(Article originally authored by HR/Advantage Advisory, Powered by Clark Hill)

Individual achievement and competition are rewarded in US workplaces through bonuses and promotions up the chain of command. In our efforts to remain “professional,” we don’t often talk about emotions like gratitude, forgiveness, compassion, and generosity. Appreciation is often a once/year event.

As Don Draper famously stated, “that’s what the money is for!”

What would the impact be of a culture in which employees are acknowledged routinely and regularly for their achievements–not only by their supervisors, but also by co-workers?

Especially in a year that has proved divisive, it is important to find ways to come together. As stated in Business Management Daily, Dr. Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist and lecturer at Harvard University, “in a society that has become so splintered and self-focused, gratitude is a common bond and offers one of the best ways for us to connect with one another.”

Throughout the year, Clark Hill PLC (HR/AA is a division of Clark Hill) holds Town Hall Meetings where the firm communicates and celebrates promotions, business wins, and goal achievement. For the year-end meeting in 2020, the firm decided to do something different. As Roy E. Sexton, Director of Marketing, described it recently, “our executive team at Clark Hill identified gratitude as the core theme for our year-end Town Hall.

We organized a survey to collect examples in our colleagues’ own words and had them submit video shout-outs.” Employees–the IT team and administrative staff who kept the firm’s wheels turning, fellow attorneys who had been quick to jump in to help when someone was sick or absent–heard heartfelt, personalized, and public descriptions of the impact of the “behind the scenes” work that they had done.

As an observer, it was uplifting. As Roy described it, “the results were phenomenal. People felt seen and heard and, most importantly, appreciated.”

As you decide whether you would like to reconsider how appreciation is expressed in your organization, here are some things to keep in mind:

Positive feedback is more impactful than negative feedback

According to taketheleadwomen.com, more than half (53%) of employees admit they would stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciation from their boss.

In fact, four in five (81%) employees report they’re motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work, higher than the 38% of employees who say they’re motivated to work harder when their boss is demanding or the 37% of employees who say they’re motivated to work harder because they fear losing their job.

And in a related Glassdoor survey, 53 percent of employees admit they would stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciation from their boss.

81 percent of those polled said they would work harder for a more grateful boss and 93 percent said a grateful boss is more likely to be successful because their subordinates would support them.

Recognize that we all need help creating new habits

It may be necessary to rethink the messages we give managers. In a Harvard Business Review article, authors Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman state, “perhaps it starts with the perception that the really good managers are the tough graders who are not afraid to tell people what’s wrong.

Possibly, they believe that giving people positive feedback will encourage a subordinate to let up or coast. Maybe they are emulating their prior bosses who gave little praise, but who pointed out any mistake or weakness. Some may believe it a sign of weakness to praise subordinates.

Maybe they just don’t know how to effectively deliver appreciation or praise.” Managers describe the stress involved with giving feedback to direct reports in revealing numbers: 21% avoid doing so at all and 37% admit they also avoid giving positive reinforcement.

And it isn’t just managers who are reluctant to show appreciation. In a survey quoted in Forbes, 10 percent of respondents said they express gratitude to their colleagues every day and 60 percent said they express gratitude at work once year–or never!

Get creative and “Tailor the Gesture”

At Clark Hill, birthdays, anniversaries, and “comings and goings” are acknowledged in a weekly update. When a family member passes away, a firm-wide notification is sent, allowing employees to send expressions of sympathy.

This simple gesture acknowledges that employees are “whole people” with lives apart from work and is a way of encouraging connection and appreciation between employees that is easy to implement. One employee noted in the Town Hall that she’d received 75 sympathy cards as a result of the firm-wide notification.

When it comes to individual expressions of gratitude, the most impactful acknowledgements recognize our differences in strengths and skills and the ways we want to be acknowledged, even if it is different from our own. Administrative professionals might want to be acknowledged and rewarded for their writing or public speaking skills.

An executive may want to be thanked for consistent good manners, not goal achievement. It is important to assess whether employees would like a public gesture of appreciation or a private note. Some people don’t want to be publicly thanked. Gift cards, flowers, embossed buttons, company activities, tickets to a show, professional cleaning services, time off–tailor the gesture to the employee’s preferences.

Creating a culture of appreciation may feel awkward at first, but it will pay off in the long run. Let us know if you have created a program or process that works–and call us if you would like some help in changing your corporate culture to reflect an “attitude of gratitude.”

Sources: Business Management Daily, “Keep Gratitude at the Forefront” Harvard Business Review, “Why Do So Many Managers Avoid Giving Praise” Forbes, “ Benefits of a Year Round Attitude of Gratitude in the Workplace” Greater Good Magazine, “How Gratitude Can Transform Your Workplace” Taketheleadwomen.com, “You’re Welcome? 7 Ways to Show Gratitude at Work”  

The views and opinions expressed in the article represent the view of the author and not necessarily the official view of Clark Hill PLC. Nothing in this article constitutes professional legal advice nor is intended to be a substitute for professional legal advice.