How To Express Gratitude to Your Team and Build a Culture of Appreciation

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Gratitude is a powerful thing: studies suggest that it improves everything from your physical health to your sleep cycle. Not only that, but it’s self-propagating; expressing gratitude often has a knock-on effect that inspires others to do the same.

Basically, it’s a win-win situation that makes you feel good no matter which side of the exchange you’re on.

And while the workplace is the perfect place to put your gratitude into practice — who better to thank than the people who work alongside you for one-third of almost every day, helping you to get things done? — sometimes it can be tricky to know how to express your appreciation without seeming unprofessional.

Here’s how to give thanks to the people who deserve it, every day, all year round.

Say thank you

Let’s keep it simple: the most powerful way to say thank you is often just to say thank you.

We know, it’s hardly a revolutionary idea. But even though it sounds basic, sometimes it’s easier said than done. Often we can get so tied up in a task or a deadline that by the time we’ve decompressed on the other side, we feel like the moment has passed. Or maybe we feel a little silly saying thank you for something relatively trivial, and we’re worried it’ll make the recipient feel weird.

But who doesn’t like to receive a thank you for their work, or be appreciated for something so small they didn’t even realize it was being noticed, even if it’s days (or more) after the fact? No one, that’s who. So make a point of going out of your way to tell the person whose work you appreciated that you, well, appreciated it.

And when you’re giving thanks, be specific. What was it that you really appreciated? Just like with feedback, giving precise, concrete examples helps to ground your “thank you” and make it more personal, meaningful, and sincere.

Build gratitude into your week

Your team meetings are reliable, recurring events. So why not use them to help you turn gratitude into a habit?

Make a regular item on your weekly agenda for everyone on the team to quickly call out any thanks or other positive comments they have to share. Your shout-out can be about a teammate who delivered a really great result, a colleague from another department who worked with you out of hours to solve a tricky problem, or even a customer who left you some nice feedback.

It might feel a little forced at first, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly it becomes second nature. Once you get into the habit, you’ll start seeing things to be grateful for everywhere you look — and before you know it, your gratitude won’t just be confined to your weekly meetings.

Boost the recognition signal

Whether you’re a team lead or a team player, it’s worth signal-boosting great achievements. If a coworker has done something exceptional — like created a beautiful piece of work, dealt compassionately with a difficult issue, streamlined a process to increase efficiency for the whole team, or consistently smashed their targets — share it widely.

It’s easy for recognition to stop at the team level, so consider making a cross-departmental or company-wide platform for sharing good feedback. It can be as simple as a channel in your workplace chat app that you use to announce wins or testimonials, where everyone can post and congratulate or give a  👍 to the employee in question for a job well done.

Bonus: you don’t even need to be involved in the exchange to feel the benefits; just witnessing gratitude in action has a positive effect on the beholder. So bringing your appreciation to the attention of your organization at large is a quick way to build positivity into everyone’s day — and your company’s culture.

Leave a handwritten note

This is like all of the points already mentioned above, but it involves a pen and (ideally) nice stationery. It sounds so basic. It is so basic. And yet! It’s just really nice.

Online comments are lovely, but they can be fleeting and get lost quickly. (The same can be said of a verbal thank you, too.) A handwritten note is a simple, free way to take time out of your day to leave a written record of your appreciation that the recipient can look back on at any time.

At LinkedIn, they go one step further and supply their staff with stacks of blank cards so they can quickly jot down a handwritten message to a teammate, employee, boss, or client at a moment’s notice. Having a selection of cards on hand takes the fuss out of it and encourages them to take that extra minute to make deliberate, positive connections with the people they work with.

So whether you decide to get a stash of aesthetically pleasing notepaper or just use a scrappy-but-reliable Post-It note, put pen to paper.

From $ to $$$

Gratitude doesn’t have to cost a cent, but there are times when you might want to link your thanks to a token of your appreciation. The specifics will vary based on your role and professional relationship, and can vary from anything from taking a colleague out for a coffee, to bringing your whole team out for a nice dinner once you wrap up an important project, to staging a mini awards ceremony across the entire company to give public recognition to employees who’ve exceeded expectations or made a significant impact this quarter.

If you do decide to go the rewards route, take a tip from Google’s former Senior Vice President of People Operations, Laszlo Bock. In his book Work Rules!, he discusses how even though most people think they’d like to be rewarded in the form of cash or gift cards, he found that it was experiences — like trips or social events — that made the biggest impact, with employees ranking them as being more fun, more memorable, and more thoughtful than their cash equivalent.

Because frankly, why not?

Think of it this way: you’ll never regret saying thank you. And if you do, you shouldn’t: studies indicate that people consistently overestimated how awkward a thank you note would make the recipient feel (in actuality: not very awkward at all) while vastly underestimating its positive effects (with most recipients rating themselves at the highest possible happiness rating after receiving one). So don’t let the fear of awkwardness hold you back.

And on that note: thank you for reading. (Sorry that we don’t have any nice stationery, but imagine that message was delivered on heavyweight paper with a nice wax seal.)

Do you practice any of these tips already? How do you like to express gratitude at work? Let us know in the comments — we’d be grateful to hear your thoughts.

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2 Comments

Megibuch

Thank you for writing this. I practice already most of what you suggest and can vouch for the fact it pays dividends. Mostly, it means recognising each employee as unique and different and treating them as you yourself wish to be treated. It’s not rocket science. Christmas is almost here and I am trying to think of a meaningful gift for each. That’s where the going gets tough. It’s easy to romp into Woollies and grab a box of chocolates but that takes no thought and it shows, I want to be a little smarter than that. They are graphic artists. Any ideas?

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