21 Unforgettable Work Anniversary Ideas [UPDATED]
With everything on your plate, it can be tempting to let anniversary celebrations fall to the wayside.
But neglecting them can turn out to be a costly cultural error. That’s because celebrating work anniversaries isn’t just a nice gesture for your employees or coworkers – there’s a strong business case to be made for making work anniversaries a priority at your company.
Sound strange? It all comes down to the fact that our emotions and our performance are intimately linked.
Dr. Glenn Fox leads program design at USC’s Performance Science Institute, and is an expert on the ways that emotions like gratitude and optimism drive performance. In his view, the ability to regulate emotions is the number one predictor of success in life.
This is just as true in the workplace as anywhere else. Since gratitude and optimism affect performance, companies who proactively foster these positive emotions via a culture of recognition have an automatic leg-up on those who don’t.
Celebrating work anniversaries shows your employees or coworkers that they are cared for and appreciated, and helps create the emotional connection upon which all highly engaged, high performing teams are built.
Plus there’s the fact that work anniversaries have a relatively high ROI – you get an outsized return for not much time or money. All it really takes is a little planning, some creativity, and genuine appreciation.
But it only works if you do it right. Here’s our top tips, tactics, and company anniversary ideas for employees to help you make the most of work anniversaries.
To make it easier, we’ve broken down these work anniversary gifts by year, since every anniversary has slightly different considerations.
You’ll find your next work anniversary ideas here!
The Gen Xers at your workplace probably scoff at the idea, but celebrating employees who make it to the one year mark is a vital retention strategy.
According to the Harvard Business Review, a study of more than a million respondents found that voluntary turnover peaked one year after their start dates. Celebrating that first anniversary re-engages employees at a critical juncture, and provides an emotional lift right when employees are most likely to see if the grass really is greener elsewhere.
That said, you don’t have to go overboard. There are plenty of budget- and time-friendly ways to keep your team engaged at this critical juncture.
Hand Written Note
Never underestimate the impact that a handwritten note can make.
This low-tech idea is simple but super effective. The fact that it’s handwritten demonstrates a level of care that your team will appreciate.
When you draft this note, be sure to think about all the things that you appreciate about this person. Be specific – is she a hard worker? A fierce problem solver? Does she spread joy and optimism throughout the office? Call it out and let her know!
A Rare Piece of Company Swag
Not all swag is made the same…
You’d be surprised how often employees would actually prefer to rock a unique piece of swag. This becomes like a badge of honor that loyal/happy employees will gladly wear in public – arguably the best type of marketing too!
The key to this gift is it should be something highly unique and hard to get:
Get a prize wheel (they’re readily available on Amazon) and offer your employees the chance to spin for prizes like gas cards, amazon or restaurant gift cards, books, or free car washes. Do it during a large company or team meeting to really get everyone involved. (It’s also an easy way to inject some excitement into an otherwise dull meeting!)
Celebrate Hiring Classes
If you’re part a growing team, celebrating work anniversaries can quickly blossom into a daunting task.
For example, at SnackNation it’s not unheard of for us to onboard a hiring class with 15 or more people – all of whom will have the exact same work anniversary every year.
So instead of an elaborate celebration for every employee in this group, celebrate the group as a whole and give each of them their anniversary trophy.
We actually encourage our hiring classes to name themselves and forge their own identity. (That’s how we ended up with groups named “SnackNasty,” “Young Money,” and “The Wolf Pack.”)
Encouraging your hiring classes to develop their own identities not only makes celebrating anniversaries more manageable, it also creates another opportunity to develop a culture of fun and togetherness, and creates for people across the org to get to know you each other.
Hanging without puppies is fun and good for your health. Animals in the office have been proven to relieve stress in the workplace.
If your office isn’t normally dog friendly, work with a nearby shelter to bring puppies to you just for the day. One such shelter is Puppies for Rent based in Utah. They use a “puppy party” model to introduce animals from no-kill shelters to local dog lovers (i.e., potential adopters).
For more (like 117 more) year one celebrations ideas, check our mega list of employee reward ideas.
Career Planning Session
Young employees (or even simply new employees) often leave companies after their first year. It’s not that these employees don’t like their companies. Many new employees simply get bored or restless in their roles. They want to try something new.
