How to Make Employees Feel Valued with Gratitude & Recognition

If you think a culture of gratitude at work is just a touchy-feely nice-to-have, you may want to think again. Several recent studies on the benefits of gratitude suggest that gratitude is great for our health, sleep and stress reduction, but also pays off at work, resulting in greater job satisfaction, higher productivity and employee retention, and stronger teams.

One explanation of these benefits is that gratitude fuels resilience – that secret sauce of long-term performance. It does this by shifting our focus away from whatever challenge we’re currently facing (e.g., a rushed deadline) and towards what is already helping us be successful (e.g., helpful colleagues, an understanding spouse).

It turns out that it’s human nature to focus more on our barriers than our blessings, a bias psychologists have dubbed “the headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry.” By focusing on gratitude, we shift our attitude to greater positivity, openness to growth, and creative problem-solving – all important ingredients of resilience.

Unfortunately, gratitude is in low supply at many workplaces. A 2013 survey by the John Templeton Foundation found that people are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anywhere else. It also found that while most people report feeling better when they thank someone at work, only a few regularly do so. (Seventy percent of all workers report they receive no praise or recognition at work.)

With so much to gain, why not take a few steps to jumpstart a culture of gratitude in your workplace? Whether you lead a team or work on one, here are a few ways to get high-impact gratitude flowing and begin valuing employees at your organization.

Gratitude Comes From All Directions

It makes you feel great when someone appreciates the effort you put into a project or task. However, a culture of gratitude is not only about receiving praise or appreciation. A company-wide culture of gratitude displays an environment where gratitude is both given and received regularly.

Remember when we mentioned that most people feel better when they thank someone at work? That positive feeling is gratitude. When we frequently take the time to recognize another individual’s effort, we develop a mindset of thankfulness.

Start From the Top

A cultural shift in the workplace isn’t likely to occur on its own. One of the goals of servant leadership is to set an example for your team. When managers actively shape the company culture, employees at all levels are more likely to become engaged and repeat the process.

As a manager, there’s no doubt you appreciate the efforts put forth by your team members. Yet, in a busy workplace, it becomes easy to overlook feelings of gratitude and even replace them with high expectations.

Practice showing gratitude and employee appreciation in the workplace for contributions both small and large. When you reach out to an employee to show gratitude, pause to reflect on why the action improves the workplace and show your thanks authentically.

As you show gratitude more frequently, you will likely notice employees becoming more engaged. You can use this time to get to know employees better and learn more about what forms of appreciation motivate them.

Promote the Importance of Peer-to-Peer Gratitude

Peer recognition in the workplace is powerful and engaging. It can build communication channels between employees and improve collaboration. Unfortunately, this powerful motivator is often overlooked.

It’s common for workplace silos to exist between departments. While organizations recognize how these separations can impact production and collaboration, they can be difficult to break down.

Consider the various ways employees work with each other to solve problems. Encourage an environment of gratitude where each employee can recognize the contributions of other team members.

Peer-to-peer gratitude helps build connections that develop an inclusive environment and build team morale. As a result, improved communication and collaboration increase productivity and performance levels.

Consider How a Lack of Respect Affects Employee Turnover

It is no surprise to employers across all industries that the US workforce has been experiencing unprecedented turnover with little relief in sight. However, many employers are conflicted about how to address the situation and develop positive changes.

A recent Pew Research Center survey finds that low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement, and feeling disrespected at work are the top reasons Americans quit their jobs last year. In fact, 57% cited feeling disrespected at work as why they left. Over half of individuals who quit their jobs work elsewhere and recognize improvements over their last job.

This can be a major concern for organizations experiencing above-average turnover. Yet, you can reverse the situation by developing a culture of gratitude. When you reach out to employees and recognize their contributions, you can open channels of communication that make it easier to understand why employees are most likely to leave.

A recent RallyBright study revealed that turnover intent was more than 10 times higher among respondents who worked at low-inclusion organizations. By establishing an organization-wide culture of gratitude, companies can improve communication that builds inclusion and show appreciation that makes employees feel respected.

How to Make Employees Feel Valued at Work with Employee Appreciation

The benefits of showing gratitude in the workplace are clear. However, developing a system to show employees their value can be challenging. Authenticity is key.

Empty words are likely to undermine your efforts and make employees feel deceived. As you plan your gratitude system, it’s important to consider that appreciation can be shown in various ways.

A company-wide culture of gratitude comes from multiple sources. When you consider the individual personalities and workflows within your organization, you can begin to recognize ways to show gratitude.

Whether you lead a team or work on one, here are a few ways to get high-impact gratitude flowing at your organization.

