ST-Gold bars, Rolex watches: Firms give out generous long service awards,but these may not be enough

Home Programs Principal Coaches NeXT Media Giving Back
Gold bars, Rolex watches: Firms give out generous long service awards, but these may not be enough

Benson Ang

Lifestyle Correspondent

JUL 1, 2023


SINGAPORE – Is this the end of the road for the long service award?

Some organisations are doling out generous long service awards, from gold bars to Rolex watches to extra vacation days to employees, especially in high-turnover industries.

But human resource experts say the long service award may be on its last legs in today’s high-flux job market.

Only a handful of the 25 companies approached by The Straits Times replied to say they had enhanced their long service award benefits in recent years.

While the award still holds value in fostering loyalty and retention, the modern workforce prioritises career growth and work-life balance, so the prospect of getting an extra few thousand dollars or a brand-name watch is unlikely to sway their loyalty, experts say.

Paradise Group Holdings made headlines when photos of its March 6 dinner-and-dance event went viral on social media. The company gave out more than 330 long service awards to employees at its 14th anniversary dinner at Marina Bay Sands.

Of the recipients, 98 were each given a Rolex watch – valued between $10,000 and $11,000 a piece – for working 10 years in the organisation.

Those with tenures of five or eight years received Suisse gold bars, and workers who served 15 years each received $5,000 worth of travel vouchers.

The event cost the organisation $2 million and was attended by more than 1,300 of its local and overseas staff and partners.

Since 2019, OCBC Bank has been giving additional vacation days, on a one-off basis, to long-serving employees.

This is on top of an award quantum available in cash or a gold medallion of equal value, for those with 10 or more years of service.

These start at $250 for five years of service, and go up to $2,000 and 10 additional vacation days for 40 years of service.

Staff who continue working after 40 years will get $2,000 and 10 additional vacation days for every subsequent five years of service, until the statutory retirement age. 

Mr Ernest Phang, managing director at OCBC’s group human resources division, says that the additional vacation days – which can be used for any purpose, from relaxing to travelling to spending time with families – recognise that employees increasingly prioritise well-being and work-life integration.

He adds: “The needs, priorities and mindsets of employees have changed and will continue to change.”

For 30 years of service, Ms Magdalene Leong, a vice-president at the bank’s global consumer financial services division, received $2,000 cash, as well as five additional vacation days in 2022.

The Singaporean spent the extra time off travelling with her husband Tan Beng Seng, a director of a food catering company, to Berlin and Frankfurt in May 2022. They are in their 50s and have no children.

Their nine-day trip included highlights such as visiting the Museum of Natural History, which houses a taxidermied Bobby the gorilla, who lived in the Berlin Zoo until his death in 1935. They also had dinner at the Kafer rooftop restaurant at the Reichstag Building, the current home of the German Parliament.

She says: “It was a lovely trip to celebrate our 29 years of marriage and make beautiful memories together. The award made me feel valued as an important member of the team, and I am grateful that OCBC recognises and celebrates its loyal and committed staff.”

As with all organisations, people at the bank come and go. But she has observed that many former employees also get rehired.

She says: “The fact that they come back is testament to the great working environment and culture at OCBC, and shows even if they have left the organisation, the door is always open for them to return.”

Earlier this year, the Pan Pacific Singapore hotel revised its long service reward scheme, reducing its shortest long service award tenure to a mere three years, down from five years previously.

The change, says Ms Sharon Lee, director of human capital and development at Pan Pacific Singapore, is to emphasise the importance of recognising associates who stay on in its high-attrition service industry from the third year onwards.

Staff who serve three years now get a $300 cash award, and these amounts go up to $3,500 for those who have served 35 years.

Ms Janice Chan, a food and beverage team leader who has been with the hotel for 36 years, received the highest amount in 2022, on top of a trophy and certificate.

The Singaporean, who is responsible for the preparation and service of breakfast at the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant Edge, says: “I feel honoured to be recognised for my service, and have never considered moving to another organisation. Many of my colleagues are not only my good friends, but they also feel like family.”

Younger staff may still leave despite rewards

Despite the generosity of long service awards, experts are sceptical about whether they will convince employees, especially younger ones, to stay.

Mr Paul Heng, managing director of NeXT Career Consulting Group, says the effectiveness of a long service award in retaining talent depends on the organisation’s profile, as well as the type of worker in question.

For brick-and-mortar companies – like banks, restaurants, as well as large local organisations such as Singapore Airlines or Singapore Airport Terminal Services – long service awards may go some way to keeping staff, especially those in middle management and below, as these workers are perceived to have highly specialised skill sets.

“For such workers, their skills may not be easily transferable to other organisations and they might not be able to find better positions outside their organisations. For them, it would make more sense to stay, and the long service award is just a bonus.”

But for younger workers, particularly in high-growth industries such as fintech and crypto, they are not likely to be swayed, as their priority is to learn and earn as much as they can as quickly as possible, Mr Heng notes.

“Compared with previous generations, millennials and Gen Zers do not prize company loyalty as much, as they grew up in a world of technological advances surrounded by smartphones and high-speed Wi-Fi, and expect everything to happen ‘now’.

“They do not care about long service awards. Why wait when they can get several golden handshakes, worth much more, simply by job-hopping?” he adds.

Dr David Leong, managing director of human resource advisory firm PeopleWorldwide Consulting, agrees that long service awards can hold selective value in some industries by symbolising appreciation and reinforcing loyalty.

But he adds that relying solely on such awards may not be sufficient to retain talent, as the modern workforce prioritises career growth, work-life balance and purpose-driven work.

Effective long-term worker reward systems today, he observes, include tailored development programmes, mentorship, job rotation and recognition beyond tenure-based awards.

Such systems engage and challenge employees, allowing them to grow and contribute meaningfully, thus fostering loyalty and retention.

“Employers need holistic approaches to retain workers, such as by offering comprehensive benefits and training, as well as allowing flexible work arrangements and sabbatical leave. They also need to have a positive work culture and clear career paths laid out.”

Others acknowledge that long service awards do not stave off resignation letters.

Rather, what is important, says Pan Pacific Singapore’s Ms Lee, is building a great workplace. “Many of our team members continue to work in the hotel because they have built strong friendships with their colleagues as well as guests,” she says.

“To retain staff, we also need to demonstrate that there are career opportunities and progressions for them, as well as chances to hone additional skills that will be important for their career.”


 Print Version 
© Copyright 2011. NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia. All Rights Reserved