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Bagels or Cake

Arlene Vernon

Recently I was at a non-HR event and an attendee shared the following story with the group:

I was sitting in a restaurant and overheard two people talking. One man says, “Tomorrow is my 20th anniversary with XYZ Company!”

The other person responds, “So, what are you getting from the company for 20 years of service?”

And the man responds, “Well, I have the choice between bagels and cake.”

What a perfect HR story! Think about it. The man has worked for 20 years at your organization. Let’s assume that he’s a good performer (which should be the primary reason why he’s been retained for 20 years). He’s clearly dedicated the bulk of his career to your organization. And his only reward is the choice between bagels or cake. Let’s even assume that there will be a little gathering in the break room to eat this yummy food (who doesn’t like bagels or cake?).

I have to ask: Is this really all this long-term employee deserves as recognition for 20 years of service?

We have to answer “no.” Of course, he deserves more. But isn’t this is how we normally celebrate an employee’s length of service?

We pull our team together for a little food (what’s a meeting without food?) and announce to the group, “Let’s congratulate Arlene for her 20 years of great service to our company!” Everyone claps, eats their treats, and heads back to their work.

Of course, to make matters worse, let’s say Arlene is more introverted than others (imagine very hard). If that’s the case, she may totally dread being the center of attention even at this little celebration. If we assume that 50% of our employees are more introverted, then 50% of our employees may be unhappy with this type of attention that more extroverted employees may enjoy.

When I look at this situation from a “bagels and cake” perspective, I believe that many organizations think this is enough. One solution is a larger party with more recognition. Larger companies may celebrate major anniversaries with larger recognition celebrations, providing awards, plaques or gifts; some may have bosses give speeches on the contributions that the individual has made to the organization.

For several companies I have participated in larger celebrations by writing fun song parodies about the award winners (having gotten information on the employees before the anniversary event). Then at the awards event, each long term employee received their own fun personalized song or verse that I sang while they walked up to receive their award/gift.

But bigger isn’t necessarily better. What’s more important is that you sit back and really evaluate the meaningfulness and impact of what you’re doing to recognize your long-term employees.

Your “celebration” may take many different forms, but I think the most important consideration is
to make sure that the thank-you is personal, meaningful and authentic. Do your employees truly feel deep-down appreciated by their supervisor, by HR, and by senior leadership for their contribution to your organization?

It’s important to create a culture where each employee understands that their contributions are appreciated and that they are valued by the organization. If you take the time to recognize your employees in a powerful way (which doesn’t have to be an extravagant way), you’ll get better results and more committed long-term employees. Then you can give them the choice between bagels or cake.

©2015 Arlene Vernon

About Arlene Vernon

Arlene has provided HR consulting and management training services to over 500 organizations since starting HRx, Inc. in 1992.

If you’re seeking a hands-on, practical HRxpert to assist your organization with employee relations, policy development, strategic HR activities or fun/doable management training, call on Arlene – Your HRxpert.

If you’re planning a conference, seminar or special event, Arlene specializes in keynotes, seminars and workshops to meet your talent management needs. And if you’re seeking a more lively entertaining activity, Arlene’s custom songs and musical-inspirational keynote may be perfect for your organization!

HRx, Inc., Eden Prairie, MN 55344, 952.996.0975ww.HRxcellence.com. Arlene@ArleneVernon.com

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