Develop a Gratitude Habit

While we may not think about them as much as our other habits, we all have emotional habits. Maybe anxiety is your norm as you commute to work. Or irritability surfaces the moment you see that one colleague heading to your desk. Try to shift to a habit of experiencing gratitude every time you go to work.

To help you do this, University of Washington’s Ryan Fehr suggests expanding the well from which you draw your gratitude. For example, in addition to feeling grateful for others, you can feel gratitude for the opportunity you have to help others – to make a difference – through your work.

And you can also feel thankful for the skills you’re developing at your job – your personal and professional growth. Using a grateful lens to transform ambiguous events into positive ones is key. By doing so, you achieve a state of what Fehr calls “persistent gratitude.”

If you lead an organization or manage a team, take note: research shows your employees need to hear thank-yous from leadership more than anyone else. Your approach to gratitude carries a lot of weight. Be consistent and authentic in your thanks, and express them privately and publicly.

Match Expressions of Appreciation to Their Recipients

Gary Chapman is well known for his work on the five love languages, and he’s also helped define what he calls “the five languages of appreciation” in the workplace. The idea is that the practices that make people feel appreciated differ from person to person.

Every person has a preferred language of appreciation. Whether it’s words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, tangible gifts, or (office-appropriate) physical touch, people want to be recognized and thanked in meaningful ways.

So how do you determine which appreciation language will resonate with a specific team member? Start with observation. Take note of how the person expresses appreciation to others and what they request of others.

Are they generous with verbal praise and thank-yous? Their language may be words of affirmation. If you’re their manager, do they seek one-on-one time with you for input or feedback? Quality time is high on their list.

Finally, listen to their complaints. Do they seem irked to be solely responsible for a tedious chore? If so, they may be looking for a colleague to pitch in (acts of service) to feel supported.

Thank People Who Rarely Hear It

Most organizations have some employees who get thanked mostly as an afterthought. These employees often work in support roles, such as HR, accounting, IT support, and janitorial. Thanking them highlights the interdependence of everyone in your organization and sets the bar high for inclusive and organization-wide gratitude.

Be authentic in your gratitude by articulating how you, your team, or your company benefit from the person’s action. By making their contributions more visible with your recognition, you’ll also boost morale and trust across your organization.

Create Gratitude-Giving Opportunities

For a culture of gratitude and employee recognition to spread, give everyone a chance to participate. This could be as informal as starting your weekly or monthly meetings with a round of recognition/gratitude where everyone takes a turn.

Some companies keep office-wide gratitude journals and invite all employees to contribute positive feedback. (If you’re not already familiar with gratitude journals, these research-backed tips are helpful, and they’re from gratitude-research superstar Robert Emmons.)

A similar idea is a gratitude box, where employees write down something positive that happened at work or home. Choose one of these, or think of an alternative, to give gratitude a more consistent presence in your office.

As social animals, our behaviors at work greatly influence our colleagues’ behaviors. When you try to express more gratitude, your colleagues will likely up their expressions of gratitude.

Research also suggests that a culture of gratitude delivers a spillover effect. When people are thanked, they become more trusting and more likely to help one another. And that we’re-all-in-this-together attitude is one of the strongest foundations for great teamwork.

Provide Meaningful Work

When employees understand how their roles contribute to the success of a company as a whole, they are more likely to feel valued and engaged in their work. Highlighting specific positions can help employees across different departments understand how the various roles within the company contribute to overall success.

Creating opportunities for development and advancement within the company can enhance the effect by providing added value for employees. According to SHRM, more than half of employees say they need to learn new skills within the next year to continue their careers.

However, 29% don’t feel optimistic about training opportunities, upskilling, or learning new skills. Learning and development opportunities help employees feel secure in their future with the company and provide them with reasons to improve performance.

Learn More About Your Employees

Whether you are managing a team of employees, remote workers, or just working with a small group, getting employee feedback is essential for building strong relationships and fostering collaboration. By showing that you value their input and perspectives, you create an environment where your employees feel appreciated and supported.

But when it comes to gratitude, not all feedback is created equal. To find the best way to incentivize your employees and boost morale, it’s important to get honest, actionable feedback from them that can guide your future efforts.

Surveys provide an excellent opportunity to get honest feedback without putting your employees on the spot.

You can perform initial surveys to learn more about the forms of gratitude employees want to see. Once you begin implementing a gratitude system, routine surveys can be used to measure success or develop ways to improve your efforts.

After performing surveys, it’s important to act on the information you receive. By putting your employees’ plans into action, you show them that their ideas are a valuable part of how the company works.

Why It’s Important to Individually Recognize and Reward Employees for Their Contributions

Each individual on your team provides important contributions to the company daily. Yet, over two-thirds of employees receive no praise or recognition at work. Often, companies develop incentivized goals that include team recognition or company-wide compensation.

