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How to foster leadership and employee engagement through a culture of gratitude


It doesn’t matter who you interact with, whether it’s someone on your leadership team, peers, internal stakeholders or employees, you’re presented with an opportunity to show gratitude.

Every time.

It’s a mindset. Even when you don’t think you have anything in common with another person, you do. If you look with real intent, you’ll find something in everyone you can value, identify with and be grateful for.

A simple, genuine “thank you” can go a long way in showing employees how thankful you are for all they do – resulting in a better workplace environment and a host of other benefits.

Benefits of gratitude

When you express gratitude, so many positives come out of it for you and your employees.

Boosts productivity and improves job satisfaction

Gratitude and improving job satisfaction go hand in hand. Not only does showing a little appreciation increase productivity, but people will continue to do the right things for the right reasons.

If an employee feels their efforts are appreciated, they’re happy to invest the discretionary effort that can transform good work into exceptional work. Also, they’re more willing to do that little extra something or take a little extra time to finish a task because they know they’re valued.

Everyone wants their work and efforts to make a positive difference. When they receive recognition for a job well done or focused effort, they feel appreciated. This translates into a more positive outlook on their daily contributions. Plus, people are much more likely to stay engaged and motivated to consistently produce great work.

Enhances relationships and encourages employee retention

Often, when an employee leaves a job, it has more to do with the people they work with than the job itself. Showing gratitude fosters a culture of trust that supports and reinforces desirable behaviors such as collaboration and confidence. Also, employees are more likely to work through difficult or arduous projects when feeling supported and appreciated.

In addition, a culture of gratitude goes right to a company’s bottom line in terms of employee retention. Showing appreciation can help you keep talented employees where you want them – working with you, instead of the competition.

Shifts the office climate

As a leader, your thoughts and opinions matter to those around you. They’re tuned in to what you say and do. And make no mistake about it, your actions speak louder than anything else. When you acknowledge an employee for their contributions, you have the power to transform the office climate.

For example, when someone is down, sour, difficult or grumpy, those feelings are contagious and can travel like wildfire from one person to the next. That same ripple effect holds true for workplace gratitude and appreciation.

So, whenever possible, take a moment to show a little gratitude. Your presence and attitude, whether virtual or in person, set the direction for others.

Improves health

Workplace gratitude fosters a healthier attitude that manifests physically and psychologically. That whole glass-half-full outlook on life leads to less stress, better sleep, better performance and better decision-making. People become more confident and decisive.

It’s not about being Pollyannaish. It’s about a healthy balance between pragmatism and gratitude over skepticism and criticism.

Ways to show it

There are multiple ways to show gratitude, but no matter what, it needs to be genuine. Showing gratitude has to be specific and timely. Don’t contact an employee a month later and tell them, “The way you facilitated that meeting was so great!”

This is not really helpful because it isn’t very specific. An employee has already moved on to an array of other tasks. They’re wondering, “What meeting, and what was so great about it?”

Instead, try the STAR format – situation/task, action, result – when speaking with employees and make feedback more precise. Here are a few examples:

“Jeff, when the new software was introduced (situation/task), you offered to educate the rest of us (action). You helped us all become proficient quicker and more at ease with the new technology (results). Thank you. I couldn’t do it without you.”

Or, try this example, specifically geared to more difficult situations:

“Lisa, I know you had a rocky relationship with the client (situation/task) in the beginning. You took counseling and feedback seriously, sought other remedies on your own and proactively applied those to your client interactions (actions). I’ve since heard from the client, and he is surprised and pleased by how you are supporting him now (result). Thanks for making this a priority and working to remedy the situation. That makes a difference for me, our company and the client.”

While every situation is different, following these models can be useful.

On the other hand, sometimes just a simple, yet specific, statement is all that’s needed to demonstrate your gratitude.

When talking to an internal stakeholder, try this example:

“Thanks for your input on this project. Your continued enthusiasm and support are appreciated.”

When talking to a team member, try this example:

“I appreciate your help on this call today. The ideas you shared sparked some great conversation.”

Simple, yet effective.

In addition, showing gratitude is not just about what you say, but your method of delivery. While you may want to thank an employee in front of everyone during a company meeting, this can make some people extremely uncomfortable.

Sometimes people just want to talk in private. And it only takes a moment to thank an employee over the phone, in an email or with a handwritten note.

Regardless of who you are or where you are, you have multiple opportunities every day to show appreciation. Just try, for the next three days, concluding every interaction with meaningful gratitude and see what happens.

Want more ideas on how you can promote a culture of leadership and employee engagement in your office? Download our free magazine, The Insperity Guide to Leadership and Management, Issue 2.