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Why Recognizing Retirement Matters More Than Ever

February 12, 2020

By Gene Park
It’s official. Millennials are now the largest segment of America’s labor force. The Pew Center for Research reports that 56 million Millennials (individuals 22 to 36 years old) are currently either actively working or looking for work—eclipsing the 53 million Gen Xers and 41 million Baby Boomers still earning a paycheck. The changing of the multigenerational workplace landscape has brought a lot of dramatic shifts. While the cradle-to-grave mentality that defined Boomers is gone, don’t be lulled into thinking the time-honored “retirement” send-off is now an unnecessary nicety. To the contrary, it’s probably more important than ever.


There are a few reasons:

Individuals who have devoted decades of their work life to the success of your organization deserve a sincere demonstration of gratitude and well wishes when they retire. It’s a capstone achievement in their life.

Retirement recognition sends an important message to everyone in your organization that all employees are valued.

56 million Millennials (individuals 22 to 36 years old) are currently either actively working or looking for work—eclipsing the 53 million GenXers and 41 million Baby Boomers still earning a paycheck.

Turning Missed Opportunities into Meaningful Moments:

The 2019 Trends in Employee Recognition Survey by WorldatWork reveals that while 90 percent of organization are using recognition programs, only 46 percent include retirement recognition. Even though this figure is up 12 percent from the 2017 survey (and the highest percentage since 2008), it’s still hard to fathom why so many organizations are leaving so much goodwill on the table. After all, among the many strategic benefits recognition programs are intended to nurture—a positive work environment, organizational mission, and shared values—they boost employee morale while encouraging loyalty. All of which falls neatly into the retirement recognition wheelhouse.

Millennials have been very vocal about their desire to be involved with meaningful work. A recent report by Gallup—How Millennials Want to Work and Live—reveals that most “want a job that feels worthwhile, and they will keep looking until they find it.” The Gallup survey also found that nearly 60 percent reported they’re open to a different job opportunity, and 36 percent say they’ll look for a job with a different organization within the next 12 months.

If you want to retain good employees, you have to persuade them that they are working for an organization that is involved in worthwhile pursuits. Pursuits that others have deemed meaningful enough to spend a long span of their working life supporting. The way you treat retirees as you send them off to begin the next chapter of their life separates organizations who simply “talk the talk” with those who actually “walk the walk.”

While 90% of organization are using recognition programs, only 46% include retirement recognition.

Figuring Out the “How” and “What”

A brilliant entrepreneur and cosmetic industry disruptor once said, “I believe that you should praise people whenever you can; it causes them to respond as thirsty plants to water.” While Mary Kay Ash said it with style, the rest of us can take note of retirement recognition best practices that offer guidance for two essential components of effective retirement recognition—how and what.

Keep in mind that that this milestone is about the person retiring, not the organization. Here are a few ways to ensure that the how and what are most meaningful to your employees.

For more ideas and best practices, check out Best Practices for Recognizing Retirement.

Recognition, and any mementos, can be adjusted to better suit an organization’s size and budget. For example, in a smaller company the what and how aspect of retirement recognition can be unique and individualized. Larger companies may have a standardized process to follow, but how a retiree is recognized by a manager and peers can be individualized.

Considering—as the Society for Human Resources has noted—that 10,000 Baby Boomers leave the workforce every day, there is ample opportunity to let your retirees know their service and contributions matter while showing all of your employees that their efforts are appreciated and valued.

How to give retirement recognition

  • Plan your recognition event so it happens near the end of the employee’s tenure.
  • Avoid scheduling the celebration for their last day.
  • Tailor the recognition so it is meaningful and personal.
  • Keep in mind that the most memorable recognition comes from a direct manager and then a high-level leader or CEO.

What to give during retirement recognition

Some organizations give retirees an item related to a personal interest. For example, if the retiree is an avid hiker, an engraved water bottle or compass are options. If baseball is a passion, a baseball signed by colleagues and enclosed in a commemorative glass case could be appropriate.

Often, gifts are symbolic items that reflect the organization’s brand or history, along with the individual’s role with the company.

There is ample opportunity to let your retirees know their service and contributions matter while showing all of your employees that their efforts are appreciated and valued.