There are awkward moments that stand out in our memories forever, which can also be moments of learning and insight. This was one of them, when what I heard was different from what the speaker meant.
“Today is my anniversary,” the staff member said.
Normally, a wedding anniversary would be an opportunity to congratulate someone, but under the circumstances, I didn’t know what to say. This person was recently divorced. I wondered, what is the protocol? Does one continue to celebrate wedding anniversaries after the marriage has ended? What would be an appropriate response?
Luckily, she was a more effective communicator than me. She sensed my confusion.
“Oh, no. Not that kind of anniversary. Not my wedding anniversary. It was seven years ago today that I started working here. Today is my employment anniversary.”
“Oh yeah, right. That’s great. Congratulations. I didn’t know.”
Why you should know everyone’s service anniversary
But I should have. This is something I should have known about everyone with whom I worked, for a couple of reasons:
First, for some staff, service anniversaries matter. Like birthdays, they call for celebration. It’s important to be aware of these occasions and understand how individuals feel about them.
Secondly, service anniversaries and birthdays are natural times to reflect on how the person has contributed over the past year. These dates are recommended as a starting point to introduce recognition into the workplace.
The importance of observing service anniversaries as they occur is not an argument for formal programs, which typically focus on reaching employment milestones, which usually occur at five-year intervals.
While common in many workplaces, these celebrations of survival tend to be expensive, impersonal and ineffective in motivating staff and building loyalty.
Informal celebrations better than formal events
An informal approach can be more timely, more personal and more frequent (once a year, rather than once every five years). It is a better way to satisfy the need of staff members to feel valued as individuals and to receive specific feedback. It is better than praise for being part of a cohort that has nothing more in common than a similar starting date, or having hung around for five years without quitting, dying, or being fired.
Are you ready to celebrate the service anniversaries and birthdays of each of your staff members? Do you know these dates? If not, find them. Note them on your calendar and be prepared to provide a little extra recognition when these dates come along.
Finally, don’t allow yourself to be caught in a situation like I was, of being confused when someone says, “Today is my anniversary.”