A simple, genuine thank you goes a long way in the workplace — and just about everywhere else too. Whether you’re being served at a restaurant, holding the door open for a stranger, or communicating with a coworker, giving and receiving gratitude is central to daily interactions in both the personal and professional world.  

In fact, research shows that practicing gratitude can have profound effects on physical wellness and emotional wellbeing. Some of these benefits include better sleep, more exercise, and reduced symptoms of physical pain — not to mention stronger social bonds and less stress. These benefits inevitably trickle into professional life, considering physical and emotional wellness plays a huge role in employee success at work. 

When employees are stressed out by a demanding work environment, they are also less likely to collaborate well with others. Research shows that stress in the workplace can lead to increased aggression and conflict, minimizing opportunities for teamwork. 

On the flip side, happiness has powerful payoffs. Happy, healthy employees promote positive company culture and are more likely to stay at their job. What’s more, happiness increases employee productivity by 12% — and in an eight-hour workday, 12% translates to 58 minutes, or roughly an hour of added productivity per employee every day.

Showing employee gratitude increases your team’s happiness, productivity, and overall well-being — while strengthening relationships across your organization. For leaders in the workplace, part of what you bring to the table is expertise and guidance. Beyond that, an effective leader inspires employees to reach their full potential by acknowledging the things they do well and encouraging continuous improvement. 

Reminding your employees that you appreciate the hard work they do to meet deadlines, drive business growth, and achieve company goals is essential to building more collaborative, mutually gratifying relationships. Yet, 82% of employed Americans don’t feel that their supervisors recognize them enough for their contributions and 79% of employees feel under-appreciated. 

How can you promote an attitude of gratitude in your company that shows employees how much you care — while increasing productivity and retention rates? Keep reading for seven tips on how leaders can show employee appreciation to energize their team and change company culture for the better. 

The distinction between recognition and appreciation 

High-performing, happy employees work best when leadership recognizes their value and routinely appreciates their contributions. But what is the difference between recognizing and appreciating your employees? While these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a key distinction. 

Recognition is about rewarding your employees’ actions, based on their performance and success at work. If an employee meets a goal, surpasses expectations, or impresses a client, they might earn a bonus, promotion, company-wide recognition, or social media shout-out. 

While promotions, raises, and acknowledgment from superiors are meaningful, employee appreciation and employee gratitude are about acknowledging the individual who contributes to your greater organization, not only their performance. This means appreciating their efforts, even when things don’t go according to plan. After all, your employee is an individual just like you — worthy of appreciation for showing up with a positive attitude, strong work ethic, and commitment to your company, even when a project gets siderailed for reasons outside their control

We’ve put together seven ways you can show employees you care — by both recognizing their contributions and appreciating who they are:

1. Hold one-on-one gratitude meetings 

While many leaders check in with their employees regularly, one-on-one meetings often center around administrative tasks, company-wide updates, or project-specific deadlines. Performance reviews also tend to focus on feedback from a variety of team members, with both positive and negative commentary. But what if employees received feedback more frequently, focused on everything they’re doing right? It doesn’t cost anything to compliment an employee and yet it can have a big payout.

Carving out time in your schedule to lead one-on-one gratitude meetings might mean finding five extra minutes in your day for your employees — and all the difference to them. By recognizing positive qualities in each individual, you can help employees feel appreciated and valued. When employees feel valued, they’re more successful at their jobs. A 2019 study from BetterUp revealed that when employees feel valued and included in the workplace, it leads to a 56% increase in job performance, 50% reduction in turnover, and 75% decrease in employee sick days.

If your schedule is too jam-packed for individual calls, try sending a weekly email to your employees, highlighting something you’re grateful for in their approach to work or otherwise. Maybe it’s their kindness towards others or their willingness to adapt, or even a performance-based note. By taking the time to show employees you see them and value their work, as well as their personality, you can begin building stronger relationships grounded in trust and gratitude. 

2. Send a handwritten thank you note

Call it old-fashioned, but during a time when many employees are telecommuting and staring at a screen all day there is something particularly thoughtful about receiving a handwritten thank you note in the mail. 

