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Gratitude & Employee Recognition: It's Easier Than You Think

Rachel Reed
11/21/17 9:18 AM

Saying thank you in the workplace has been proven to boost employee morale, retention, and productivity. Thanksgiving and the holidays are optimal times to throw gratitude into the mix as part of a year-round employee recognition initiative.

Gratitude vs. Employee Recognition

Gratitude is the quality of being thankful; and readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Recognition is special notice or attention.

Pair regular gratitude with an employee recognition program and watch it permeate company culture. This practice can have long-term effects on stress, productivity, and employee engagement.

The Science of Employee Recognition and Gratitude

Research on gratitude in the workplace reveals a link to higher job satisfaction, less stress, higher productivity, and even fewer sick days. Gratitude activates regions in the brain associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine, which creates neural pathways to the “happy” center of the brain.  The more regularly and often the brain is exposed to gratitude, the more regular and automatic these neural pathways become.

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Gratitude doesn’t have to be linked to money

While most organizations dole out holiday bonuses or even gifts for employees, people can begin to expect a little something and the authenticity of the gesture can lose its shine. One Glassdoor study found that more than half of employees would stay with their organization longer if their bosses showed more gratitude.

Southwest Airlines’ decision to elevate gratitude and employee recognition initiatives secured its market position even during an economic downturn. The airline pulled out all the stops to say thank you to their employees, from achievement-based employee recognition programs to allowing employees to spend a day in a coworker’s role.

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How to Show Employees Gratitude

  • Express gratitude with personalized rewards or gifts. Take time to get to know employees and catch them off guard with headphones, a spa day, or a coveted restaurant reservation. 
  • Give an experience. Cash is not always the most effective employee recognition reward. People will not always use cash out of guilt, but who can say no to a weekend in Mexico?
  • Just say thank you. While Thanksgiving is a good time to start, extend gratitude throughout the year. Saying thank you can boost morale, and its contagious nature can transform company culture in just one person.
  • Give the gift of time. Surprise employees with an afternoon or full day off and pair the gift with a message of thanks for hard work, extra effort, or outstanding business results.
  • Include the whole team. Take the team to a theater show, spa outing, or sporting event to express gratitude.

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