Long-term service rewards: what to give and what to avoid

Company loyalty isn’t so common these days. We’re past the days where you could guarantee someone a job for 20 years, and employees are aware they have a lot of options to move on to. So those who stick around should be duly rewarded.

When looking for a job, people will look for a company with attractive culture, compensation, and closeness to home. But in a competitive market, a nice benefit package can be the tipping point for someone to choose your company over another - and long-term service awards can be an important part of that.

Choosing which long-term service benefits to offer is a decision that won’t pay off for a while, but as part of a long-term strategy it’s an important part of staff satisfaction and retention.

Expectations have changed, and gold watches aren’t so much in vogue these days. So what else can you offer? And why do it in the first place?

Why give long-term service rewards?

For a start, it’s a nice thing to do. It’s a way of saying thanks to employees for their dedication and loyalty in helping your business survive and thrive to this day.

Some staff say they don’t like to have a fuss made about them, but secretly, everyone likes to at least be acknowledged for their efforts.

It’s a morale-boosting occasion for all, and can give everyone a chance to reflect on their long-term contribution. Giving the right gift, though, is important.

What should you give as long term service rewards?

There are a few different ideas for employee gifts, from the meaningful to the trite - choose carefully.

Money

Everyone loves money. In fact, some of us love it so much we go to work every day to earn it.

Money as a long-service reward is not always a great idea, though, for one simple reason - tax. It’d count as a bonus, which means it needs to be taxed and reported to HMRC.

Gov.UK explains the guidelines on what you have to report and pay:

Any cash you award to an employee counts as part of their earnings. You must:

• add this amount to your employee’s other earnings
• deduct and pay Class 1 National Insurance and PAYE tax through payroll

It might be better, then, to choose something valuable that’s not cash.

Gift vouchers

Gift vouchers - like money, but you can spend it in fewer places.

They’re a useful way to give a monetary value to a reward without being cash. So you can spend big in a visible way, for those really deserving of it, and they’ve got some flexibility in how they spend it.

It’s your responsibility to choose appropriately for the staff member, and show them you know more than the bare minimum about their preferences. A £500 voucher for Nando’s might not go down well with the office’s resident vegan; a poorly-chosen gift is more likely to offend than delight.

You can get creative - think outside Argos and maybe go for experiences. Travel vouchers, spa days or gift experiences like Ferrari driving or whiskey tours are a bit more fun.

Gadgets and gizmos

These are often a more fashionable way to demonstrate gratitude than an old-school clock or set of cufflinks. Many people would be quite delighted with an iPad or fancy phone. But it’s a little impersonal, and although it can be high-value, it can be seen as low-effort and not too thoughtful.

Time
Photo by Jiyeon Park / Unsplash

Branded company tat

It’s easy and quite cheap to order a jumper or tie with your company logo on it. But is that employee really going to treasure it? Even if it's something fancy like a branded set of golf clubs or a fountain pen, it's probably not going to be met with delight.

If I write for Timetastic for the next 20 years and Gary (the MD) gives me a Timetastic pen and T-shirt, I wouldn’t be too chuffed. It’d probably end up in a box in the attic, next to old phone chargers and worn-out socks. You can do better than company tat - sorry, merchandise.

Extra annual leave

We saved the best 'til last. As you know, we’re big fans of taking time off work.

While long service does usually accrue a longer allowance of holidays, these usually reach a limit - 5 days a year more than new employees, for example. But a gift of a decent chunk of time off will be massively appreciated by all but the most fervent workaholic. It could be given all in one go, or added to their annual allowance to sprinkle through the year.

Not to get too sappy, but time off spent with friends and family is something to be treasured. What could be better than relaxing with your favourite people? It might end up being the most appreciated gift of them all.

A particularly generous company could even offer a sabbatical. One example is that of Dennis Publishing, who have quite a progressive sabbatical policy. After 5 years with the company, employees can take either a 6-week paid career break, or take 6 weeks’ extra pay (or a combination of the two). Sabbaticals are a great way to relax, reflect on your career, and experience new things - we think they're a great idea.

Whether it's for a lengthy holiday or a personal development mission, time off from the workplace can be a life-improving gift for a long-serving employee. Let them know of your gratitude - they deserve it.