Many company policies support horizontal movement, but it can be hard for young professionals or new employees to instigate conversations about changing things up. They may not know how such conversations would be accepted. They might imagine that revealing an interest in exploring other opportunities would put their current positions in jeopardy.
That’s why companies should consider celebrating one year of service with a no-holds-barred, company-centric career planning session. During this session, invite employees into a totally open-ended conversation where they can discuss anything and everything they might want to do in the company. Make sure employees know they can talk about any area of the company, even those they have no training or experience in.
This anniversary celebration will excite and energize new employees, and it also gives companies the chance to show they value and acknowledge each person’s unique personality, skills, intelligence, and work ethic.
In other words, this idea gives companies the chance to demonstrate a deeper level of acknowledgement that goes beyond appreciation of the mere tasks and processes each employee “executes.”
Two years is a big deal, especially if your workforce skews younger. For people between the ages of 21 and 23, the average tenure is barely over a year, so hitting that second anniversary is definitely a cause for celebration.
Just like getting through year one, hitting the two-year anniversary marks another critical juncture in any company-employee relationship. At this point, people who decided to stick with the company for another year to see how “things would go” might be reevaluating their long-term plans and goals.
Employees might decide to sever their relationship with a company after two years for the same reasons many experts saylovers choose to end relationships after two years:
- The excitement wears off. After a few years, even eager employees may start admitting their current job is not the dream job they expected.
- They stop wanting to make it work. Two years is plenty of time to perform an honest assessment of compatibility. Things you could deal with at the 6-month mark suddenly become dealbreakers.
- Things get real. Both bosses and employees stay on their best behavior during the first few years on the job. When both parties start to relax, problems might arise. Maybe the boss isn’t as easy going as she pretended. Maybe the employee isn’t as ambitious as he pretended.
You (or someone else at the company) has likely been keeping track of the employee’s key accomplishments as part of a formal review process. Put those accomplishments and progress points to good use and create and print a customized achievement timeline to give as an anniversary gift. Employees will love remembering all the amazing things they’ve done in two years.
Gift a Day Off or Remote Day
Here’s something you might not know: your team craves flexibility, but probably could use a little more of it. Which is why remote work is a perfect gift.
That’s according to the SnackNation 2017 State of Company Culture Report, which parsed thousands of data points from our national company culture survey. In the report, we found that “flexible work hours” was rated the third most important perk (87% of respondents said it is “important” or “very important” to them), yet only 46% of respondents said that this perk is available to them.
The two year mark is the perfect time to gift something that won’t cost you much but that your employees will definitely love you for.
A recent Globoforce survey revealed that employees who don’t have close friends at work said they would be more likely to accept a job offer than employees who have several close friends at work. While you can’t give employees friends for their anniversaries, you can help them celebrate the relationships they have formed.
Find a picture from a company outing or party with the employee smiling with co-workers. (If you don’t have one, it looks like you need to schedule an impromptu party!) Print and frame the picture to help the employee stay mindful of fulfilling work friendships.
Ask people around the office to describe the celebrated employee in one word. Use those words to create a customized word-cloud mug. Employees will love hearing all the words their co-workers used to describe them, and they can use the mug, a constant reminder of their office identities, every single day.
The Five Minute Journal
Based in positive psychology, The Five Minute Journal makes it incredibly easy for your team to start their days focused on gratitude. Recipients use the journal to name the things they’re grateful for, name their long and short term goals, and pause for reflection.
We love this gift not only because it’s simple and affordable, but because it helps reinforce the importance of personal growth and development, and signals to your team that you are invested in their success.
Three years is the time to remind your employees why they love working at your company, so really focus on making things fun, personalized, and social.
A seat at the table
After 3 years, many employees want a stronger voice in the company, and they might be ready for it, too. Instead of handing out a tangible anniversary gift, try handing out an invitation that conveys trust and recognition better than any gift.
Consider what meetings the employee might be ready to attend, especially those where people make key decisions or exchange strategic ideas. If you want to make sure the employee has a gift to open, offer a handwritten card that explains all the reasons you believe the employee is ready to be part of the meeting.
A few paid months of a trendy fitness class
Perks that benefit employees’ lives in more ways than one boost employee loyalty. Make it easier for employees to work out, and they’ll want to stick around for a few more years. This anniversary gift adds true value to employees’ day-to-day routines and overall lives. Employees who were looking to “shake things up” might just find new fitness journeys more compelling than looking for new jobs.
