Actions always speak louder than words and this is critical to remember in the context of workplace gratitude. It has recently become trendy in HR circles to recognize what Buddhists in Asia have known for thousands of years: Altruism is enlightened self-interest. In other words, gratitude helps the person offering gratitude as much as it helps the one receiving it.
Consider, for example, the Wharton research which found that employees are up to 50% more productive when they work for a leader who is grateful as opposed to one who never shows their appreciation.
In other words, a company that shows appreciation for its employees receives the benefit of their appreciation right back.
What’s key, though, is that appreciation must be demonstrated by action. Those gratitude-giving Buddhists are stoic in their tone. Whereas Westerners might often lean too much on words, more traditional Asians are repelled by saccharine articulation. In Chinese, for example, the literal translation of such over-the-top praise, “e xin,” is stomach sick.
So how can company leaders show gratitude through the right level of action?
Here are six meaningful ways to give so that everyone gets.
1) Praise Employees in Your 1:1’s
You might be doing a double-take on this seeming emphasis on words considering my focus on action above. But what’s key is the work that goes into collecting and delivering the words.
If you’ve taken the time to organize the words, the time to make the relevant and the time deliver them, you’ve taken significant gratitude action.
Here are a few ways to make your words gratitude into meaningful action:
- Be specific. Don’t just tell them they did a great job. Explain how their actions make them a good employee.
- Share ways that you’d like to see them use their strengths on future projects. This sets them up to achieve additional successes.
- Give it often. Unlike feedback and evaluations, praise should be casual and given whenever your employees achieve a small win or display a positive behavior. Even following the tips above, meaningful praise only requires a couple of quick sentences.
- Make them stand out. Fill in the casual praise with time aside for deeper, more deliberate feedback.
2) Celebrate Your Employees Publicly
When your employees achieve major feats like setting records, closing large accounts, driving innovations, etc. they deserve to be publicly recognized for their efforts. In addition to showing your gratitude for the employees involved, this kind of recognition also reinforces what success looks like at your company, so employees know what to strive for.
We require open and radically transparent feedback at Prialto. So, I especially like praising people for embracing our values of ownership, integrity, and learning. On a recent morning huddle, a front-line employee stepped forward to discuss how she’d made the mistake that was at the center of a customer complaint under discussion.
That allowed me to recognize her not just for the solution she offered, but also for giving the 100 people on the call the opportunity to learn from her. The entire company saw how a well-handled mistake can turn an employee into a company hero.
3) Host Monthly Rewards Tied to Your Company’s Values
An easy way to show gratitude consistently is to host monthly awards for employees who go above and beyond in demonstrating your company’s values. Creating awards is easy:
- Choose which values that you want to give awards for.
- Decide if managers are going to nominate members of their teams or if employees are going to dominate each other.
- Create an internal resource page that explains the award categories and how people are nominated.
- Have your award committee choose winners every month and announce them to the company.
Your awards don’t have to come with expensive prizes. A simple certificate and maybe an inexpensive gift card is enough to show your gratitude as long as the award itself is authentic and meaningful.
At Prialto, we call these COILS awards, after the acronym that expresses our values of commitment, ownership, integrity, learning, and service. The entire company gets involved by having a nomination process and, then, celebrating the winners who are chosen by colleagues.
4) Show Your Appreciation Through Food
Food plays a role in every culture and can play a role in both creating your company culture and in celebrating the cultures from which your various employees come.
Our Manila center experiences a few typhoons every year during the rainy season that flood employee commute routes. To recognize our employees for planning ahead to prevent the storms from making them late to work, our Country Manager orders extra food for everyone. The office frequently organizes potlucks to celebrate both Filipino and American food traditions.
5) Give Them a Say in What Projects They Work On
One of the most impactful ways to boost the happiness of knowledge workers is to give them a say in the projects they work on.
Whenever you’re planning upcoming projects, ask your employees which ones they’d be most interested in and if they have any other ideas that would achieve the same goals.
This sets your employees up for success and, thereby, gives you and your managers opportunities to express gratitude.
6) Empower Your Employees to Have Control Over Their Schedules
Employees value and can benefit from structure, but that still leaves room for flexible schedules. We have general guidelines for schedules based on real customer-serving constraints instead of arbitrarily set hours. This gives employees autonomy over the most universally valuable resource: their time.
One way to empower employees to have flexible schedules is to set deadlines well in advance so they can choose to work ahead and make time for other activities.
Here’s an example:
Our Marketing Manager wanted to give her team the ability to enjoy all the activities of the holiday season without having to worry about falling behind. By mid-September, she created a board with all her team’s projects and deadlines from November through January. This empowered them to work ahead and work fewer hours during those busy months.
While gratitude is especially trendy now it will always be “in style.” The key is to think in terms of gratitude action instead of just gratitude words. The essence is the understanding that giving and getting, when done well and at their most wholesome, are one and the same.
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