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8 ways to celebrate important employee milestones at work

Want to create a culture of appreciation in your workplace? Here's how to celebrate employee milestones to make your team feel seen and valued.
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Published 17 Mar 2023
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Updated 1 Apr 2024
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7min read
Group of employees are a company celebrating at a shared space in an office, wine and cheese is available

Remember back in junior school, when getting that gold star was the tip of educational achievement? There’s a reason why teachers today still use simple methods like stickers to encourage their students. As humans, we all love that feeling of being recognised and rewarded. It makes us feel seen and appreciated, and drives us on in search of more of that dopamine high

That same mentality is one that businesses should encourage at work too, not just through routine, positive feedback but in all elements of an employee’s work. That includes milestones – both personal and professional. When we feel recognised at work, we’re happier and more productive as a result.

What are employee milestones?

Employee milestones are significant events that happen during an employee’s time at a company. It could be one shared by others, or achieved individually. It can also be either a professional or personal milestone.

Types of employee milestones

It’s important to celebrate a range of different employee milestones. Employees have more lives than the one spent at work, and recognising that can go a long way towards making your team feel valued.

Personal milestones

Personal employee milestones are those unrelated to work, but related to the employee’s personal life. They can include:

  • Birthdays
  • Engagements
  • Marriages
  • Graduations
  • Achievements (eg. sporting wins)
  • Births and adoptions
  • Pregnancy

It’s really important to note that while it’s great to recognise your employees’ lives outside of work, you should make sure that they are celebrated on the employee’s terms. Some team members might prefer to keep their home and work life fairly separate. It can be helpful to clear any celebrations by them first, so they can choose whether they want to share it at work.

Professional milestones

Professional employee milestones are those related to work, marking achievements or significant dates in the employee’s time at the company. They can include:

  • Work anniversaries
  • Promotions
  • Completion of a project
  • A significant client acquisition
  • Completion of a training module
  • Passing a probation period

Company milestones

Company milestones are shared and celebrated throughout the business. They may include:

  • The anniversary of the company’s inception
  • The end of the working year
  • A big company-wide ‘win’ (like a new, significant client)
  • An award win

Why is it important to celebrate an employee milestone?

Everyone likes to feel appreciated and recognised at work. Celebrating an employee or a team is a great (and fairly easy!) way to support them, and see increased employee engagement. It can boost morale and help them take pride in their work and home life, whether it’s their tenure at a job or an exciting personal announcement.

From a business perspective, celebrating employee milestones can go a long way towards ensuring employee happiness and retention too. Our 2023 Talent Insights Report found that 24% of those surveyed named a lack of recognition as their reason for searching for a job in a different company. If you’re making recognition a priority at your company, it’ll stand out to potential new recruits.

There’s really no downside to taking the time to get to know and celebrate your people, especially if you expect them to stick around.

8 ways to celebrate employee milestones at work

When it comes to celebrating milestones, there are plenty of options to choose from. Here’s a few ideas from us to get you started…

1. Company-wide recognition

This is arguably the easiest way to celebrate employee milestones – by recognising their achievement company-wide. We’d definitely suggest making this a part of your business’ routine, and pairing it with one or more of the suggestions further down the list.

It can be as simple as starting a company-wide meeting with an announcement, sending out a company-wide email, or instant message to a group chat. Here at Employment Hero, we have a ‘Company Feed’ dedicated for that exact purpose, which users can see when they log into the platform. There, employees can shout out their team members and share their milestones in one clear place.

Gif of Oprah Winfrey excitedly pointed at people in her studio audience

2. An awards program

Awards programs have been commonly used in the past to recognise clear professional milestones, such as for an employee’s length of service. It can be a great way to celebrate employees, and to have an event that brings everyone together. However, examples of long service work anniversaries at a company (often at the 10, 20 or even 40 year mark) are a lot less common now, as employees spend less time in one place.

With that in mind, consider how you can introduce awards programs to celebrate other milestones. You could create one for completed training courses, the end of a probation period, or a big professional achievement.

The audience at the Oscars standing for an ovation

3. A rewards scheme

In a similar vein, think about how you can bring in a specific rewards scheme, based on tangible achievements and milestones. Make sure to keep it fair and focused – build criteria for the rewards and make them the same across the board. Decide who gives out rewards too.

