Long-service awards for employee retention

How strategically recognising and rewarding staff with long-service awards can increase employee retention.

26 February 2024

Recognising long service is a way of acknowledging the dedication and valuable contribution of employees over the course of their NHS careers.

There are a range of methods NHS organisations use to recognise the significant milestones of their staff, from celebratory events and meaningful gifts to monetary awards.

Long-service awards form part of a crucial employee benefit, especially in the context of addressing workforce challenges. With growing vacancy rates, and low and falling staff satisfaction, it is particularly important to show appreciation for long-serving and valuable staff members.

A simple 'thank you' can create a positive culture of appreciation among employees. NHS organisations can achieve the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan's ambition to attract and retain the workforce needed to deliver improved patient care with the addition of a comprehensive recognition strategy.

Benefits of long-service awards

Staff recognition

Long-service awards enhance the acknowledgment of employees' dedication and commitment. This reinforces a positive culture of appreciation within the organisation.

Employee satisfaction

Recognising long-serving staff members contributes to their overall job satisfaction and engagement, fostering a more content and motivated workforce.

Enhanced retention 

Long-service awards can act as an incentive for retaining experienced staff, reducing turnover and preserving valuable knowledge and expertise.

Improved workplace culture 

Implementing long-service awards promotes a sense of togetherness among staff, fostering a positive workplace culture built on mutual respect and celebration of shared achievements.


Creating or improving a long-service award strategy

When creating or improving a long-service award strategy, clarity regarding the recipients and the desired objectives is crucial to ensure it’s fit for purpose. It is important to gain staff feedback to assess how they would most like to be rewarded and recognised. You should also consider budgets, costs and funding to ensure your offer is sustainable.

Here are some key questions to consider:

  1. What are the primary objectives of the long service award initiative?

    Clearly defining the strategic goals is essential to ensure it aligns with organisational values and objectives.

  2. Which staff groups will be awarded for their long service?

    Determining the scope of the program ensures that it remains inclusive, as some long service schemes may or may not include some staff groups within the workforce, such as students, volunteers, and bank staff.

  3. What is the current feedback from staff regarding long-service awards?

    Gathering insights and opinions from staff members ensures that their needs are met and shows their feedback is considered.

  4. How much can be allocated to sustainably fund the long-service award programme?

    Establishing a reasonable budget to dedicate to the recognition awards and benefits ensures they are sustainable for the long term.

You can use the reward strategy toolkit to design and improve a new or existing the long-service award strategy. By implementing a long-term strategy for long-service awards, it can be sustainable and financially achievable for the long term.

Overcoming challenges 

In the absence of a national policy governing long-service awards, NHS organisations may face some challenges when implementing their strategy. In cases where a trust has recently undergone a significant change or merger, maintaining precise records of staff tenure and milestone achievements can become difficult.

Trusts have the flexibility to opt for either commemorating an employee's entire NHS service or focusing on the service specifically within one trust. 

To attempt to improve accuracy in their records, trusts can implement the following strategies:

Open the door to self-referrals and management referrals

Allowing staff to self-refer for long-service milestones, while also enabling management referrals, ensures that no one is inadvertently missed.

Widespread communication of long-service awards

Disseminating information about long-service awards as widely as possible across trust sites, on intranets and through bulletin emails can help keep staff informed and engaged.

Leverage national insurance records

Collaborating with HR and finance departments to cross-reference existing records against a staff member's national insurance records provides an additional layer of accuracy.

Utilise pension start dates

Cross-checking existing records against a staff member's pension start date can offer another reliable point of reference to ensure the accuracy of long service milestones.

Communicating long-service awards

The success of your long-service award strategy relies upon effective communication to ensure staff are fully aware of the support available to them.

You can find out how to communicate with staff in a range of ways by visiting our communicating reward to staff and new employees web section.


Mini case studies

  • Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has aligned its long-service award programme with its recently introduced recognition framework. By engaging with staff,  their strong enthusiasm for the scheme has been revealed. This highlights a clear correlation between strategic recognition and increased engagement.

    In response to staff input, the trust has personalised its approach. Employees now have the option for their line managers to personally present them with the long-service award, aligning with the trusts instant recognition philosophy. Additionally, the trust has dedicated staff events and has embraced feedback to enhance future events. Feedback includes rating aspects like catering quality and event timing from one to five. The overall score is currently 4.5 out of five.

    By recognising the role of communication, the trust ensures that senior leadership is well versed in the award programme and actively participates in the collective journey alongside staff. 

  • University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust has introduced an inclusive long-service award strategy, designed to commemorate staff members at every five-year milestone of NHS service. 

    This comprehensive approach includes events such as afternoon tea and vouchers for significant milestones, of 10, 15, 20 years' of service, along with the provision of individual badges, certificates, and cards for more modest milestones. This programme celebrates around 3,000 staff members annually at major career milestones. 

    To manage costs effectively during major events, the trust has implemented the use of internal catering services. Furthermore, they conduct breakfast sessions at their key locations to accommodate those individuals who may be unable to attend afternoon tea events. 

    The trust is currently evaluating its awards, feedback so far has been exceedingly positive. In addition, the trust has proactively engaged with invitees through post-event feedback forms to enhance the quality of in-person events and to gain insights into the reasons behind some staff members' non-participation or inability to attend. 

  • Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (STH) has recently enhanced its already generous long-service awards.

    The trust traditionally offered staff a certificate and vouchers at 20 years (£200), 30 years (£300) and 40 years (£400) for continuous service (or its predecessors). Staff can opt for cash instead, but this is taxable. All staff were also invited to a presentation with the chair of the board on trust premises.

    The trust now hosts an annual afternoon tea event at Sheffield City Hall to celebrate all employees who are receiving a long-service award. This event is partly sponsored by Sheffield Hospital Charity to reduce the cost to the trust and is often held on the same day as its annual thank you awards. 

    An award for fifty years’ service was recently introduced and, in a proactive effort to prevent any indirect discrimination the trust switched to counting cumulative service to protect those who have a break in service to raise children.

    Trust managers are made aware when members of staff are due to receive an award based on ESR records. However, to ensure that no staff member misses out on their long-service award, the trust has instituted a self-referral scheme, which is actively promoted through a variety of internal staff communications such as newsletters, emails and the staff Facebook group. This approach ensures that every eligible staff member has the opportunity to partake in the recognition program.

    The trust also provides a generous retirement award that is based on continuous NHS service.