A study published in Psychological Science found that people underestimate the value of expressions of gratitude, especially handwritten notes. In this experiment, students in a business class wrote letters of thanks to their peers, expressing how others had affected their life in a meaningful way. While they predicted that the recipients would feel positively about the letter, recipients reported significantly more surprise and delight than what the senders expected. The takeaway? Your employees will appreciate the gesture more than you think — so go the extra mile to make them feel special. 

Taking the time to reach out to employees won’t go unnoticed — team members will feel grateful that you value their individual impact on your business. While this expression might be difficult to maintain on a regular basis, it can be a thoughtful and unexpected way of showing employees you care every once in a while. 

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3. Offer extra paid time off 

Nothing says employee gratitude quite like additional paid time off. By offering more time for your employees to recharge, you demonstrate that you care about their contributions at work and want them to have adequate time to rest outside of the office. This is an excellent way to boost morale and offer short-term relief to your hardworking team. 

This employee perk was particularly popular in the pandemic era, considering the line between home and office is increasingly blurry. Your team members need to be able to close their laptops and enjoy their personal lives in order to return to work with the energy and motivation required to reach their full potential. 

While 94% of vacations have a good ROI in short-term improvement to employee happiness, it’s important to note that employees are consistently underutilizing this benefit because they are too stressed to take time off or not necessarily recharging while they’re away. While paid time off can offer short-term employee appreciation, it’s important to supplement this expression of gratitude with other forms of ongoing support. 

4. Celebrate personal milestones 

Your team is made up of unique individuals with their own families, traditions, and aspirations for the future. Showing employee gratitude isn’t about exclusively celebrating work successes — it’s also about acknowledging your employees’ personal milestones, which may include getting married, having kids, or buying a home. 

As a leader, part of your role is building meaningful relationships with your employees and appreciating them for who they are. Research shows that when workplace relationships are defined by mutual trust, respect, and confidence, employees perform better and company culture improves. 

If you are invested in your employees’ lives, including their well-being outside of work, that will build trust in the workplace as well. Consider sending your employees a housewarming gift or flower arrangement during one of life’s big moments — and let them know you’re proud of them. 

5. Energize your team with free food

Employee gratitude is a dish best served daily—and 85% of employees feel that regular food delivery would increase their job satisfaction. Regardless of whether or not your employees are working from home or in the office, lunch is an important time to mentally recharge, bond with coworkers, or even connect with family. 

However, in a September 2020 DoorDash survey, 57% of employees said they were too busy to take a full hour lunch break and nearly half of employees (47%) said they rarely or never took a full hour lunch break even while working from home. Despite being remote due to COVID-19,  employees still felt too busy during the day to take a break and refuel with a healthy, delicious lunch that would improve their workplace productivity. 

Show your employees that you prioritize their physical and mental well-being by offering food delivery options on a regular basis. With an expensed meal program, employees receive a monthly food ordering stipend they can use anytime. Your business can enroll employees in the program and set automatic one-time or recurring budgets — so your team can spend the money how and when they choose on food from their favorite local restaurants or chains. If your employees don’t use the recurring or one-time budget by the end of the time frame you set, you’ll get the unused money back.

Beyond fueling your team, food delivery also helps save employees time. With DashPass for Work, your hardworking employees can rely on convenient delivery for all of their needs — including food, flowers, groceries, prescriptions, gifts, and more. This means less time stressing about meal prep or all the errands they have to do after work — and more time focused on their job during the day. Food delivery has a long-term impact on employees that helps them on and off the clock, reinforcing that their life outside of work is equally as important. 

6. Offer employee appreciation gift cards

Like food delivery, employee gift cards are a great way of showing employee gratitude — particularly in the event of work anniversaries, birthdays, or other special occasions. A recent study found that working adults are increasingly pressed for time — and it’s harming their overall well-being and satisfaction. However, when working adults spend money on time-saving services, they report higher levels of happiness than on material spending. Show employees you care with gift cards that save your team money and time —  their most precious commodity. 

