March 26, 2012

The best companies to work for are those where people are grateful for what they have and express their gratitude toward each other whenever it is merited.

On the other side are places where people feel entitled and complain when they don’t feel they get their due.

grateful people

So how do you get your business to be more like the first example?

The short answer is that it has to start with you, as a leader. Consciously or not, people look to their leaders to set the tone.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I grateful to my employees for? Make a list.
  • How often do I express that gratitude to them?
  • With how much intensity do I express it?
  • Do they really feel my gratitude?

If your answers leave something to be desired, commit yourself to a new way. Silent gratitude is a waste. Tell your staff that you want to make this a place where no one feels unappreciated.

Here are some ways to get started.

Find creative ways to say thank you for a job well done

Saying “Nice job” is better than nothing, but it can wear thin, to the point people don’t even hear it.

Try something a little heartier. Send a thank-you card to an employee. Bring coffee and dessert to a hard-working team, or take them to lunch. Give a small gift card for somewhere that people might not go on their own dime. Praise them in a staff meeting or the company newsletter – be sure to state specifically what they did well.

Start a peer recognition program

Start a formal program to get people to express their gratitude to each other. There are various ways to do this.

You can have your IT department create a site on your intranet in which employees can send a certificate of appreciation to a co-worker. The certificate should include an explanation of the reason for the award, as well as how it aligns with business goals. A copy should be sent to the employee as well as their manager, so that it is considered at performance appraisal time.

Another strategy is to buy a plaque, a small statue or other suitable object. Have it engraved –your choice of wording. Give it to an employee as thanks for a job well done, but with one stipulation – they must pass it on within a week (or a month) to another deserving employee. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Try the “Three good things” exercise

Ask all employees to write down “three good things” that have happened at work that they are thankful for. Collect them and post them anonymously on a bulletin board, on your intranet or possibly in your company newsletter.

The main thing is to get things started yourself and provide encouragement and opportunities for others to do the same. It might change the atmosphere around the workplace.

Deal with complainers individually

It is also necessary to intervene on the other side of the equation at times – that is, with employees who complain often, act entitled and seldom have anything nice to say. If allowed to go unchecked, these people can unravel your efforts to create a more positive workplace.

The way to deal with such individuals is not to respond in kind, with criticism or carping. Rather, have a private meeting.

Be supportive. Tell them what you value about their work. Then describe in neutral, objective terms the negative behaviors you have observed and how those behaviors affect others.

Explain what you would like them to do differently. Then schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss their progress in a few weeks.

Most employees will respond positively to this kind of feedback, but if not, simply follow your performance management procedures.

Your leadership in all of these areas is almost certain to change the atmosphere of the workplace for the better.

This article was originally posted on March 26, 2012 and the information may no longer be current. For questions, please contact GRF CPAs & Advisors at