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Gratitude: One Simple Way HR Can Build a Positive Workplace Culture

Showing Gratitude in the Workplace

Showing gratitude is a powerful way to build relationships and establish a positive workplace culture, and we’re never more aware of that fact than during the week of Thanksgiving. Everywhere you turn, there’s an opportunity to reflect on what you have and how grateful you are to have it, and these emotions usually spill out on a peer-to-peer level: managers appreciate employees, employees appreciate co-workers, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with promoting company-wide gratitude. In fact, it will directly contribute to how much teams respect and trust each and reinforce a positive workplace culture. But this year, we want to encourage you to step up as an HR department and consider what a unique opportunity you have to promote a culture of gratitude all by yourself. After all, no one else in a company is as well positioned to observe all the work being done, see how people relate to each other, and assess areas of individual growth.Here are five creative ways your HR team can show gratitude and contribute to a positive workplace culture through the end of the year (and beyond):


Create space for reflection and relaxation

If your company’s past gratitude initiatives have been met with eye rolls and exasperated sighs, don’t assume you have a toxic culture; you might just have a stressed out one. When employees are stressed, they’re incapable of feeling gratitude (or working to their potential, for that matter) — they’re simply closed off to those emotions and incapable of contributing to a positive workplace culture. That’s why it’s vital that your first step is to use your influence to create space for employees to relax and reflect.For some organizations, this might mean intentionally elongating certain deadlines to avoid a huge push before a prime vacation time, or closing the office early once a week to give employees time to tend to personal responsibilities. By creating space for employees to accomplish their pressing tasks and balance their responsibilities, you give them the emotional bandwidth to process feelings of gratitude, appreciation, and connection. The short term loss of time on the clock will more than make up for itself when employees feel refreshed and deeply engaged with their work and the people they work with. Worried about the upcoming end-of-the-year slump? Click here to read five things you can do to avoid it.


Write deeply flattering thank-you notes

In a world of tweets and emails, nothing stands out quite as much as a handwritten note of appreciation. But even notes that are sincere, specific, and humble can fall flat if they aren’t tied to the bigger picture. In other words, it’s wonderful to thank someone for doing something, but it’s even better to thank them for being the kind of person who did what they did. Depending on the size of your organization, choose one department per week or one person per day to write a brief but meaningful note mentioning a specific accomplishment. If you don’t have day-to-day supervision over this person, consider consulting their boss about a recent accomplishment, and using language such as, “[Your boss] and I both noticed your exceptional work on X,” in the note. Then tie this action to one of the following descriptive and genuine words that affirm a deep, complimentary character trait of the person you’re thanking:

    • Thoughtful
    • Considerate
    • Generous
    • Honest
    • Attentive
    • Compassionate
    • Mindful


Express appreciation up the chain

It feels great to be recognized for a particular achievement, but it feels even better to be recognized for that achievement in front of someone we respect. Whenever possible, express appreciation to an employee and their direct supervisor, boss, or co-worker. In some situations, this may be appropriate to do in person, or simply by writing it by email and CCing the other party. It’s worth noting that this is a more intimate approach than a company-wide recognition or awards ceremony. While both efforts will bolster a positive workplace culture, the larger the audience, the easier it is for an employee to write it off as a generic corporate event. A private, genuine compliment shared between the employee and their supervisor will feel far more meaningful.


Show gratitude for the person

Sometimes gratitude is bigger than a single event or contribution. Rather than translating directly into a “Thank you,” big gratitude is more about showing people that you respect and appreciate who they are — their very presence within your organization. As you engage with employees through the end of the year, ask about their interests and hobbies. Make an effort to be as selfless as possible in conversations so that those you speak are acknowledged and heard. This kind of small, daily gratitude will build up to a big payoff for your positive workplace culture.


Talk about the future

Gratitude in any shape or form is powerful, but it’s especially meaningful when it’s part of a long-term show of appreciation. For employees, that means they want to know that daily behavior is building up to something bigger: their future with the company.Whenever appropriate, connect current performance to the person’s future success by talking about how their work might play into their career with the company. Ask questions about what kind of career they want to build, and reassure them that there’s a place for them within the organization because of how much you appreciate their work and engagement.


Gratitude is a 365-day practice, but the end of the year is a particularly fruitful time to invest in showing it to the people you work with. Use your position in HR to set the tone for appreciation and show your employees how much you appreciate the work they do.

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