Businesses can customize gift cards with personalized notes that speak directly to employees or teams at large. Employees can also use their gift card at their leisure, without worrying about an expiration date. With over 390,000 restaurants to choose from, your team can enjoy a meal that caters to their personal taste buds — or share with family and friends. 

Employee gift cards offer a long-term benefit to your employees that recognizes how busy and demanding their professional and personal lives can be. By making life a little more convenient, you’re effectively saying: thank you for all that you do, and let me lend a helping hand. 

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7. Welcome feedback and truly listen 

As a leader, you’re in a unique position to oversee and guide your employees — but you also have the upper hand. One way to level the playing field and show employees you appreciate them is by seeking out their feedback and implementing change when necessary. 

You might send out an employee engagement survey or seek feedback from your team through direct conversations. Either way, be sure to really listen when they are offering their perspective or potential concerns. Effective listening goes beyond just hearing what your employees say — it means actively demonstrating empathy, respecting their ideas, and not interrupting with a solution right away. 

It’s important to show employees that their voice and input is represented in their workplace. Your employees have insight into workflow, company culture, and day-to-day processes that you might be less aware of from a leadership perspective. Allow your employees to voice positive feedback, questions, or concerns without immediately jumping to conclusions or proposing solutions. 

By building relationships with your employees and showing that you truly listen to their needs, they will feel grateful for you. Research shows that grateful individuals report higher levels of satisfaction and optimism, greater energy, and better connections with others. When applied to the workplace, gratitude is an interactive experience that benefits both the giver and receiver — therefore positively influencing everyone. 

Truly listening to your employees and affecting change as a result of their insight helps cultivate a culture of gratitude where both leaders and employees can share in their appreciation of one another and work towards common goals with increased optimism and stronger bonds. 

Takeaways

40% of employed Americans say they would put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often. While recognition and appreciation are not one in the same, the sentiment in this study is clear: employees would work harder if they were being appreciated for their contributions. 

Employee appreciation is critical to maintaining a work culture that keeps employees fulfilled, inspires new hires, and grows your business. While paid time off and handwritten thank you notes offer meaningful short-term appreciation, employee gratitude is an ongoing practice that your employees should feel every day. Gratitude-focused one-on-ones, regular food delivery, and effective listening are just a few ways you can show your employees you care on a regular basis as a leader at your business. 

While dedicating an entire day to your employees with an event like Employee Appreciation Day is always a good idea, remember that your efforts to make employees feel appreciated shouldn’t end there. Instead, consider revamping your benefits program or implementing an employee wellness program catered to your company’s needs. If your employees are feeling burned out or have developed unhealthy behaviors due to overworking, your strategy might include encouraging healthier eating habits, more breaks, and increased exercise opportunities during the work day. 

By investing in employee wellness, you’re contributing to a culture of gratitude and appreciation that will boost your brand reputation and inspire new employees to join your dynamic team. If you’re ever wondering what your employees need most, remember to seek out feedback from them — they are your greatest resource. 

Professor of Psychology at UC Davis, Dr. Robert Emmons, makes an essential point about the relationship between gratitude and work:

“Most of our waking hours are spent on the job, and gratitude, in all its forms, is a basic human requirement. So when you put these factors together, it is essential to both give and receive thanks at work.”

As leaders and employees alike emerge from a challenging year defined by uncertainty, gratitude has never been more important. Be sure to prioritize an attitude of gratitude with your team, consistently letting them know how much you care. Gratitude is a two-way street, and leaders will also reap the rewards of building a positive, appreciative work environment.

Remember: Keeping your team happy, fulfilled, and productive begins with a simple thank youwhich comes at zero cost. Learn more about how to show employee gratitude and promote employee wellness with The Ultimate Employee Wellness Checklist

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author-kristenvannest
Kristen Van Nest
Writer

Kristen Van Nest is an L.A.-based freelance B2B writer with bylines in Forbes, HuffPost, and VentureBeat to name a few. As a former Fulbright Scholar and Newsroom Columnist for the British Chamber of Commerce’s publication in China, she specializes in market trends and strategies businesses can use to grow. Her free time is spent ordering in dumplings and honeycomb ice cream and writing funny content to make people laugh.