Fat Head or Custom T-Shirt
Let your senior team members know you care about them by giving them the gift of… themself.
Have a life sized cutout or Fathead of the person made and surprise them with it by hanging it near their desk to discover. Alternatively, have your team wear custom T-shirts adorned with the person’s face. Either way, it’s a hilarious option that they won’t soon forget.
Make a DIY Custom Video
This is an idea we’ve used for big birthdays here at SnackNation, but it also works perfectly for work anniversaries.
It involves a little extra time and effort (and requires basic video editing skills), so it’s probably best to reserve this idea for milestone anniversaries (we’re thinking three years or more).
But definitely consider it. A custom video is personal, funny, and shareable, and people really do love it.
Here’s an easy formula to create a video that celebrates your employees’ unique personality and all the ways they contribute to your company:
- Come up with a list of funny questions to ask a group of 5-10 people who work with the recipient and know him or her pretty well.
- Ask each person your questions and record their answers with your phone or video camera. Important – make sure you conduct the interviews separately so that people aren’t influenced by previous answers. You want genuine, off-the-cuff responses.
- Edit the responses together using your video editing software of choice. (Here’s a list of the ten best mobile video editing apps.)
- Debut the video during a big team or department meeting. This is key – the idea is to extend the celebration to the larger team.
Here are few sample questions to get you started:
- What is _____ most known for around the office?
- What was _____’s first thought when he woke up this morning?
- If _____ didn’t work at this company, where would she work?
- What’s the weirdest part of your first interview with _____?
- If _____ was on a deserted island, what three things would he want with him?
- What do you like most about working with _____?
Flash Mob / Slow Clap
At SnackNation, we’re all about celebrations that get the whole company involved, and there’s really none better than the office slow clap.
Here’s what you do – at a designated time, get everyone in your team or department to gather around the recipient’s desk. Start with a long, drawn out group clap that picks up in speed and intensity. Within about thirty seconds, this slow clap should be a roar of applause. Spontaneous whistles and high fives are also par for the course.
The slow clap is a fun way to surprise and delight the entire office while also celebrating the individual. Plus, clapping and high fives release oxytocin, one of our brain’s feel good chemicals that helps reinforce social bonds.
Black Belt or Badge of Expertise
Celebrate employees by making a token (a belt or a badge works perfectly) of appreciation and acknowledgement for a skill or subject area that person has mastered or just really enjoys.
Take a moment to consider why this idea works. It’s this person’s 3rd anniversary; this person has probably spent 3 years honing one primary skill, and they would probably love some recognition of just how good they’ve become at that one particular thing.
While employees appreciate recognition of the time they’ve spent at the company, most would really love to be recognized for the expertise they’ve gained in a specific area.
Step up your gift game at year four. All the same concepts apply, but really up the ante to make your appreciation known.
Your 4-year employees have proven their loyalty by sticking around; they’ve clearly found a long-term work home at your company. A heartfelt anniversary gift helps employers send clear messages of gratitude that will keep dependable employees happy and engaged at work.
Standing desks will run you about $200, so four years or more is an appropriate benchmark to justify a gift that costs a little extra.
The best part about this one is that you’ll be giving your team the added gift of enhanced health and wellbeing. Multiple studies have shown that the sedentary nature of office work has harmful long term health effects. Standing desk help alleviate these effects by engaging your legs and core while you work.
Purpose-driven companies perform better. A Deloitte study found that your ability to communicate your company’s purpose has a direct link to how engaged your team is (and therefore affects their performance).
Use work anniversaries to remind your team about the bigger picture by making a charitable donation in their name. Align the charity to your company’s mission, or with a cause that’s close to his or her heart. For instance, if you know that your employee is an animal lover, donate to a local animal shelter.
And let’s face it – most of us have enough stuff. Not all of us need or want another hoodie or water bottle, but there are many of us who have causes that are close to our heart. Plus, having a mission is a big part of creating an engaged team, and focusing on giving helps reinforce and clarify that mission.
In our era of job-hopping Millennial employees, average job tenure in the U.S. for workers in every industry (and of all ages) is just 4.4 years. Keeping someone around five or more years is definitely cause for celebration. Here are a few employee anniversary gift ideas to make your office veterans feel the love.