However, they fail to recognize individual employee contributions. Why is this important? Individualized recognition improves an employee’s relationship with the workplace for several reasons.

Improve Employee Engagement

Up to 55% of employee engagement is driven by non financial compensation, and engagement is the biggest driver of the employee experience. While large-scale tactics (like company-wide bonuses) meant to unite employees can seem impersonal, individualized recognition has the opposite effect. Recognition for individual efforts and achievements provides employees with a sense of pride in their contributions to the company’s success.

Identify a Connection With the Company

Employees who understand how their work contributes to the company’s purpose can identify their place within the company. Individualized recognition shows employees that their work matters.

When your employees’ goals align with the company’s, this recognition can help build loyalty, engagement, and pride in the organization. As a result, employees continue to make efforts to improve their performance for the company’s success.

Create a Sense of Belonging

When employees feel isolated, burnout and turnover often come close behind. A sense of belonging has a major influence on team health and performance. When team members feel isolated from their teams, they will likely be reluctant to join conversations and participate in collaborative projects.

Individualized recognition helps create a sense of belonging by providing team members with pride in their contributions. When managers or team members recognize individual efforts or achievements, employees feel valued for their input.

Build Resilient Teams

Resilient teams engage with opportunity, persist through challenges, recover quickly from setbacks, and learn from experiences. Some of the most common characteristics of resilient teams are connection, adaptability, and attitude. Peer recognition improves communication and connections between team members.

Individual recognition helps align employee goals and team and company goals. Individual recognition from both managers and peers improves engagement and promotes a positive workplace attitude. Furthermore, gratitude toward others fuels resilience by shifting focus away from challenges and toward what helps build success (i.e., the actions of other team members).

Incentivize Managers to Develop a Gratitude System

Organizations and the employees who make up their teams can reap substantial benefits from an appreciation system that builds a culture of gratitude. Yet, starting from scratch to develop such a culture can be intimidating.

While company leaders are interested in creating a positive environment for employees, they’re responsible for developing programs that add value to the organization. Luckily, a gratitude system does both. To empower managers to incentivize their employees with gratitude, clarify why a gratitude system adds value to the organization.

Improved Company Culture

A gratitude system creates an environment of gratefulness for the actions of those around us. Managers recognize and reward employees for their contributions to the company.

Coworkers recognize the efforts of their peers. Team members in all positions feel appreciated for their efforts. Whether gratitude comes from a simple thank you or compensation, it improves how employees view their relationship with the organization they work for.

A strong corporate culture does more than improve the working environment for employees. Teams can push through difficult circumstances and encourage each other to succeed when a company culture is centered around communication, accountability, and care. As a result, the business sees improved performance, with up to a 4x increase in revenue growth.

Enhanced Employee/Manager Relationships

When managers and employees don’t communicate, company leaders can miss key signs of burnout and low morale. Furthermore, a lack of communication between employees and management can erode trust and diminish company culture.

When managers show sincere gratitude for the actions of their employees, new channels of communication can be recognized. As a manager, your efforts to develop individualized forms of appreciation can also help to improve communication with employees.

All too often, managers focus on completing their duties through micromanagement. When managers prioritize and support employee satisfaction, company relationships and morale naturally improve.

This can be accomplished during typical managerial tasks like delegation, employee development, meetings, and communication with employees. It can be further enhanced with verbal and written gratitude.

Improved Retention

Feeling unsupported is one of the most common causes of burnout. Our recent RallyBright study revealed burnout was reported to be one-third as common at organizations with high inclusion.

Specifically, where inclusion was high, 14.4 percent of respondents indicated that they agreed or strongly agreed they felt burned out from their work. Where inclusion was low, 44.2 percent of respondents said they felt burned out.

Furthermore, among employees who rated their organizations highly for inclusion, only 2.4 percent indicated they thought often or very often about leaving their current job. On the other hand, 25.9 percent of employees at low-inclusion organizations stated they often or very often thought about leaving.

When you consider that over half of employees leave their jobs because they feel disrespected in the workplace, the connection between appreciation and reduced turnover is clear. Most company leaders are acutely aware of the costs of rapid turnover in an organization. Reducing turnover to a tenth of current levels would result in considerable cost improvements for any organization.

Gratitude Builds Resilience and Strength

Developing a culture of gratitude within your organization leads to an environmental shift that can positively reinforce the efforts of every employee within the company. As a result, the organization is likely to recognize improved performance, productivity, and financial gains.

A gratitude program works to show employees at all levels they are valued. The cultural shift can help to build a sense of inclusion and belonging to improve communication and collaboration throughout the workplace.

The first step in making employees feel valued is understanding your employees’ personality types. Make sure you’re addressing the issues that matter most. Schedule a RallyBright demo to learn more about how to better understand your employees.