That’s something we’ve done at Employment Hero, on our Company Feed. If an employee has gone above and beyond, users have the option to do more than a Shout Out — they can officially recognise teammates for embodying one of the company’s values. If approved by the admin, the recognition is shared on the ‘Company Feed’ and the teammate gets a reward of ‘Hero Points’ (real money to spend online!).

Gif of Tommy Haverford from Parks and Recreation saying 'treat yo self'

4. A gift or a voucher for their favourite activity

Getting an employee a gift or voucher is a great way to celebrate either a personal or a professional milestone. Like all good gift-giving, make sure it’ll be something that they’ll appreciate and use. This might involve roping in one of their closest friends at work to give you a bit of an idea! There’s so many options online too, with everything from new baby hampers to graduation gift boxes.

Phoebe from Friends jumping up and down shouting 'I got you a present'

5. A celebratory lunch or dinner – your shout!

Celebrate employee milestones with a complimentary lunch or dinner, shared by the whole team. It’s a fantastic opportunity to get everyone out of the office and the familiar lunch haunts, and have a good time bonding with each other somewhere a bit fancier.

People at a Teppenyaki restaurant, watching the chef in the middle of the table at work

6. Further investment in their professional development

Investing in your team’s professional development should already be part of how you work (check out our guide as to why), but consider how you can specifically reward your employee with something that goes above your usual offering. This could be giving them the chance to attend an overseas conference, offering investment in higher education outside of work, or membership to an industry association.

Ben Stiller from the movie Dodgeball saying 'let me hit you with some knowledge'

7. A team-wide activity

Make the celebration something the whole team can enjoy with a team-wide activity. There’s plenty of ideas to choose from – you could do rock climbing, pottery making or make a trip to the theatre. Give the employee that you’re celebrating a say in what activity is chosen. Remember that there are plenty of virtual options as well if you have an international or remote-first team.

Four people giving a group hive five

8. Additional leave

As much as celebrating at work can be a great way to build team camaraderie, sometimes it’s just as good to give your employee extra time to celebrate away from the office. Offering additional leave gives them the choice to spend a day (or a long weekend) exactly as they’d like.

This is also a popular perk amongst employees and can be useful as part of building your employer brand. In our 2023 Talent Insights Report, 22% of those surveyed named additional annual leave days for birthdays and other events as a preferred perk when considering a role in a company.

Homer Simpson sitting on a floatie in a pool, with a drink in one hand and phone in the other. Looking very relaxed.

When should you celebrate employee milestones?

When celebrating a milestone, make it timely. Recognition doesn’t really have the same effect when it arrives months later. From a manager’s point of view, that might take some planning and admin on your part. Utilise your calendar by making sure you mark down your team member’s anniversaries and birthdays.

Ensure you’re allocating some time to celebrate key milestones, reward employees and encourage your team to have an open channel of communication through one-to-ones and catch ups. After all, sometimes big professional achievements can go under the radar, especially if your employee is a little on the introverted side. Make sure they know they can be proud of work done well.

The only exception to this is an awards programme, which might celebrate a year’s worth of achievements across the company. Just don’t forget to celebrate the achievement in the moment too.

What is the difference between KPIs and milestones?

Key performance indicators, or KPIs, are specific measurements to gauge employee performance in relation to their role. They’re practical and form the basis of a role done correctly and well. For example, in a sales role, it could be the number of sales in a month. For a customer service role, it could be the number of customers helped. A manager or leader will set a number that represents positive performance, to which the employee can work towards.

KPIs differ from employee milestones, in that KPIs should be part of the routine at work. In conducting their role, employees are always working towards hitting those goals. Milestones are different – they’re specific events that are different from routine performance. From a professional point of view, milestones are often related to an instance of significant achievement. From a personal point of view, they’re related to an important moment in an employee’s life at home.

Level up your employee recognition program with Employment Hero

Are you ready to take the next step in recognising your employees and celebrating their big milestones? Consider bringing in employee engagement software with Employment Hero, and make recognition a part of the everyday.

For more ideas, check out our guide to building an exceptional workplace culture

 

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Jen Denny
Content Marketing Specialist - Employment Hero
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