farewell party, a scrapbook of workplace memories, or something else that will memorialize their time at their position or at your company.

If they’re leaving your company, consider hosting an exit interview to not only personally thank them for their time, but to learn how you can improve your culture, too.

How to Celebrate Employee Birthdays

Have you ever received a present that was so off base that you doubt the giver actually thought about you? That’s what you need to avoid with workplace birthday celebrations. The easiest way to avoid this is to send out a birthday survey to learn more about each employee’s interests, hobbies, snack preferences, and favorite things. Update this survey regularly, and make sure any birthday gifts you give match each employee.

Also, learn how employees prefer to be celebrated: will they like being called out in front of the company or would they rather be celebrated in a more intimate gathering?

Want more employee birthday celebration ideas? Check out our birthday celebration kit!

How to Celebrate Employees’ Personal Accomplishments

No matter what the achievement is, simply showing employees that you’re proud of them is huge. A congratulatory note, a small gift, or even attending the award ceremony (if applicable) can show that company leaders are interested in and care about employees’ personal successes.

Get inspired to give the best gifts for employees with our blog.

How to Celebrate Employee Life Changes

Life changes are exciting, but they can often be overwhelming—employees will appreciate it if their company celebrates by helping make the change more manageable.

For example, if an employee just bought a house, send them a housewarming gift with helpful kitchen appliances, tools, or decorations. If they just got married, contribute to their wedding registry. If they have just added a child, diapers or baby clothes are always welcome.

Never Let Another Employee Milestone Pass By Uncelebrated

Many important events and milestones happen in employees’ lives. If their company celebrates with them in some way, you can show that you value them as people, improve their work-life balance, make them happier, and increase their satisfaction.

We hope this guide helps you build out a strategy to ensure that each employee milestone is celebrated in a way that is rewarding for employees and effective for you.

Jefferson Hansen
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An avid lover of fantasy books, a proud Hufflepuff, and a strong proponent of escapism, Jeff has a love of good storytelling. He relies on that for both his professional work and his writing hobby (don’t ask about the 10+ novel ideas collecting virtual dust on his computer).