Ok, it doesn’t make sense for every company to give their employees samurai swords, but for LA-based mobile gaming studio Scopely, it makes perfect sense.
For Scopely, work anniversaries are just another chance to express their fun, irreverent, and utterly one-of-a-kind culture. They do this by gifting employees hilarious, often absurd gifts, including custom made samurai swords and personalized oil paintings.
While this approach is certainly tongue-in-cheek, there’s a serious strategy behind the practice. Doing has helped earn Scopely a reputation for being a great place to work, which has helped them recruit and retain the talent they need to keep cranking out hit mobile games year after year.
Take a cue from Scopely and treat work anniversaries as an opportunity to reinforce the things about your culture that make it unique.
Consider giving your veteran employees some skin in the game. Tons of privately held companies are using Employee Stock Option Programs (ESOPs) and other equity programs to give employees who have been with them a while a real sense of ownership.
Not familiar with ESOPs? Here’s a quick primer:
ESOPs give employees the right (but don’t require) to purchase future shares in the company at current valuations. Because of this, they are usually deployed in growth-stage businesses, where there is the potential for big upside. With a decent lawyer and the right incorporation type, they are relatively easy to set up.
They might not be right for every business, but these types of programs give employees a real ownership stake in the company, which will make them more engaged and more personally invested in the success of your business.
Sabbaticals are another increasingly common way for companies to reward their employees.
A great example is found at Media Temple, an LA-based domain and hosting service provider. At Media Temple, employees who have made it to the five year mark are encouraged to take a paid month off to either learn a new hobby, participate in a local service project, or experience a new culture abroad.
And when we say that they take a month off, we mean it. Employees are forbidden from checking work emails or working on company projects during this time.
Media Temple isn’t alone. Tons companies are gifting up to five weeks of time off for five years of employment.
If you think that you couldn’t possibly afford to lose your best employees for a solid month at a time, consider that after five years, five weeks is just 2% of an employee’s tenure.
The benefits tend to outweigh any of the perceived costs. Not only is it a great recruiting tool (Media Temple employees cite the sabbatical practice as being the main reasons for joining the company), but employees return from these trips with new ideas, new perspectives, and a renewed energy to tackle their next big projects.
Employees that have been with your company for several years have certainly earned a gift that could help them take the next step in their careers. This anniversary gift has several beneficial layers. It will make the employee feel valued as a key member of the team. It also gives veteran employees (who clearly have an interest in sticking around to advance along with the company) the resources they need to effectively convert their years of experience into leadership skills that generate all-around growth.
Dinner at the CEO’s house
One special night with the top official of the company could make a more memorable anniversary present than a handful of other work anniversary gifts. Carefully plan the dinners to make sure you don’t overwhelm the CEO. Depending on the size of your company, you might only need to plan a dinner party once every few months.
Have a Good-Natured Comedy Roast
During a comedy roast, everyone tells jokes about a guest of honor. (Pop culture roasts have a reputation for getting nasty and sometimes escalating into hurtful territory, but your anniversary roast doesn’t have to include ridicule to be entertaining.)
Start planning the anniversary roast at least a month in advance. Invite everyone in the company to submit rough “scripts” of what they plan to talk about during the roast. (Feel free to ask for stories and memories as well as jokes and impersonations.) Remind everyone to keep their “roasts” good natured, but be sure to read through all the submissions before the event to watch for anything that might legitimately damage someone’s feelings. Send along links to some roast examples with your request to help everyone warm up their comedic chops.
Tip: You can roast multiple anniversaries during one event.
Host the event after hours, preferably in a location where people can enjoy a few drinks if they wish. Be sure to tell the anniversary guests of honor what to expect during the event so they can come with their game faces.
Give Them a Place of Honor
Show your long-term employees that their contributions to the company will go down in company history
If you don’t already have one, start a wall of honor featuring employee photos, names, and titles, or create a company yearbook (physical or digital).
When employees hit that big anniversary, add them to the wall of honor or include them in a “company history” section of the yearbook.
Have mini induction ceremonies each time this happens. Toss some confetti, pop some bubbles, and applaud hard-working employees as they take their rightful places in company history.
There you have it—the basic anniversary roast. We encourage you to remix to fit your company culture.
We hope you learned new ways on how to celebrate a work anniversary! What creative ideas does your company use to celebrate work anniversaries? We wanna know! Tell us in the comments below.