Building a culture of workplace gratitude takes more than a paycheck.
Yet many companies still operate under the false assumption that employee compensation is thanks enough. In a recent Harvard Business Review, author Shawn Achor shared an anecdote about a Fortune 100 leader who believes employee happiness is a simple given.
“We don’t need a happiness program, we pay people to be engaged,” the leader told Achor.
In fact, the correlation between pay and job satisfaction is small. Competitive pay draws quality employees, but without a strong culture of workplace gratitude to support them after they’re hired, they’ll leave. Or worse, they’ll stay and spread bad attitudes among coworkers!
“We know that recognition and intrinsic motivation are important to our success, but the key is finding ways to effectively operationalize them,” Achor writes.
Recognition should never replace deserved pay increases, according to Achor. Ideally, pay and recognition “should work in tandem,” he writes. “But as companies do not have unlimited funds and many report to shareholders, the question of ROI becomes critical, especially in a world in which employees are under-recognized and under-praised for their efforts.”
Nurturing workplace gratitude is a low-cost, effective way to build employee happiness — but it takes commitment and creativity. Read on for six examples of workplace gratitude fundamentals, as explained and modeled by some of the smartest CEOs in the business.
6 Workplace Gratitude Fundamentals in Action
1. Grow Organic Workplace Gratitude with Peer-to-Peer Recognition
JetBlue Airlines empowers its employees to share recognition (and rewards) directly with each other through a structured and formalized company program that’s often studied for its success.
“Because the recognition is peer-to-peer, it feels less like a performance review, and more like an organic expression of gratitude,” Achor writes.
The payoff is significant, according to Achor. For every 10 percent increase in people reporting being recognized, “JetBlue saw a 3 percent increase in retention and a 2 percent increase in engagement.”
2. In the Pursuit of Excellence, Forgive Big Failures
A strong culture of workplace gratitude is supportive and forgiving. Valuing one another, supporting each other and celebrating achievements and milestones are the cornerstones of employee engagement for Harve A. Mogul, president and CEO of United Way in Miami.
His engagement strategy leaves room for failure — because failure can be a sign that employees are committed and unafraid to try hard for success.
“Even failure in the pursuit of big goals is acceptable. We want staff and volunteers to operate outside of their comfort zone in order to achieve greater results than might be otherwise expected,” he says in a Miami Herald CEO roundtable discussion on workplace gratitude.
3. Write Thank You Notes to Employees
Employees at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami enjoy picnics, field days, free performances for family members and other perks in their year-round reward program. But president M. John Richard still loves a good old-fashioned Thank You note.
“My favorite way to show our appreciation for their hard work, by far, is giving them a handwritten personal note on their anniversary,” he tells the Miami Herald.
He’s not alone! Thank You notes are making a comeback in business circles as a way to express gratitude.
4. Communicate Often (And Ask for Input)
Rachel Sapoznik, CEO and president of Sapoznik Insurance, believes in the power of communication. Employees feel valued and part of the company when they know what’s going on and are able to provide some input.
“Keeping team members ‘in the know’ is a critical component to a healthy workplace. So, we constantly communicate what is going on in the company and have quarterly ‘State of the Union’ meetings,” she tells the Miami Herald.
5. Celebrate Employee Appreciation Day
Employee Appreciation Day is the workplace equivalent of Valentine’s Day, according to Forbes’ David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom.
Sturt and Nordstrom asked O.C. Tanner CEO David Petersen for advice on how to celebrate. The top response, unsurprisingly, involves food. Why? Because food is one of the easiest ways to bring people together. It’s the universal language of gratitude and celebration.
Want to really impress employees? Tie on an apron.
“Extra points if your leadership team can serve and clean up afterwards,” Petersen says.
6. Use Every Opportunity to Recognize Employees
Employee Appreciation Day is crucial, but it isn’t your only chance to celebrate employees! Miriam Lopez, president and chief lending officer of Marquis Bank, believes in regular and frequent recognition.
“As a company, we thank our employees with birthday lunches, group happy hours, wedding/baby showers, as well as recognition at our staff meetings and monthly newsletters,” she tells the Miami Herald. These small celebrations — and simply making an effort to establish a personal relationship — helps employees feel valued.
Even small acts of kindness and gratitude matter.
“Little things, like asking about their children or recent vacations, or buying them a little something on their birthdays, really do go a long way,” Lopez says.
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